Deeper Learning

by | Mar 20, 2016 | Deeper Learning, School Climate, Student Engagement

Deeper Learning is one of the concepts listed on the masthead of my web site (  Let me share with you what I mean by deeper learning, implications for our development and steps to integrate deeper learning into the core of schools.

To me deeper learning is the intentional focus on student development (knowledge, skills and dispositions) through relevant pedagogies that are motivational and educational supported by a safe, equitable and engaging school climate.

Thus, deeper learning has the following four interconnected elements:

  1. Context: the conditions required to support teaching and learning strategies most effective for student development and teacher proficiency.
  2. Pedagogy: the appropriate teaching strategies that lead to student academic, social, civic and career development.
  3. Outcomes: the expected competencies successful students will exhibit in terms of knowledge, skills and dispositions.
  4. Assessment: appropriate tools to measure and improve student development.

Allow me to dig a little deeper to examine each of these elements with the reminder that they are interconnected and should be school-wide.  The interconnectedness is critical so that each element informs the others and likewise is informed by them; school-wide ensures that each student, rather than some students, is expected to successfully develop.

The context for effective deeper learning is the school’s climate defined as the school’s quality and character.  A positive school climate ensures safety for all stakeholders, trusting relationships, relevant and effective pedagogy and a quality physical environment.  In addition the school climate should engage all education stakeholders (students, faculty, staff, administrators, families and community partners) and create a sense of connectedness and belonging for each.  Finally school climate needs to be measured through responses from all education stakeholders and enhanced through collaborative strategies.

In terms of pedagogy I suggest the following most effectively lead to positive student academic, social, civic and career development: project-based learning, service-learning, community-based learning (including work-based), blended learning and team-based learning.  Each of these teaching and learning strategies appropriately focus on both the process of learning (teamwork, communication, critical thinking, etc.) and the outcomes (knowledge, skills and dispositions) critical to student progress and success in school and in life.  I prefer a mix of these pedagogies rather than one strategy to ensure each student is engaged in ways relevant to their lives and preferences.

Once again I believe we need to establish a set of student outcomes that are intentionally connected to teaching and learning strategies and supported by high-quality school climate.  These outcomes can be organized by knowledge, skills and dispositions and should align with the school’s mission statement.  This means knowledge in the various content areas, skills necessary to be effective as a contributing member of society and dispositions to guide critical decision-making.  These outcomes should not be separate but connected so that as a student acquires/enhances math knowledge, they also enhance their skills to appropriately use math in their daily life and that they value math to make critical decisions for the common good.

Finally, deeper learning from my perspective, requires student and school assessments that are (1) appropriate, (2) meaningful and (3) lead to continuous improvement.  Student knowledge can be measured by assessments using a variety of test questions (short answer, multiple choice, true/false, etc.), while skills can be evaluated through performance-based assessments (portfolios, presentations, capstone projects, etc.) and dispositions can be examined through observations, surveys and rubrics.  School climate can be measured through stakeholder surveys on school experiences allowing for overall scores, group scores, comparisons, gap analyses and continuous improvement strategies.

So, how can a school integrate and sustain deeper learning?  I suggest a backward mapping strategy in that we begin with the end in mind (outcomes) then determine corresponding indicators and assessments; followed by implementing the most effective teaching and learning strategies that lead to those measured outcomes; and then measure and determine the school climate characteristics most supportive of the pedagogies and outcomes.

Deeper learning is intentional, student and school focused, interconnected to school and community and engages all educational stakeholders.  As education leaders and advocates seek ways of defining and supporting student and school development using this deeper learning framework offers interconnected concepts and strategies to consider, adopt and/or adapt.

Terry Pickeral
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Terry Pickeral

Terry Pickeral, has extensive experience in policy development, advocacy, education reform, youth leadership, teaching and learning strategies, education collaborations, evaluation and civic development. His commitment is to ensuring schools create and sustain quality teaching and learning environments for all students to be successful in school and contribute to their communities as active principled citizens.
Terry Pickeral
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