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Diving Deeper into Deeper Learning

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April 08, 2014 01:13 pm

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Four students from Polaris Charter Academy in Chicago—two young men and two young women—sat on the stage in front of me awaiting their chance to speak. They didn’t look nervous at all, which was surprising given that they were about to give a keynote address in front of hundreds of educators, advocates, students, and philanthropic partners.

What came next not only moved me, but it deeply touched every member of the audience. The four students proceeded to speak passionately about a project-based learning assignment they were given on the U.S. Constitution that eventually became a community-wide movement for peace. These “Peacekeepers” (the name they chose for those involved in their effort) captivated the audience, leaving us all overwhelmed by the endless possibilities found in deeper learning, particularly for those students who hailed from rough scrabble neighborhoods like West Humboldt Park—the neighborhood these four students called home.

After having developed a tremendous sense of pride in the Peacekeepers and witnessed the glow of their success, I was left to confront one important question: Is the project-based learning and deeper learning education that is afforded to these charter school students also possible for the 95 percent of students currently attending traditional public schools?

This was one of several major questions being tackled at this year’s Deeper Learning 2014 convening at High Tech High School in San Diego. Attendees were invited to participate in workshops ranging from experiencing academic mindsets and using performance tasks in math classrooms to shifting teacher practice in order to foster project-based learning in large public high schools and deeper learning for teachers and students (this is no “passively-sit-in-the-audience-and-be-talked-to” kind of conference, because that runs contrary to the fundamentals of deeper learning).

There was also an opportunity to do a deep dive on a number of topics, including “the world of lobsters” and the question of whether equity and deeper learning are possible. Both before and after the students’ keynote address, I could not help but noodle on why these kinds of authentic learning opportunities are not available for every student in every school.

Clearly students who are given these kinds of pedagogically-sound learning environments thrive, and students from struggling backgrounds or with limited proficiency in English often exceed expectations for their success placed before them by their socioeconomic status and/or their learning needs. It would make sense that the students most in need in every public school in America should have access to project-based learning opportunities and schools focused on deeper learning principles.

Sadly, this is not the case.

The Alliance for Excellent Education believes that deeper learning can and should be a reality for all students. Every school should provide its students with rich core content in innovative ways that allow them to learn and then apply what they have learned in the real world. Rigorous core content is at the heart of the learning process; true deeper learning is developing competencies that enable students to graduate from high school ready for college, a career, and civic responsibility. And we must strive for nothing less.

Consider this my deep dive into deeper learning. Come on in; the swimming is fine.

Tina Dove is a senior policy and advocacy associate at the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Further reading:

Read more about college- and career-ready standards and their impact on English Language Learners in the Alliance report, The Role of Language and Literacy in College- and Career-Ready Standards: Rethinking Policy and Practice in Support of English Language Learners.

Learn about the connection between college- and career-ready standards and school climate in the Alliance report, Climate Change: Providing Equitable Access to a Rigorous and Engaging Curriculum.

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