Just what is DEPTH in learning?

As a consultant in 2016–7, I ran professional learning with hundreds of teachers and two of the popular the buzz words seemed to be ‘deep learning’ and ‘powerful learners’.

First step in any learning is to establish that there is a clear purpose and that the learning is important. While there is some ‘fuzziness’ about what deep learning might be, there seems to be universal appreciation of its importance and relevance.

The idea of snorkeling v deep diving seems to help teachers think about what it is that we are chasing.

Snorkeling represents: shallow, surface skimming across learning, coverage of content, use of worksheets, right answer thinking and low engagement or challenge. [If you’re wondering why worksheets are included here, read my post ‘To Worksheet or not to Worksheet, That is the question’]

Deep diving on the other hand brings to mind: depth, engagement, challenge, inquiry, RBL, critical and creative thinking, content creation, student initiated learning, choice, curiosity, questioning, formative assessment and so much more!

So, as always, I start with the end in mind and ask:

  • How will we know …. [in this case: the learning is deep]?

  • What evidence do we need?

With the help of many workshop participants, I offer these suggestions for what DEPTH looks like in four contexts:

Student attitude and DEPTH

  • Students enjoy class and are in no hurry to leave.

  • Willing to pitch in and manage the classroom, resources, co-create expectations.

  • Have a bias for ‘yes’

  • Are driven, excited, enthusiastic.

  • Ask questions, share, engage in learning talk.

  • Discussion and debate continues outside the classroom with others including parents. ‘At the dinner table last night, dad said…’

  • Shared excitement and enthusiasm for learning and meaningful discussions that continue across lessons.

  • Students continue learning tasks in their own time.

  • Solve problems independently or collaboratively with peers.

  • Make mistakes and learn from them.

  • Shared excitement and enthusiasm for the learning that’s happening.

Assessment and DEPTH

Learning behaviours and DEPTH

  • Collaboration occurs enthusiastically and there is a strong sense of community. See: Creating a Community of Learners and 6 Tips for creating a Learning Culture.

  • Participation, contribution, willingness to share and learn from others. See Keeping them Busy or Intellectually Challenged?

  • Curiosity is evident, questions are asked, explored and researched.

  • Solving problems — in learning as well as in classroom processes and management.

  • Creating/designing/experimenting/modelling/modifying/hypothesising.

  • Students can reword their learning, questions, findings, in their own language and with examples from their own experience or research. They make connections beyond the obvious — into their own lives, other learning areas, to principles that can be applied more generally across learning and life.

  • Mistakes are made and actively processed, corrected, analysed and celebrated.

  • Improvisation, content creation, creativity and varied presentations of learning occur.

  • Students ask more that ‘what’ questions, they are curious about ‘why’ and ‘how’.

  • Learning scaffolds (thinking skills like Blooms, creative thinking like DeBono Hats, BAR etc) are used at student initiative in new contexts.

Learning outcomes and DEPTH

  • Students go beyond ‘what is required’.

  • Not just focussed on the minimum criteria for a ‘pass’ or other grade.

  • Excitement about ‘ah ha moments’, ‘Got it’ and ‘light bulb moments’ are shared and celebrated.

  • Students can and DO read, of their own choice.

  • Students choose to read: books, on devices and each others’ writing and share recommendations.

  • Not only do students demonstrate knowledge with understanding and use, but they also transfer it to other contexts.

In no way is this list exhaustive! It is though, a handy reference list for educators as they engage students in discussions about learning, what success could look like, what learning might stimulate these DEPTH behaviours, and what their role is in making this happen.

The list is also a prompt for co-creating success criteria and single point rubrics with students; moving beyond content expectations to capabilities, skills, learning behaviours, collaboration, work ethic, and ultimately life long learning.