Teachers everywhere are looking for ways to deepen student learning. Even in schools not formally supporting the deeper learning competencies, we’ve found that teachers are working hard to make student learning relevant, meaningful, and to prepare them as lifelong learners. In the L.E.V.E.R.S. research we saw the factors that enabled educators to do deeper learning in their classrooms, and heard about some of the challenges they faced when trying to do more.
But what does it look like when teachers join together to design and implement new ways of deepening student learning? We worked with three groups of educators from public high schools who wanted to test out some new ideas in their classrooms. Here’s what we learned:
Although teachers have the power to do amazing things when they come together, there are many structural challenges they face. We saw firsthand what roadblocks each of the teacher teams encountered in trying to reach their mission. But for the teachers, these roadblocks didn’t mark the end of the journey; each group addressed their challenges in different ways.
The teachers at 360 High School were still able to create a meaningful opportunity to deepen student learning by pivoting from their initial idea and instead creating a new project that would incorporate the school mission. What’s important is that teachers were able to use the momentum they had created as empowered designers to shift projects to incorporate more perspectives. By returning to their school, speaking to their principal and staff, and running another design studio, they were able to create another design that elevated the school’s vision and got more people engaged.
Students at Barrington high school were overly concerned with their grades, and performance on standardized tests. This had to do with the school culture, as well as their traditional experiences in an education system. So it’s no surprise that DLA teacher team met some resistance to their plans to deepen student learning (which deviated from what students were comfortable with). Despite these challenges, teachers persisted, and in time the students began to embrace curriculum that pushed them deeper. Teachers also knew when to get out of the students’ way and let them expand on the deeper learning projects.
Teachers at Middletown high school embarked on a grand endeavour when they planned to redesign their current digital portfolio. Such an act takes a lot of teacher and administrator buy in, as well as a good portion of time and energy. But this didn’t stop the DLA team from working towards their goal in a manageable way. Instead of trying to tackle on the redesign as one big project, teachers created small hacks that would move them toward their vision of student reflection. Some teachers even utilized the current digital portfolio to incorporate more opportunities for students to go deeper. These small “hacks” towards their ultimate goal are laying down a foundation and culture for student reflection that will make their mission to redesign the digital portfolio much easier.
In order to explore the different experiences of public high school educators, we chose 3 schools from three different regions in Rhode Island. We selected a rural, suburban, and two urban high schools for the Deeper Learning Academy. A total of 25 educators and 1 student participated. Some schools had multiple teams, while others opted to work as a large, singular team.
The DLA teams were invited to a participatory design studio at our BIF office in Providence, Rhode Island. We held a unique design studio for each school. Design studios were organized in a way to allow teachers time to reflect on the deeper learning that was already occurring in their school, and a chance to reflect on what competencies there could be more of. Teachers were then taken through a set of activities to help them align to a mission, and allowed them space to brainstorm different ideas. Each design studio lasted 5 hours, and the outcome was a set of idea summaries, and an action plan for testing them out in their school. Each team had 6 months to complete their projects.
Some teacher teams implemented their projects just as they designed them, but many more reimagined their previous designs. We learned that the smaller the project, or the more bitesize the approach, the more likely teachers were to complete their projects and have positive impact on students. We also saw that all completed projects either continued, spread to other teachers, or evolved into other projects that pushed for more deeper learning.
After the projects were completed, we had follow up conversations and video interviews with the teachers that participated. We’ve coalesced the video interviews to construct 3 videos that illustrates teachers’ experiences in the DLA.