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10 Ways to Deepen the Learning (Part 2)

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This post is by Kathleen Cushman, a journalist and educator who co-founded the nonprofit What Kids Can Do. She is author most recently of The Motivation Equation, a free multimedia e-book featuring the voices of students, teachers, and learning scientists.


In my last post earlier this week, I started this idiosyncratic list of ten ways in which educators can powerfully deepen learning -- both for young people and for adults. In my 25 years of looking at school change, I've seen first hand their lasting effects on learners (and teachers, and institutions).

As you read through numbers 6 through 10, think about what it took to bring about these ways of teaching and learning. How did they alter the ways that people thought or acted?

6. Start by identifying learners' strengths. By building on strength, we more readily stretch past our limits. Teachers who identify areas where their students are strong can plan and adjust curriculum so this kind of stretch can happen. Students who know their strengths also gain a sense of competence and confidence, which stands them in good stead as they risk new challenges. (A good start: This research-based character strengths survey from the University of Pennsylvania.)

7. Create learning groups with students of different ages.  If our goal includes meeting students where they are, why not disrupt the tidy efficiency of age-based grade levels? Schools that do this well discover a new order, based on continual challenge. But forget marching kids through staged multiple-choices at computer banks; instead, go for active, richly social environments where learners' proficiency and understanding grows through cycles of demonstration, critique, and revision. (Key element: A regular record of each learner's growth from a baseline assessment.)

8. Practice the skill of asking questions. Nothing takes us deeper than a powerful question, but learning to generate, improve, and prioritize such questions takes practice. When schools put those skills front and center, it pushes everyone's thinking -- and also fosters the crucial sense of agency that underlies success in every field. (Tip: Start the year by training the whole school community in how to formulate good questions, then use that technique whenever groups work together.)

9.  Use theater arts to integrate the curriculum. History, literature, science, technology, mathematics, engineering, visual arts, music, movement, memory skills, oral presentation, listening, research, collaboration, reflection, revision, planning . . . is there an academic content area, 21st-century competency, or social and emotional skill that does not come into play through theater? Not just schools of the arts, but any school serving any age level can use dramatic productions to differentiate learners' challenges in a community-building group endeavor.

10. Rethink the timing of the learning day and week. I ended my previous post with a "pop quiz" question: What do all these innovations have in common? The answer: Each forces us to use time differently in the learning environment. If we make a serious priority of thinking more deeply, we will need to find the most engaging and substantive ways possible to bring all of us learners -- teachers as well as students -- to that outcome. We only get so much time. How do you want to use it?




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