Deeper Learning Opportunities

The quote that frames the “Deeper Learning” chapter can serve as educators’ guidepost for inquiry, traditional literacies, and digital literacy as well. Right Question Institute leaders Dan Rothstein, Luz Santana, and Andrews P Minigan proclaim: “Having students create their own questions is a short-cut to deeper learning” (2015, 71). I agree… and I also agree with these authors that students need guides to help them dig deep to find their most personally meaningful questions that will motivate them to pursue answers, even when the going gets rough.

More than One Answer
For far too long, many K-12 students have experienced school as the place where educators ask the questions and students supply the answers (answers that educators already know). While this paradigm has been changing, factors that can set up barriers, such as an over-emphasis on standardized tests or students’ grade point averages, have been impeded change in many school environments.

Linda F. Nathan who wrote a book called The Hardest Questions Aren’t on the Test: Lessons from an Innovative Urban School and contributed to the “Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School” video, wrote this deceptively simple statement in a recent Educational Leadership article: “Problems can have more than one solution and questions can have more than one answer” (Nathan 2018-2019, 62).

For many students (and educators) that fact can be a welcome (or disconcerting) surprise. Student-led inquiry, fine arts projects, science experiments for which the outcome is truly unknown, various projects involving real-world data collection—these are some types of opportunities educators can design and guide in which students can experience more than one solution to self-generated questions—where they can experience deeper learning.

“Traditional” Deeper Learning Project
The “senior research project” has long been a staple of the high school curriculum. The goal of this project is to integrate skills (such as communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking), academic concepts from multiple disciplines, and data from the students’ courses into one summative project. In most cases, these projects are individual. Students may be “assigned” the project is a particular course, and it is then facilitated by that classroom teacher or another adult mentor.

School librarians are positioned to support students and classroom teachers as students pursue senior research projects. This may be accomplished on an individual basis, or classroom teachers may determine that small groups or entire classes of students need interventions. School librarians can collaborate with the teacher to provide interventions such as effective uses of databases, technology tools and resources, credible Web searching, bibliographic instruction, and more.

Genius Hour
In K-12 schools, Genius Hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions in order to capitalize on intrinsic motivation and encourage creativity.  It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school. Although I am a firm believer in designing and organizing standards-based inquiry learning such that students ARE pursuing their passions, anecdotal data suggest that “genius hour” can be a win for students and their learning. The GeniusHour.com website provides professional development, resources, videos, suggested professional reading, and more.

Genius Hour is an idea adapted from Google. At one time, Google provided its engineers with “a genius hour” consisting of 20% of their work time during which they could pursue a pet project. In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, author Dan Pink also promotes the idea that passion projects are a way to tap into our motivation to learn and create. I appreciate Pink for this blog post, in which he describes an Innovation Day (2011) in a suburban Chicago classroom. All educators could design learning such that students experience such enthusiasm for learning every school day!

Academic Flex Time
Mark Dzula is the Director of Teaching and Learning Resources at The Webb Schools in Claremont, California. He is also a frequent contributor to the Knowledge Quest blog. In two recent posts, Mark described the learning experiences of students pursuing independent topics, questions, and knowledge during academic flex time.

AASL Standards and Multiple Literacies during Academic Flex Time (9/26/18)

Research, Information Literacy, and Independent Study (12/17/18)

Creating the Conditions
Educators create the conditions for deeper learning when they fully integrate learning and doing. “We diminish teaching and learning when we make students study history or biology or math or literature without consistently and simultaneously having them do the work of and as practitioners in the field” (Tomlinson 2018, 92). As emphasized in last week’s post, personally meaningful questions and time are two essential ingredients in empowered deeper learning. Hands-on, minds-on doing is another.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What kinds of deeper learning do students in your school experience?
  2. What kinds of deeper learning do educators in your school experience?

Works Cited

Nathan, Linda F. 2018-2019. “Hitting the Right Note.” Educational Leadership 76 (4); 62-67.

