Deeper Learning

Students at the Center

Engaging All Students for College, Career, and Civic Success

Using effective, student-centered approaches to engage every student regardless of skill level and prepare them for college, career, and civic success.

Rebecca E. Wolfe
Associate Vice President
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Deeper Learning

Students at the Center: Deeper Learning Research Series


Read more about the series

What Is Deeper Learning?

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation defines six competenices of deeper learning students must master in order to develop a keen understanding of academic content and apply their knowledge to problems in the classroom and on the job:

  • Mastery of Core Academic Content: Students build their academic foundation in subjects like reading, writing, math, and science. They understand key principles and procedures, recall facts, use the correct language, and draw on their knowledge to complete new tasks.
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: Students think critically, analytically, and creatively. They know how to find, evaluate, and synthesize information to construct arguments. They can design their own solutions to complex problems.
  • Collaboration: Collaborative students work well in teams. They communicate and understand multiple points of view and they know how to cooperate to achieve a shared goal.
  • Effective Communication: Students communicate effectively in writing and in oral presentations. They structure information in meaningful ways, listen to and give feedback, and construct messages for particular audiences.
  • Self-Directed Learning: Students develop an ability to direct their own learning. They set goals, monitor their own progress, and reflect on their own strengths and areas for improvement. They learn to see setbacks as opportunities for feedback and growth. Students who learn through self-direction are more adaptive than their peers.
  • Academic Mindset: Students with an "academic mindset" have a strong belief in themselves. They trust their own abilities and believe their hard work will pay off, so they persist to overcome obstacles. They also learn from and support each other. They see the relevance of their schoolwork to the real world and their own future success.

When students are developing knowledge, skills, and academic mindsets simultaneously, they learn more efficiently. They acquire and retain more academic knowledge when they are engaged, believe their studies are important, and are able to apply what they are learning in complex and meaningful ways.

Mastery of academic content is critical to a student’s future success in college, careers, and life, so it is the foundation of—and never overlooked in—deeper learning classrooms.

See our Deeper Learning Research Series, which will be released on an ongoing basis from 2014-2015, below or read about our series launch event. Learn more about deeper learning.

Students at the Center: Deeper Learning Research Series

A New Era for Educational Assessment
David T. Conley, EdImagine Strategy Group and the University of Oregon

Among education researchers, there is a growing consensus that college and career readiness depends on not just academic knowledge and skills but on a wide range of social and developmental competencies, as well—such as the ability to monitor one’s own learning, persist at challenging tasks, solve complex problems, set realistic goals, and communicate effectively in many kinds of settings. Yet, most U.S. schools continue to use standardized achievement tests, focusing exclusively on reading and math, as their primary means of gauging student progress. This paper argues that the time is ripe for a major shift in educational assessment. State and federal policymakers should reconsider their over reliance on standardized tests and they should embrace the use of multiple measures that, in combination, provide much deeper and more useful information about students’ readiness to succeed after high school.

The Role of Digital Technologies in Deeper Learning
Chris Dede, Harvard University

To compete in today’s global, knowledge-based, innovation-centered economy, young people must go beyond a high school diploma and acquire not just academic knowledge, but interpersonal and interpersonal capacities. That is, they must engage in deeper learning. As schools shift away from traditional education models in favor or providing deeper learning environments, they are required to replace their outdated technology practices and implement a new infrastructure to support student learning. This report explores how partnering deeper learning strategies with effective technology designs allows for greater educational success.

Let's Get Real: Deeper Learning and the Power of the Workplace
Nancy Hoffman, Jobs for the Future

Educators today assert that “college and career readiness” should be the goal for every high school student, but “career readiness” is too often an empty tagline. What does it mean to be ready for a career? In this paper, Nancy Hoffman argues that, in a period when very few teens have access to jobs, high school experience must incorporate gradual exposure to the workplace. Learning to work and learning about work are major milestones for adolescent social and cognitive development. If deeper learning is the end, then work is a powerful means. The United States needs to make visible the strong models of high schools incorporating work-based learning, and establish policies at the state leve and federal levels to scale and support them.

Civic Education and Deeper Learning
Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg & Peter Levine, Tufts University

This report proposes that the turn toward deeper learning in education reform should go hand in hand with a renewed emphasis on high-quality civics education. Not only does deeper learning have great potential to promote civic outcomes and strengthen our democracy but, at the same time, civic education exemplifies deeper learning, in that it provides students with challenging, collaborative, and engaging experiences. The report addresses evolving contexts for civics education and suggests a shared agenda, calling for new approaches in teaching civics that involve deeper and more collaborative learning, take better advantage of advanced technologies, are assessed in more authentic ways, and pervade the entire high school curriculum. 

