Digging Deep: A Path to Meaningful Learning
Posted 03/25/2021 11:00AM

by Shannon Beckley, Director of Teaching and Learning

Graded's commitment to each one of our students and families is captured in our vision statement:

"Individuals empowered to reach their potential and positively impact the world."

This vision is borne out of community-wide reflection upon our valued traditions and plans for the future and drives our Teaching and Learning team's work. Graded's vision prompts our school and faculty to examine curricula, student learning experiences, and professional approaches. In an ever-changing world, reviewing and adapting our work is an ongoing journey. Over the past several years, we have hosted Graded's Think Tank, studied with experts in cognitive science and design thinking, and begun to weave teaching practices for deep, enduring, and transferable learning into our classrooms.  

At Graded, deeper learning is the convergence of what authors Jal Mehta (Harvard University) and Sarah Fine (High Tech High School) call the virtues:  mastery + identity + creativity. Learning is most profound and long-lasting when it results from the intersection of knowledge and skills (mastery), motivation and purpose (identity), and the ability to produce and create in new ways (creativity). When we plan and organize our classrooms to foster the development of these virtues, we know that we will graduate students who are knowledgeable, action-oriented, confident, innovative, and globally-focused. 

Equipping our faculty to teach in this manner is critical to our overall success. In March 2021, Graded's Learning Lab began implementing an innovative professional learning experience designed by Graded teachers for Graded teachers.  The "Deeper Learning Pilot'' is a 10-week intensive course produced by the Teaching and Learning Department in collaboration with external partners Dr. Kevin Mattingly of Columbia University, the Stanford d.Lab, Explo Elevate, and the Institute for Social and Emotional Learning (IFSEL). The course is delivered by the school's four deeper learning coaches and two curriculum coordinators. Twenty Graded teachers enrolled in the initial offering.

Our pilot is designed as a series of informational workshops and classroom coaching cycles. During the workshops, teachers come together across grade levels and content areas for two to three days to study, learn, and plan. They explore the following guiding questions:

  • What is deeper learning?
     
  • How do we foster the virtues of mastery, identity, and creativity in our students?
     
  • How can I apply the deeper learning frameworks to my own learning and professional growth?

Each workshop series is followed by a two-week classroom coaching cycle during which teachers match with a deeper learning coach. Together, they practice applying strategies that promote deeper learning with students.  As part of the coaching cycle, faculty collect and analyze student work to understand its impact on student learning. This sequence repeats three times and culminates in a celebration of learning.

While the faculty learning journey is still in its infancy, teachers are already reflecting upon the impact this work is having on their teaching and their students' learning:

"I have never experienced learning like this.  I have never learned in the  same way the teacher is teaching me to teach."

"I am taking a hard look at my curriculum and standards. I want to examine them through the lenses of a 'focus on the concept' and 'big ideas!'

"The concepts we are learning about will make a HUGE impact in my classroom... I am most looking forward to seeing my students develop as independent problem solvers in a community of learners."

It has been said that when teachers are learning, students are learning. Over the next school year, the Deeper Learning Pilot will expand, and we envision that by the end of 2022 all Graded teachers will have participated in the program. We believe that combining a robust curriculum with purposeful and motivating learning experiences will further develop Graded students, allowing them to demonstrate their understanding in novel ways. They will become individuals who positively impact the world.  

You can follow along for more insights about this work on Twitter @learninglab2 or Instagram at @grlearninglab

Reference: Mehta, Jal and Fine, Sarah.  In Search of Deeper Learning:  The Quest to Remake the American High School.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 2019.  Print.

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