“Schools aren’t failing and don’t need reform”. Instead, a renown academic and researcher, Tony Wagner (2012) states, “we need to reinvent, re-imagine our schools.”
In response to the dilemma for school leaders on what this transformation should entail for 21st century learning, educational researchers cohort that we should intend to cultivate deeper understandings and higher order thinking in a holistic manner by pursuing changes in terms of students, teachers, school culture, school systems and leadership (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Schools Tranformational Model by Lenz et al. (2015, p. 149)
1. Policy makers and teachers should opt to create a strong school culture
2. Educational staff should be working collaboratively
3. Teachers should design instructional content that is meaningful and relevant to students' lives
4. Deeper Learning outcomes should be the ultimate intention of each learning experience
Infographic: 4 Components of Deeper Learning Outcomes (by Monica Martinez and Dennis McGrath)
One key indicator of whether learning has been improved, is student learning outcomes. The latter relates to achieving 21st century skills or the four Cs of learning as they are commonly referred to: creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration (NEA, 2011). In deeper learning theory, student driven outcomes are more specifically addressed and interpreted in terms of the following:
Deeper Learning is far from a generic theory. In fact, it has already been utilized in a range of settings that extend beyond the scope of education, such as in training in businesses. However, the focus in this article is to examine the practical implementation and strategies pertaining to schools.
Over the last decade the spotlight is on deeper learning principles (DLP). In regards to the previous, research findings has indicated substantial benefits from the use of deeper learning principles. The National Research Council in its 2012 report Education for Life and Work suggests the following research-based methods for developing true deeper learning: to employ multiple and varied representations of concepts and tasks, encourage elaboration, questioning, and self-explanation, engage learners in challenging tasks through supportive guidance and feedback, teach with examples and cases, promote student motivation, and implement formative assessment.
Other research has showed that among the prerequisites for a successful implementation of the theory are to design instructional content that extends beyond superficial activities and relate to authentic life situations and problems. Towards this direction, learning experiences for students should stem from project based, connected approaches and inquiry based learning principles. Further to these, deeper learning activities should rely on apprenticeship-based learning, which adheres to allocating mentors with a real-world role. All the above should take place in the context of a collaborative classroom setting where groups of students work together to solve complex real life problems and apply transferable knowledge.
The above strategies are schematically represented in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Strategies of Implementation to foster Deeper Learning
Research Evidence of the Impact of Deeper Learning
With educators constantly bombarded with new learning theories and best practices to reach the objectives of the new millennium, there is reason to be suspicious and reluctant to adopt new approaches. Nevertheless, in the case of deeper learning, substantial evidence exists on the beneficial impact from its systematic implementation. The vast majority of this work is based in the United States where deeper learning has been embraced by schools, universities and a range of other learning settings.
The American Institutes of Research conducted a study in 2014 which illustrates that students in deeper learning schools graduated at higher rates than others from non deeper learning schools. In particular, in the San Francisco Bay Area, Envision High Schools, fostering deeper learning principles, succeeded more than 90% of their students continuing to college, in comparison to the 50% of students graduating from all California High Schools. Importantly, students from these schools managed to score highest rates in the standardized Academic Performance Index tests, when comparing to all other California schools. And in many of these cases, these students were the first in their family to attend college.
As a result of the need to assess deeper learning, influential foundations have developed different formative assessments including the Collegiate Learning Assessment, which is vastly used by more than 175 institutions across the United States. Internationally, the most reputable test is the Programme for International Student Achievement (PISA) exam, offering a reliable and widely acknowledged measure of key aspects of deeper learning. Further to these, the federal government has funded two unique consortia of states: SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) in order to develop the next generation of assessments that comply with the principles of deeper learning and contemporary education standards.
deeper learning could be the path to re-imagining teaching and learning for 21st century education.
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Intrigued to know what you think.