Deep Learning: Challenges and Rewards

Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash

To re-structure learning of curriculum we as teachers, need to look at our learning objectives and ways to extend them beyond the classroom walls. The deeper learning is going to come when we squeeze ourselves and our students outside the classroom.

The planning for deeper learning should happen at the beginning of the year where our learning objectives (for me Social Studies and English) are being set. By listing the standards that should be taught I can start planning for each unit that I will teach. As I plan for the units some standards will be hit more than once therefore those would be the ones that I am (hopefully consciously) prioritizing.

I deliberately chose to pick the learning objectives before setting them into the units that I have to teach in Social Studies (C3) curriculum and English (Writing and Reading workshops). These learning objectives will allow me to set up checkpoints to monitor learning progress during a unit and after a unit. Second, each unit (English and Social Studies) should be overlapping and linked to a social/personal issue that is relevant to the students. For example, social issues that directly affect students are gun control, equality, pollution and personal issues could be career choice, making a budget, pros and cons for one college loan over another etc.

If I do not set the learning objectives first, I will be lost as a teacher and not be able to assess the learning process for each individual student and the class as a whole. This would mean a more organized, structured learning and assessment process for the students and me.

In addition, each English and Social Studies unit that is planned has to have an extension that requires action to be taken in the class, community or world linked to a social justice or personal cause as mentioned above. This is a requirement of the C3 (College, Career and Civic Life) curriculum in Dimension 4: Communicating Conclusions and Taking Informed Action. It can also be a part of an Argument writing and reading unit whereby students write about an issue that they feel strongly about as a blog or they tweet. This is where students get an opportunity to build something new from what they have learnt and tread unchartered waters.

Active Partnership

For me partnering with students as a teacher means that I should be able to provide resource avenues if they are stuck. In addition, during the frequent check ins if they are not at par with the check in learning goal then the group will need to pause and we will have to sit and talk/plan out where they are headed. Hopefully, that would clarify obstacles that they are hitting.

I did think that for an active partnership I should also complete my own project every time that the students are required to complete one. However, that will mean my energies will be divided and I do not want to influence students by giving them a chance to copy what I am doing. Therefore, I would not do this (in the past I have done this to model my expectations for the students).

However, I would like to keep a google form with each group to find out the technical apps that they are looking at so I know what I have to learn to be better able to assess student work.

Creating an Authentic Learning Experience

To give students an experience that they ‘own’ their learning they should be able to choose either the social justice or personal issue that they want to extend their learning to. Maybe, we can choose to concentrate on alternating social justice and personal issues every unit.

I do want to give choices of either social justice or personal issues for the students who will delay starting because they are undecided about what they want to learn more about. However, all students are free to choose what issue they want to extend their learning to. Also, the process they want to use is up to them.

As long as I have been able to check in with the learning objectives and they are able to explain what they learnt through their end product I do not have to interfere with how to execute their learning.

Raising the Bar for Students so Everyone Learns

I used to think that students from lower income backgrounds are at risk but I now think that all students are at risk because they are surrounded by too many distractions: most of it is technology.

As I have written before, to teach students without linking it to technology then school will become obsolete for students and without meaning. Therefore, all students are at risk of not learning and most importantly not learning the skills to link their learning to planning, thinking, and then implementation in the real world. If the link to learning and making a difference in their own lives and the world can be made then students will be interested and motivated to learn. But it is only then that they will learn!

Planning for Deeper Learning

For me, the planning of learning objectives for my class has to be done at the beginning of the year. Then I need to decide what units of study in English (Argument, Narrative and Information for reading and writing) as well as Social Studies (C3) units are to be taught. Third, I would look at how the English (reading and writing) units will overlap with the C3 units.

The overlapping of interdisciplinary units leads to richer learning which I experienced first hand when I combined my Historical writing unit with the Social Studies unit on ‘Conflict within Nations’. Therefore, students researched and then wrote stories within civil wars, revolutions, genocides etc. around the world. It revealed some of the best writing that the students had done.

It should be noted that the learning objectives that will fit into the units is decided and wherever possible there should be an overlap of objectives so they are reinforced. Last, each overlapping unit has to be linked to a social justice or personal issue close to student interests. If students will pursue a topic of their own interest then their deeper learning can be linked to the topic. It roughly follows the pattern in the infographic below.

Invisible Bias: Mine and Students

This can be countered best by stepping outside the classroom to meet other teachers, parents, classmates who are different from each other. I think at an international school an opportunity to host a cultural lunch for the students and their parents would be an excellent opportunity for students and parents to meet over food, music (pre-determined list of local music). It would be a great opportunity for the teacher to meet, greet and find out where her/his students come from. I have not done this but it would be an excellent means to set up a diverse community that includes all our differences and does not exclude anyone because of their differences.

As a teacher I have to make sure that I do not dictate to students if I detect bias in their thinking, or actions in class. (I have done this before with disastrous results!). I need to be able to plan an activity (even a short one) or show a film to counter the bias within groups of students or our classroom who are comfortable with each other. Initially, a 3-2-1 Bridge activity could be used to build upon prior knowledge on a topic. This could be used to build on a concluding activity of what I knew before and what I know now to really ‘show’ biases to students. This could be done with a visible thinking routine showing how and why our thinking has changed.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

In the same way, I have to make an effort to converse, plan and talk to teachers who have a different perspective and background from me. All of this would take effort as we usually gravitate towards the ones we feel the most comfortable with. I would also benefit from the 3-2-1 Bridge activity.

I believe that for self-awareness one has to be open to criticism or to sitting next to someone who is very different from you to learn more about them and yourself. Or tackle social media to read, discuss and respond to others who think differently from you.


The rewards of deeper learning are students who will be involved citizens used to tackling problems, thinking on their feet and making a change even before they leave school. As they learn all their content in the backdrop of technology they will be better equipped for jobs and careers that will exist in the future. Indeed, they will be better equipped to deal with the environmental challenges of the future as well.

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