Deeper Learning for Students with Disabilities
Sharon Vaughn, University of Texas & Louis Danielson, American Institutes for Research

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs now requires states to fully disclose the precise steps they will take to ensure better outcomes for students with disabilities. This new requirement can aid educators in implementing effective practices for providing deeper learning opportunities for these students. With the proper supports in place, such as research-based instruction that encourages supportive teaching practices, students with disabilities can meet the goals defined by advocates of deeper learning. These evidence-based instructional practices have the added bonus of benefiting all students, with and without disabilities.

Equal Opportunity for Deeper Learning
Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University & Pedro Noguera, Teachers College, Columbia University

The quality of instruction for low-income students and students of color is increasingly becoming a concern in the United States. This report calls for fundamental changes in curriculum, assessment, and policy to ensure equity among students regardless of socioeconomic status. Access to a more rigorous curriculum for underserved students can bridge gaps by equipping students with the deeper learning skills they need to be college ready. The report proposes that implementing student-centered practices throughout school systems can provide all students with continuous opportunities to practice 21st-century skills through high-quality instruction and deeper learning.

How School Districts Can Support Deeper Learning: The Need for Performance Alignment
Meredith Honig & Lydia Rainey, University of Washington

School district leaders nationwide aspire to help their schools become vibrant places for learning—where students have meaningful academic opportunities and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Historically, though, school district central offices have been ill-equipped to support such ambitious goals. A new wave of research suggests that central offices have a key role to play in creating the conditions that make deeper learning possible, and they can do so by making deliberate efforts to align the work of each and every part of the school system to a set of common priorities.

The Implications of Deeper Learning for Adolescent Immigrants and English Language Learners
Patricia Gándara, UCLA Graduate School of Education & The Civil Rights Project at UCLA

For roughly 50 years, the federal government has been committed to supporting students who are recent immigrants and/or non- native English speakers. However, policymakers have not managed to agree on the types of services needed and how best to deliver them. In this report, Patricia Gándara argues that students who are immigrants and/or English language learners often exhibit strengths that monolingual, non-immigrant children may not have, and which policymakers should view as important assets to be cultivated. Moreover, the strengths that ELLs and immigrants bring with them to school tend to be well aligned with the goals of deeper learning.

Deeper Teaching
Magdalene Lampert, Boston Residency for Teachers and the University of Michigan

Most high school students are accustomed to learning in two ways: by listening to the teacher and by reading books and other texts. These familiar ways of learning work for them so long as their teachers demand only that they grasp and remember the given content. However, if the goal is to help students learn in more intellectually sophisticated ways, then teaching and learning will have to look quite different. In this paper, Magdalene Lampert provides a close, detailed description of “deeper teaching,” referring to the kinds of instructional strategies and moment-by-moment teaching decisions that enable students to learn deeply. She concludes by describing the kinds of early-career guidance and supports that teachers will need in order to understand what deeper teaching entails and put it into practice.

The Why, What, Where, and How of Deeper Learning in American Secondary Schools
Jal Mehta & Sarah Fine, Harvard Graduate School of Education

For growing numbers of education advocates, the imperative is not just to help much greater numbers of students to succeed but to help them learn in deeper, more sophisticated ways than in the past. Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine put the deeper learning movement in historical context and describe their research into schools that are attempting to embrace the goals of deeper learning for all of their students. The paper concludes with suggestions for re-envisioning the industrial model of public schooling inherited from the early 20th century in order to build an educational system that supports and sustains deeper learning.

Effective Schools for Deeper Learning: An Exploratory Study
Rafael Heller & Rebecca E. Wolfe, Jobs for the Future

This report proposes one strategy by which to strengthen the nascent research base on deeper learning’s implications for high school improvement. Specifically, it describes an exploratory study designed to test the idea that a particular kind of whole-school assessment, involving site visits by teams of trained observers, can provide useful data about students’ opportunities for deeper learning. Further, it argues that this sort of assessment makes it possible to identify schools that—while unremarkable according to test-based measures of school performance—are particularly effective at teaching certain inter- and intrapersonal skills. In turn, this suggests a myriad of new opportunities to study and replicate best practices in teaching for deeper learning.


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