This post is by Libby Woodfin, director of publications for Expeditionary Learning
At the Deeper Learning conference in San Diego this March, I found myself in a small group discussing the following prompt: Describe a time from your own education when you experienced deeper learning.
Instantly, I saw my sixth-grade self standing in front of a presentation board that my partner, Molly, and I had assembled. Behind us, our beautiful creation--a bulletin board jam-packed with everything we had learned about Queen Nefertiti. This presentation format is not unusual. You can find similar presentations in classrooms everywhere--they don’t always represent deeper learning. This project was designed in such a way, however, that it led to deeper learning. In addition to creating and presenting something of real quality, we understood the disciplinary concepts and content deeply enough to teach others through our work.
While Molly and I stood near our Queen Nefertiti display, my classmates waited their turn in front of their own presentation boards--the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, King Tut, the Fertile Crescent, and all of the other greatest hits of Ancient Egypt were their subjects. Each of our boards featured drawings, maps, charts and graphs, poems, and research papers. They were interdisciplinary masterpieces. Each pair gave a presentation--a guided tour of the “artifacts” on the boards, explaining why each artifact was important for understanding their topic.
Molly and I nailed our presentation. We gestured to our artifacts with confidence and gave evidence for each one’s inclusion on our board. Our handwriting was clear and even. The drawing at the center of our exquisitely symmetrical presentation board captured every detail of Nefertiti’s famous bust. Our poetry evoked the true life of a queen. Our research was extensive. We answered every question with ease because we spoke as experts.
(It is not lost on me--as I write these words 30 years later--how ironic it is that I have such clear memories of that project, despite the fact that my memory of new events so often fails me now. I know without hesitation how to spell Queen Nefertiti’s name. I can detail what she looked like. I even remember my decision to describe her as a feminist in our research paper and how I convinced Molly to agree. I can also easily remember vivid details of my classmates’ presentations--in my mind I can see Jason’s amazingly detailed drawing of those hanging gardens; I can recall a graph of the major crops grown in the Fertile Crescent and the accompanying map that showed how the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers surrounded the region with precious water and allowed the crops to grow.)
Why do I remember these details? Why did this experience flash into my mind and then refuse to leave as I sat with my group in San Diego? Certainly it wasn’t the best example of deeper learning from my entire education. But it did make me take pride in my work, which make my learning stick, and that was enough to overshadow every other educational memory that I have. I was proud because our work was beautiful and thorough and because we created it all ourselves. I was proud of how Molly and I presented our learning--we had practiced with notecards and we divided both the work and the presentation responsibilities fairly and evenly. And I know now upon reflection that I was also proud of my classmates--we presented our work to another class and we were all invested in how we came across to them. We had that feeling afterwards of overcoming a great challenge together. Our teacher gave us cookies and soda to celebrate.
Though fairly uncomplicated, this project certainly maps onto many of the components of the deeper learning framework (e.g., critical thinking, collaboration, effective communication, self-directed learning). But where does pride in accomplishment fit into the framework? It was so important to me, but is it an important for every student? The dictionary definition of pride is “a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievement.” All students should have opportunities to feel that level of satisfaction.
The most recent addition to the deeper learning framework is Academic Mindsets, “the psycho-social attitudes or beliefs one has about oneself in relation to academic work.” The Consortium on Chicago School Research describes four key academic mindsets:
- I belong in this learning community
- I can succeed at this
- My ability and competency grow with my effort
- This work has value for me
For me, pride fits in the parentheses I would add after each bullet: (and that makes me take pride in my work). There are many possible parenthetical statements one could add to those bullets:
- (and that makes me work harder)
- (and that gives me courage)
- (and that brings me happiness)
- (and that (fill in the blank))
Let’s work to give our students opportunities to fill in that blank, to find what drives them to learn. Let’s find them an audience for their work--whether it’s the class across the hall, a pen pal in another country, or the city council--that motivates them to care about quality and communicate effectively. Let’s help them develop expertise in something. Let’s present them with challenges that they can overcome together. Let’s make sure that 30 years from now they’ve got something to remember, something that makes them feel (fill in the blank).
How would you fill in that blank?
To see kindergartners in Boise, ID taking pride in their work go to: https://vimeo.com/69120172
The opinions expressed in Learning Deeply are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.