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Blog: Thursday, May 2nd, 2019

Deep Learning! What?!

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Educators kill me sometimes. We (me included) have a way of making things more complicated than they sometimes need to be. I swear that our profession is the ‘best’ in terms of the jargon and acronyms we use. True, it is understandable that with the international call to action to modernize our education systems, we need to bring our best thinking into our classrooms. However, I think we make it too difficult sometimes. I am particularly concerned about this because the place we hold in society impacts virtually everyone. Most importantly, kids and parents (as well as post-secondary and employers) need to know what the heck we are talking about when we say we are aiming the transform the education system to improve learning.
Think about it; over the last decade, we have bandied around terms like personalized learning, individualized learning, project-based learning, problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning to describe the changes being made in instruction. And the newest one on the scene for us is deep learning. We have used these terms to (imperfectly) capture our aspirations for classrooms that engage students at higher levels, support the core competencies (critical thinking, creative thinking, communication, personal/social identities), and embrace self-regulated learning. Unfortunately, along the way, we have probably managed to alienate some educators and certainly mystify countless parents. I am hoping to make two points here:

  1. We need to be thoughtful about the words we use to describe our practice; and
  2.  When we use these terms, we must take the time to deconstruct them to ensure that the community, particularly students and parents, knows what the heck we are talking about.

So, taking my own advice, allow me to unpack what we mean by deep learning. Some of you may know that Abbotsford School District is currently working in partnership with Harvard University and eleven other school districts around North America on a project to successfully transform our schools in the spirit of our redesigned curriculum. We call ourselves the Deeper Learning Dozen. As my colleagues from the project describe below, deep learning is about three ideas:

  • Mastery: Mastery entails a grasp of core disciplinary knowledge, as well as of the capacities of critical thinking and reasoning, problem-solving, communication – including listening - collaboration, and digitally-based learning;
  • Identity: Identity entails the development of character as well as self-efficacy, agency, and motivation. It also encompasses the ways in which students see themselves in what they are learning, and feel seen and heard in the classroom - factors that also contribute to academic achievement; 
  • Creativity: We see creativity as a disposition and practice relevant to all the roles young people have to take up in life, as citizens, productive contributors to an economy, community and family members, and stewards of the natural environment. Creativity … entails students actively creating knowledge collectively, not just receiving information passively.

Hopefully, you can see that deep learning as described above fits well within re-designed curriculum framework, and the aspirations we have for our classrooms in this province. In truth, I am not hung up on the term, or any other for that matter. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  We just need to make sure that the rose is in fact what we have before us. We must ensure that the instructional approaches we value are evident not just in name, but in practice.  We must ensure that they are evident in our classrooms in greater measure tomorrow than they were yesterday, no matter what we happen to call them.

By Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.