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A Deeper Learning Rubric as a Tool for Equity

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This post is by Kathleen Cushman, an independent journalist and educator who since 1989 has documented powerful teaching and learning around the U.S. Her summary of "how youth learn" appears in this six-minute NEDTalk from What Kids Can Do.

In my previous post, I described the work of a group of very experienced educators in Hewlett Foundation's Deeper Learning initiative, who have collaborated for the last several years in a "community of practice" exploring the nuts and bolts of deeper learning.

Each of their various school networks already has its own well-articulated -- and "deeper" -- approach to curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment. In agreeing on what their networks held in common, the group aimed to raise a stronger voice in the national discourse about what constitutes powerful teaching and learning.

Coming up with overarching deeper learning competencies was the first step. Describing what those looked like in practice was the second. But I believe that the most ambitious third step -- creating a rubric to assess the depth of learning -- holds unique potential for addressing equity issues in learning environments.

By keeping the focus on what students do when they are working toward mastery, a "deeper learning rubric" would make clear that deeper learning is a process, not simply a product or performance. That alone would usefully underline the importance of supporting all students in building the deeper learning competencies.

A focus on process does not diminish the value of high-quality products. First, when students have ample opportunities to work in "deeper" ways, it leads to their producing high-quality work. Second, most schools already use rubrics or other ways to assess the quality of student work products. A rubric focused on depth would support, amplify, and refine those tools, but not replace them.

Such a rubric could also support equity by the diverse contexts of its use. For example, educators could use it to assess deeper learning by students in academic, social, vocational, and personal contexts--anytime, anywhere.

Using a "deeper learning" rubric in such ways could lead districts and schools to ask themselves these questions:

  • In our curriculum and pedagogy, where are opportunities for each student to practice these competencies?
  • In their quality and quantity, are these opportunities sufficient for each student to reach mastery?
  • Do our other assessments line up with this rubric? Do they make it clear to students that this is what is important and valued?
  • Does our professional development build our capacity to teach and assess these things?

Whether a school is just dipping a toe into deeper learning, or knee deep, or fully immersed and moving strongly ahead, a simple and powerful rubric could make clear. And what a difference its use could make in practice--for every learner in the land.

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