A springboard to recovery and acceleration
by Eileen Wedegartner
As schools prepare to open their doors next month, hopes are high for a return to a “normal” year where students can be in school consistently for face-to-face learning.
From the President down to parents and students, everyone recognizes the value inherent in the school experience. Schools are not only temples of learning– they also provide social experiences, extra-curricular activities, food sustenance, and a safe haven.
While communities struggle with the return to a “new” normal, now complicated by the Delta variant, they also face the challenge of ensuring that all students have access to rigorous curriculum based on grade-level standards. On top of that, they must also clear a paved path forward for students who have lost ground during the past two disrupted years. Eager as we are to resume meeting face-to-face, we know that many challenges lie ahead.
In November 2019, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) funded a pilot program with The Kaleidoscope Collective to explore deeper learning. This was prescient on Commissioner Riley’s part. Approaching the coming school year through deeper learning may be the best way to accelerate student learning and make up for interrupted and lost learning. Schools cannot spend time reviewing surface learning that students can instantly search on the phone in their pocket.
How can educators ensure that they are providing all students with rigorous curriculum based on grade-level standards, while also furnishing struggling students with the scaffolds they need to access grade-level learning? The answer may be through a focus on deeper learning. In Teaching for Deeper Learning,* Jay McTighe, who co-authored Understanding by Design, and Harvey Silver, President of Silver Strong & Associates and Thoughtful Education Press, lay out the case for deeper learning. Most importantly, they note the following:
We propose that deep learning results in an enduring understanding of essential ideas and processes. However, we also contend that understanding must be “earned” by the learner. In other words, understanding is not something that teachers can transmit simply by telling. Although we can directly teach facts and procedures, understanding of conceptually larger ideas and abstract processes must be constructed in the mind of the learner. Students earn understanding through the active mental manipulation of content via higher-order thinking skills.
Teaching beyond facts and information allows teachers to get to broader ideas. In doing so, they can scaffold instruction to help students fill in gaps in background knowledge or foundation skills that surface as barriers to mastery and transfer. To ensure that deeper learning is happening in the classroom, McTighe and Silver focus on seven thinking skills that help students make learning meaningful and impact retention, retrieval, and, most importantly, transfer. Teaching for Deeper Learning dedicates a chapter to each of these skills: conceptualizing, note-making and summarizing, comparing, reading for understanding, predicting and hypothesizing, visualizing and graphic representation, and perspective-taking and empathizing.
Educators reading this book may reflect on how its core concepts of skills and big ideas have been present in teaching and learning since 1990 when The Skillful Teacher was published. By the early aughts, the red-trimmed volume was a ubiquitous feature in classrooms. Teaching core concepts and using essential questions to drive student learning are keys to this work. The reason we are still talking about them is that they are crucial to student learning, mastery and transfer. The newer aspect is focusing on these seven thinking skills to achieve deeper knowledge. As a school partner, finding ways to help teachers implement and foster these skills is vital to my work. When I learned that our reading software program has worked with Doug Fisher, I was excited about the prospect of exploring these concepts further.
McTighe defines conceptualizing as “using facts, examples, observations and experiences to construct an understanding of important concepts and conceptual relationships.” Examples of building a concept in the ELA classroom might be presenting The Things They Carried as a study in the emotional weight of war. Teachers can develop concept attainment through word walls and the primary text, ancillary materials to help students who need scaffolds learn about PTSD and other themes. JFYNet supports can help individualize the process and scaffold student learning.
Where notetaking and summarizing are concerned, our program has many activities to help students develop these skills. Within each article, students can ask questions about how the text is related to the thought question, highlight main ideas, make connections to their own experience to build on prior knowledge, and then summarize the main points of the article.
McTighe and Silver note that comparing is an essential skill for students to make meaning of their learning. “When learners engage in purposeful comparison, they are constructing meaning and growing their understanding during the learning process. Comparing is a foundational thinking skill and a necessary underpinning to more complex processes such as argumentation, decision making, and problem-solving.”
The JFYNet program contains explicit lessons with contrasting ideas for students to work on building this skill. While all students have access to grade-level material, articles are adjusted to individual lexile reading levels. This feature of the program helps teachers scaffold instruction on a just-in-time basis to meet students where they are and accelerate learning, rather than resorting to traditional remediation.
Reading for understanding is an essential skill. The program we use builds that skill by engaging students with a 5-step literacy process. Students answer polls, actively read through annotation and highlighting, and answer thought questions. Beyond the actionable daily activities, teachers can also practice close reading activities and assign “stretch” articles that push students to more complex levels.
The program has features that help teachers implement the last three skills outlined in Deeper Learning: predicting and hypothesizing, visualizing and graphic representation, and perspective-taking and empathizing. We also have rich supplemental resources that address foundational gaps that make it difficult for struggling learners to keep up with grade-level curriculum.
This challenging year, we will delve into deeper learning, provide students with meaningful connections to their life experiences, and expand opportunities. We have the essential skills and tools to overcome any obstacles that may arise. We intend to help teachers use them to the fullest.
Eileen Wedegartner is a JFYNetWorks Learning Specialist
*Teaching for Deeper Learning, McTighe, Jay; Silver, Harvey F. ASCD. 2020. Kindle Edition.
Other posts authored by Eileen can be found here.
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