Learning More About Deeper Learning

Dan BeerensThe CACE Roundtable1 Comment

BlueOlive / Pixabay

BlueOlive / Pixabay

In my recent posts, I have mentioned the term Deeper Learning.  This term was actually coined by the Hewlett Foundation to describe the practice of a network of schools who are “doing school differently.” In this post I would like to describe the aspects of Deeper Learning and give resources for further exploration.

The Deeper Learning Network consists of individual schools and organizations of schools. As you can see from the graphic below, the movement is growing across the country (Please note – this graphic is the best available, but reflects end-of-year 2011 data.)

DL schools on US map

Source: http:deeperlearning4all.org

Some of the compelling things to me about the Deeper Learning approach is that it is both honoring of each student as image-bearer and gets results across various socio-economic levels (see graph below) – there is a real rigor in this student centered approach and it works!

DL student descriptions

Source: http:deeperlearning4all.org

In his recent book, Leaders of Their Own Learning, author Ron Berger, founder of the Expeditionary Learning network (part of the Deeper Learning network) of now 160 plus schools, lists the Expeditionary Learning model as characterized by the following emphases:

  • Active instructional and student-engaged assessment practices that build academic skills and students’ ownership of their learning
  • Rigorous academic projects connected to real-world issues that meet state and Common Core standards
  • A culture of learning that builds persistence, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and independence in every student.

One of the key phrases in the above paragraph is student ownership of learning. How can we engage students so that they will participate deeply in the learning process and own their own learning?

I recently had the opportunity to work with a school that will be moving their middle school to a new campus and wishes to implement a Deeper Learning approach.  As we discussed what it would mean to implement a student – engaged approach, one of the aha’s for our group was that grading practices was a key aspect of practice that they needed to change. Why? Grades play a vital role in a student’s willingness to try, to continue engagement, and to give their best. The questions students often raise – “What must I do to get an A in the class?” – is a telling statement of how we have set up the “grading game.” Simply put, they are more focused on the grade than the learning, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. Our focus on grades, honor rolls, awards, and scholarships leaves students with the impression that school is about the grades rather than their passion for learning.  Individuals and schools who have changed their grading practices are enthusiastic about the positive shift of emphasis for students and what that means for their engagement in their own learning.

I have been wondering what aspects of the Deeper Learning approach are in place at your school through creative individual teachers, or through a systemic, school wide approach. Please consider jotting down some things in the comments that you are attempting/implementing at your school.  As I have mentioned in my previous posts we are in the process of identifying individuals and schools that may be interested in becoming part of a network of Christian schools around the Deeper Learning concepts.  We have the start of a network already happening as I indicated in my last post.  If you are interested, please indicate that in the comments below or get in touch with me directly for more information.

Not sure what to make of this post? Need to know more? Let me suggest that there are many resources available for further exploration.

  1. Videos and visits – start with watching videos on the Expeditionary Learning or High Tech High websites. A great compilation of 50+ videos from Deeper Learning schools can be found on the Teaching Channel. Identify a Deeper Learning school in your geographic area – take a road trip with your other admins, teacher leaders, or if you are a teacher reading this, take your principal!  Seeing Deeper Learning happening in the school context can expand your professional learning network and be a powerful and motivating experience as well.
  2. Attend and take staff to summer learning opportunities from Christian school experts who are doing Deeper Learning in their schools:
    • June 23 through 26New Covenant Christian School in the Boston, MA area is offering a three-day Deeper Learning in the Christian Classroom workshop led by Steven & Joanna Levy for teachers in grades K-8. Steven is a national consultant for Expeditionary Learning and Joanna is a principal of New Covenant Christian School – a school using Expeditionary Learning practices.  You can find more information here.
    • June 29 through July 3 – Surrey Christian School in British Columbia is offering a five day workshop entitled Designing Formational Learning Experiences: An Invitation to a Better Story led by Darryl deBoer, Director of Learning, Surrey Christian School, and Doug Monsma, Director of Learning, Prairie Center for Christian Education.
    • August 24 through 28 – Christian Teachers Academy – East Coast – There will be three levels of PBL exploration this year at the Christian Teachers Academy hosted by Hamilton District Christian High in Hamilton, Ontario. Odyssey 101 will focus on PBL Essentials, Odyssey 201 is called Digging Deeper and will focus on managing projects, scaffolding learning and aligning assessment to curricular expectations, and Odyssey 301 Deeper Leading is for leadership teams to discover and refine the best practices needed to support PBL and to then develop a strategic plan of how to support professional learning, develop shared leadership, foster and create culture, and develop structures for PBL.  For more information, see www.teacheracademy.ca.  To follow on Twitter, go to #pblnorth.
    • Monday, August 24 to Friday August 28, 2015 – PBL Residency – West Coast – The PBL Residency is an intensive one-week course of hands-on, summer session professional development for teachers who want to expand their understanding of Project Based Learning. This workshop will take place at Abbotsford Christian School in Abbotsford, BC. For more info, go to www.pblresidency.com.
  3. Three books I would recommend that do a wonderful job of getting into specifics on implementing Deeper Learning at a school level:
    • Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools Through Student Engaged Assessment – Ron Berger, Leah Rugen, Libby Woodfin, 2014, Jossey Bass.
    • Transforming Schools: Using Project-Based Learning, Performance Assessments, and Common Core Standards – Bob Lenz, 2015, Jossey-Bass.
    • Deeper Learning: How Eight Innovative Public Schools are Transforming Education in the Twenty-First Century. Monica R. Martinez and Dennis McGrath, 2014, The New Press.



One Comment on “Learning More About Deeper Learning”

  1. As a group of Christian schools in Indonesia using the International Baccalaureate curriculum, the curriculum itself forces us towards the deeper learning approach. At the Primary Years and Middle Years levels, the curriculum is arranged around an inquiry learning approach which forces teachers to develop units of inquiry using real world connections.
    While I am still getting to understand deeper learning more fully, I think schools that actually utilize a curriculum framework that is designed this way, have a great advantage over those that don’t. More schools in North America are now using the IBO curriculum and it would be worth a visit to one of them to see what they are doing.

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