March 6, 2019

Designing for Deeper Learning: A Conversation with Author Julie Graber

Innovation in education has accelerated, in large part, due to the tremendous changes in digital technologies.  Each one of these innovations have, in various degrees, shifted teaching practices in schools across the nation. But as we navigate the current wave of emerging educational technology tools and practices, we need to discuss what the end result of these innovations actually are, or at least aim to be.  In other words, what is the end game for these innovations?

One such end result is the concept of “deeper learning.”  Essential skills and competencies considered part of “deeper learning” include critical thinking, creativity, communication, problem solving, and metacognition. Proponents of deeper learning make the case that all learning environments, regardless of the specific innovation or approach, should help build these student competencies so that they are prepared for our rapidly changing world. This idea of deeper learning is not new, and several organizations have existing frameworks promoting this type of learning, such as the Hewlett Foundation and New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning. For years, educational researchers and authors have promoted these skills and dispositions (examples here, here and here) and most school districts across the nation address these in their vision statements and strategic planning documents.

How then do we ensure that when we are experimenting with and implementing new approaches to teaching and learning, particularly those that require significant investments in time and resources, that these shifts are actually resulting in deeper student learning?  

Two educational leaders that have recently developed a protocol to help us to just that. Dr. Scott McLeod and Julie Graber’s Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning lays out four areas to focus on when redesigning learning environments.  They include Deeper Thinking and Learning, Authentic Work, Student Agency and Personalization, and Technology Infusion.  Below are excerpts from the protocol for each area:

Deep Thinking and Learning

Problem Solving. Do learning activities and assessments allow students to engage in complex and messy (not simple) problem solving?

  • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Creativity. Do students have the opportunity to design, create, make, or otherwise add value that is unique to them?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat

Authentic Work

  • Authentic Assessment. Are students creating real-world products or performances for authentic audiences?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
    • Contribution. If yes, does student work make a contribution to an audience beyond the classroom walls to the outside world?
      • Yes / No / Somewhat

Student Agency and Personalization

  • Initiative. Do students have the opportunity to initiate, be entrepreneurial, be self-directed, and/or go beyond the given parameters of the learning task or environment?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat

Technology Infusion

  • Technology Adds Value. Does technology add value so that students can do their work in better or different ways than are possible without the technology?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Technology as Means, Not End. When digital technologies are utilized, do the tools overshadow, mask, or otherwise draw the focus away from important learning?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat

The authors suggest using this protocol to redesign one or two aspects of a lesson, as opposed to redesigning everything. For example, a teacher may want to focus in on student agency, so they could use that section of the protocol to guide their redesign efforts.  They also suggest using the protocol on existing lesson ideas before your own, such as those in the Florida or Arizona matrix.

I had the pleasure of speaking with author Julie Graber during a recent Deeper Learning webinar as part of the EdTechTeacher winter webinar series. We engaged in a fascinating conversation regarding the 4 Shifts protocol and how it is being leveraged by schools and districts across the nations to advance deeper learning in their classrooms.  You can view an archive of the webinar here .  You can also access the slides from our presentation here.

More from our conversation with practical examples of lesson redesign is on the way in upcoming posts, so stayed tuned.  In the meantime, please reach out to myself,  Dr. Scott McLeod and Julie Graber with any questions and if interested in collaborating in the future!

Join Tom at the upcoming EdTechTeacher Innovation in Education event in Woodstock, Vermont April 3rd-4th.  Learn more about his Deeper Learning strand and other event programming here.