Professional Learning

Deeper Learning Community of Practice Recap

Student work is important, but understanding teacher action makes it meaningful

November 8, 2011

Our Deeper Learning Blog Carnival concludes today with a post from Kathleen Cushman that recaps the Deeper Learning Community of Practice meeting held in the Bay Area last week. While the carnival is ending the conversations will endure... please, join in.

Taking a Hard Look

By Friday afternoon, when participants in Hewlett's Deeper Learning Community of Practice left Cavallo Point Lodge after the November 2-4 "Innovation Summit," most of us looked like we had survived a particularly intense few days of California-style talk therapy.

"Look hard at yourselves," the word had gone out to us. What's really going on in our families of schools, begun with such loving determination to make a better future for our young? Do the opportunities truly prove wider, the learning goals aim higher, the tasks push deeper, the supports hold steadier? If so (or if not), how do the adults in the picture make that happen?

Tough self-scrutiny, to be sure, but we eased into it by looking at others first. A group of us spent Wednesday at Impact Academy, an Envisions school in Hayward. Others showed up at MetWest, the Big Picture school in Oakland, and a third group visited Da Vinci Charter Academy, a New Tech Network school in Davis.

Talking with students and teachers there -- and watching them at work -- yielded not just inspiration but questions. Back at Cavallo that day, as a panel of students shared their own experiences of deeper learning, we were eager to focus more closely on hard evidence.

Many Approaches

Thursday morning, our tables were laden with samples of student work. We dug in, trying to deduce from it the practices of teachers. It helped, we found, when videos were part of the package or when the teacher involved could present the case in person. But in many cases, key evidence was missing. Although student work may reflect many of our previous criteria for what the deeper learner does, we need more information about how and why that happened.

What had the teacher done to scaffold this work in its early stages? What did it look like in drafts along the way, and what feedback did the student receive from peers or teachers? Looking back when the work was complete, what reflections had the student or teacher made about this product or its process?

We could make plenty of inferences, of course, based on our own experience. But many of us wished ourselves back in the schools, where we might watch the work unfold with videophone in hand and scan key material as it emerged. Documentation, we recognized, also demands depth -- and we resolved to make that a priority in the months to come.

Yet our scrutiny did bring us closer to naming what teachers who push deeper know and do. By Friday afternoon a working group had joined me to collect some 50 pages of table notes under these preliminary headings:

  • They build learning relationships with students.
  • They design and plan backward from clear learning objectives.
  • They co-construct curriculum with students and colleagues.
  • They use inquiry to drive instruction.
  • They scaffold student learning.
  • They assess continuously.
  • They reflect on their own and others' work.
  • They use protocols to engage in collegial critique.

The Takeaway

We'll be working more on summarizing the materials from our Cavallo Summit in the next few weeks. But right now, I'd like to pose another question for you:

How would you go about documenting -- through student work and/or teacher action -- any of the items on that list of criteria? If you could manage it, what materials might you bring before your colleagues in order to provide vivid and credible evidence of what the "Deeper Learning teacher" knows and does -- and why would that matter to the depth of student learning?

Please take a moment to share your reply, right here and now! We'll all be listening for ideas that we, too, could try.

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  • 6-8 Middle School
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