Rothstein, Dan, Luz Santana, and Andrews P Minigan. 2015. “Making Questions Flow.” Educational Leadership 73 (1): 70-75.

Tomlinson, Carol Ann. 2018-2019. “Sparking Students’ ‘Uncommon Genius:’ All Educators Can Learn Valuable Lessons from the Way the Arts Are Taught.” Educational Leadership 76 (4); 91-93.

Deeper Learning = Empowered Learners

Episode 5 Podcast: Deeper Learning (or the Bridge between Inquiry, Traditional Literacies, and Digital Learning)

Chapter 5 in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy addresses the need for deep learning and strategies to achieve it. This chapter was intentionally offered as a bridge to the next chapter: “Digital Learning.”

The goal of deeper learning is what connects inquiry, traditional literacy learning, and digital learning. Deeper learning creates a condition in which students and educators are empowered to direct their own learning. What does it mean to be “empowered”? This Oxford Dictionary definition rings true to me: “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.”

If schools and school systems are creating opportunities for students and educators to become stronger in knowledge, skills, and dispositions, the result will be confident, empowered students and educators who control their own learning process.

Students
Chapter 3: Inquiry Learning is, in short, about educators guiding empowered students through the inquiry process. Connecting inquiry to required outcome targets and curriculum as well as to students’ background knowledge and interests is an ideal way to help students find relevance in schooling. It is also an ideal way for students and educators to meet required learning targets and find the “sweet spot” on a Venn diagram where required learning outcomes and personally meaningful learning overlap.

A focus on one “right answer,” high-stakes testing, and grades can rob students, who might otherwise experience joy in learning, of their sense of empowerment. Guiding students as they connect to or build prior knowledge provides a launch pad for thinking that helps students develop their own questions. Empowered students flourish when they pursue questions of their own choosing…

Educators
and so do educators. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) recently published an issue of Educational Leadership titled “When Teachers Lead Their Own Learning.” In their article “Choose Your Own Adventure: Action Research for PD,” Stephanie Dodman, Emma Zuidema, and Amy Kleiman note that “action research utilizes teachers’ own questions about their work and about student learning as they transform their classrooms (libraries) into dynamic learning laboratories” (2018, 75). The authors offer a process that includes valuing curiosity, purposefully paying attention to questions (or problems of practice), and establishing trust and motivation.

Through classroom-library and team collaboration or coplanning and coteaching, educators refine their questions about practice. Two heads (or more) are definitely better than one when clarifying goals and objectives for student learning and questions for action research. With the support of administrators and colleagues, educators learn from the data they collect, analyze, and act upon as well as the reflecting on outcomes. Action research leads to empowered instruction. In Maximizing School Librarian Leadership, action research is suggested as a component of educators’ professional portfolios (page 121-122).

T-I-M-E
Inquiry learning and action research are deeper learning. They are not superficial coverage of topics and materials or fly-by responses to learning challenges and problems of practice. Deeper learning, like deep reading, requires the investment of time—time to build background knowledge, time to formulate personally meaningful questions, time to pursue multiple resources and perspectives, time to collect, analyze, think critically about data, and reflect, time to organize and present new knowledge. Deeper learning simply requires t-i-m-e.

Inquiry learning and action research are ways that students and educators own their learning processes and products. These processes create empowered learners—youth and adults alike—who can apply the process to other learning experiences and transfer new knowledge to new learning situations.

Deeper learning builds behaviors that are applied in lifelong learning.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. In what ways does your school/district’s curriculum empower learners? Does it also dis-empower them? If so, how does it do so?
  2. How do educators demonstrate that inquiry “works” as a lifelong learning strategy?

Work Cited

Dodman, Stephanie, Emma Zuidema, and Amy Kleiman. 2018. “Choose Your Own Adventure: Action Research for PD.” Educational Leadership 76 (3): 72-76.