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The 4 conditions that support deeper learning

Deeper learning competencies serve as “North Star” for a new vision of teaching, according to a new report

Teachers must exchange their traditional instructor role for that of a “learning strategist” in order to achieve deeper learning outcomes, according to a new white paper from the nonprofit National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) and ConsultEd Strategists.

The report’s authors also found that teachers who do achieve deeper learning with their students personalize learning experiences, apply real-world knowledge to learning, and use technology in a way that enhances and empowers student learning.

Deeper learning refers to the competencies, knowledge, and skills that students must develop to be successful post-K-12. There are more than 500 schools across the country that incorporate various types of deeper learning methods.

The white paper, How Deeper Learning Can Create a New Vision for Teaching, describes a new vision for teaching and outlines how teachers’ roles and teaching conditions can best support deeper learning for students.

“Our goal was to highlight and document that teachers need support and training as they make shifts in their practice and in the way they work with colleagues,” said Elizabeth Foster, an author of the white paper and NCTAF’s Vice President for Strategic Initiatives. “We wanted to draw out how teachers, who share a vision of deeper learning for their students, adapt their strategies and take on new roles. In addition, it was also necessary to highlight the kinds of conditions that facilitate teaching for deeper learning, such as a learning culture based on trust and professionalism, shared responsibility for student learning, embedded professional learning, and time for meaningful collaboration.”

Next page: Practices of teachers who achieve deeper learning outcomes

Drs. Monica Martinez and Dennis McGrath, ConsultEd Strategists and co-authors of the white paper, analyzed eight schools for their book “Deeper Learning: How Eight Innovative Public Schools Are Transforming Education in the 21st Century,” and drew on that research for this paper.

They found that teachers who are achieving deeper learning outcomes:
• Empower students as learners
• Contextualize knowledge so it is coherent
• Connect learning to real world experiences
• Extend learning beyond the school
• Inspire students by customizing learning experiences
• Purposefully incorporate technology to enhance (not automate) learning

“These strategies are the heart and soul of 21st century teaching and learning,” said Dr. Martinez. “Far too many American schools are not adequately preparing students for the realities of their future work and lives. We hope the examples of what teachers across the country are doing to teach for deeper learning will inspire and inform educators in all schools.”

4 conditions that support deeper learning

“If we are truly going to achieve the kind of learning that is challenging, meaningful and relevant to students lives and experiences , we need to focus on putting conditions in place that support teachers – their learning, their development, and their collaboration time,” said Foster.

The white paper outlines four key conditions, each sequential and building upon one another, that should be in place to enable and support teaching for deeper learning: 1) establishing a learning culture; 2) creating shared responsibility for student learning; 3) establishing a culture of trust and professionalism; and 4) preserving time for teachers to collaborate.

“If these conditions are in place in our schools, then the sky is the limit for all students to thrive in an ever-evolving world,” said Dr. McGrath.

Deeper learning and new roles for teachers

The white paper makes the case that the role of the teacher has to change to that of a learning strategist – an educator who shifts among a range of roles including learning designer, facilitator, networker, and an adviser.

Those new educator roles will include:
Learning designer: In this role, teachers are adapting learning experiences by backward mapping from specific outcomes to design complex and connected curricula that offer students frequent opportunities to do meaningful work and the opportunity to explore big ideas and essential questions.
Facilitator: Instead of being the gatekeeper of knowledge, teachers become the gateway to knowledge. Teachers no longer need to be the sole source of information given the access to information that technology provides, so teachers can now shift their role to that of knowledge facilitator.
Networker: Deeper learning teachers also take on the role of networker as they regularly engage people in the community to enhance their teaching, enrich their curricula and projects, and provide students with access to a wide range of knowledge.
Advisor: Teachers become involved in interpersonal issues as well, becoming a coach, counselor, or mentor offering advice, encouragement, support and guidance when most needed.

The white paper offers examples of schools across different contexts and settings where teachers have embraced these new roles to engage students in meaningful, personalized learning. Featured schools include: Avalon School in Minneapolis, Minn.; Casco Bay High School in Casco Bay, Maine; High Tech High in San Diego, Calif.; Impact Academy in Hayward, Calif.; King Middle School in Portland, Maine; MC2 STEM High School in Cleveland, Ohio; and Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, Penn.

Future recommendations

According to the white paper, the future of teaching embraces a forward-thinking, student-centered approach to learning to ensure students are ready for the future.

Recommendations to support that new vision for teaching include:
• Spread the word. Encourage teachers to share promising practices to make connections between what they are already doing that facilitates deeper learning and new ideas for how to expand their efforts.
• Mirror what we want for students. Just as students need opportunities to develop as curious learners, work collaboratively, and connect with community resources and issues; teachers need the same.
• Begin early. Learning how to teach for deeper learning student outcomes should begin during preparation, before new teachers enter the profession.
• Adapt and reorient existing structures. Policy makers and school leaders should rethink existing policies that could be used more effectively, such as those that address time and planning, assessment of student progress, and professional learning communities.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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