Deepening Students’ Learning at Pittsburgh Brashear High School
July 26, 2018 04:13 pm
After the Pennsylvania Department of Education identified Pittsburgh Brashear High School as a priority school for improvement, the school’s educators began to rethink their approach to instruction. Teacher leaders wanted to identify promising practices that would improve engagement for the school’s 1,230 students, most of whom are African American or come from low-income families. They also were looking for ways to increase academic rigor and promote cross-curricular instruction to enable all students to achieve academic excellence. So what did they do?
Specifically, the educators wanted guidance on how best to nurture students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills and abilities to collaborate, communicate effectively, and direct their own learning—a set of skills collectively known as deeper learning competencies. So, in 2017, the leadership team from the school’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) Academy contacted the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) for direct technical assistance on implementing strategies that support deeper learning.
“My principal had shared some information with me about deeper learning and I felt like it would work with what we wanted to do,” explains Jennie Canning, lead STEAM teacher at Brashear. “We wanted to increase rigor and our students’ academic abilities, so I thought it would make sense for our school setting.”
Canning and Brashear’s principal, Kimberly Safran, collaborated with All4Ed to plan a two-day summer professional learning workshop for the STEAM Academy faculty. During a training session conducted by All4Ed staff members, teacher leaders explored practices and experiences that develop students’ deeper learning competencies and identified ways to incorporate them into their curriculum and unit lesson plans. During the days following the workshop, teachers collaboratively developed the academy’s curriculum unit plans for School Year 2017–18, intentionally integrating deeper learning experiences and approaches throughout the plans. Since the workshop, Canning says many of the STEAM Academy teachers have become more deliberate about incorporating deeper learning experiences into their lessons and creating units that bridge different academic subjects.
“The classes where the teachers have latched on and are using deeper learning are going so well,” Canning says. “I feel like we were really lucky to have the opportunity to work as a group of teachers and gain direct knowledge and insight from [All4Ed] … and I hope we are able to continue to work with the [All4Ed] team.”
To learn more about All4Ed’s efforts to ensure that all students have access to college- and career-ready learning experiences, read All4Ed’s annual report, Equity, Excellence, and Innovation.
Pictured above: Students at Brashear High School engage in classroom activities designed to promote collaboration, communication, and student-directed learning. Photos provided by Jennie Canning.
Kristen Loschert is editorial director at All4Ed.