How to have it both ways: deeper learning and broad content coverage

Is it possible?

I just read an interesting article about the dilemma of deeper learning and broad content coverage. Christensen Institute. I known this is a well-known conflict for most teachers. In Norway we have specific competence aims to cover during the year. They are supposed to cover both broad content coverage and deeper learning. What then is deeper learning and what is broad content coverage and how do we eventually grade this? These graders are very important to the students, which makes this difficult for the teachers.  In fact, I just learned that Norway is one of the countries that rely mostly on grades given by the teachers for further advancement. 80% vs 20%.

You could say that the teachers’ job is to encourage students to be their best and find their talents with a lot of support from the teacher in the form of feedback and formative assessment.  But at the same time bearing in mind that in the end, the outcome of the summative assessment decides on who is qualified for university and college. The certification given at the end of high school decides if you can start studying or have to work on improving your grades the next year. In other words a costly outcome for the students.

In Norway, teachers experience a lot of trust from the public, but at the same time grading is complicated and sometimes left to the individual teacher. Grading in other words is an important part of high school and can not be left out of the equation.

Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine’s recent book, In Search of Deeper Learning, makes a powerful case for the importance of deeper learning in K–12 schools. Deeper learning, they argue, ignites students’ passions for learning and prepares them for life in the real world by fostering mastery of knowledge and skills, identity formation that connects students’ core selves to what they are learning, and the creativity that happens when students learn through producing something.

You can listen to Jal Mehta in the interview here.

Here are some key points from the article;

For many who champion deeper learning, online learning may seem anathema—perceived as synonymous with mind-numbing drill and kill exercises on a computer. But online learning may be exactly what will allow deeper learning practices to scale.

When done right, online learning can be a powerful engine for one side of the education tug of war: coherent content coverage. Online videos that teachers either create or curate from sources such as Khan AcademyCrash Course, and TED-Ed can offer engaging alternatives for “covering the material.” Furthermore, research shows that interactive learning software from organizations like DreamBox LearningWaterford UPSTARTKhan AcademyMindspark, and i-Ready can effectively produce gains in student achievement.

Admittedly, most online instructional resources on their own do not stimulate learning at the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. But that’s not necessarily what we should expect of them. Instead, when it comes to helping students master basic facts and skills, online learning excels in three areas that are challenging for teachers to do for every student individually: providing immediate feedback, adapting instruction to every student’s current level of understanding, and making transparent the connection between effort and mastery.

Without question, online learning has an improvement trajectory it needs to follow. Adaptive software can get better at identifying and addressing students’ underlying misconceptions so they don’t get stuck and frustrated. Online videos can provide more engaging, thorough, and aligned coverage of content standards.

But as online learning resources become increasingly effective and efficient at covering and reviewing content, they can free teachers to worry less about standards and test scores and focus instead on activities that foster collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. In other words, online learning could actually enable deeper learning by expanding teachers’ available time and energy for focusing on deeper learning.

In short, deeper learning needs online learning to help it scale. Whereas teachers may seem forced to make tradeoffs between breadth and depth, well-designed blended learning can give them a way to do both. This is the key to enabling deeper learning approaches to maintain their integrity at scale while simultaneously ensuring every student succeeds at developing core knowledge and skills demanded by education systems today. Source: Christensen institute. 

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