Diving Into Deep Learning!

Learning occurs best in a community of learning or practice. The word community implies that the people within it are taking an active part in the process of learning. – Dr. Shannon H. Doak (source).

What is deep learning? 

Deep learning is the antidote to more traditional forms of teacher-directed learning. It is democratic and communal. It values people and processes over information transfer.

In deep learning, students and teachers learn from each other and go beyond mastery of facts and discrete content knowledge. They work together to explore important issues and address problems creatively. Teachers and students are partners in the learning process. They are focused on achieving shared objectives and goals.

According to Dr. Monica R. Martinez, Deeper Learning is a set of student outcomes that includes mastery of essential academic content; thinking critically and solving complex problems; working collaboratively and communicating effectively; having an academic mindset, and being empowered through self-directed learning.” (Source).

I love this video from the Hewlett Foundation that provides an overview of Deep Learning.

Deep learning is rooted in the 4Cs of 21st Century Skills:

The 4Cs – Source: AES Education.

This video, from the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning organization, talks about deep learning in Finland. It gives good insight into what this approach might look like in practice. (Source).

The Old Pedagogy – Boring Us to Death:

I cannot tell you how many teacher training sessions I have sat in that have been anything but deep learning. Although most of the trainings are on the importance of what Michael Fullen calls the “New Pedagogy” (aka deep learning), the trainings themselves usually rely on the “Old Pedagogy” (aka the sage on a stage method) to communicate ideas.

Case in point, I recently attended a training on Universal Design for Learning. UDL is a learning approach rooted in the principles of individualization, choice, and agency. However, the trainer used a one-sized fits all approach to deliver the content. He lectured at us for about an hour using a lengthy slideshow and provided zero opportunities for those of us Zooming in to process what was being discussed.

It was text-heavy slide after text-heavy slide in rapid-fire succession. I  was basically sitting at my desk wondering how much this guy was getting paid to share this completely de-contextualized and non-relevant presentation with us. Probably more than I make per hour…

Me Looking Bored as a Bear during our last teacher PD session. Image via giphy.

It sure is obvious to an outside observer when deep learning is not present. People are looking at their phones, multitasking, falling asleep, getting up constantly to take breaks, engaging in side-chatter, etc…

Adventures in Deep Learning – An Exploration of Queer Allyship:

Rest assured, friends. There is hope. There are some forward-thinking, tech-savvy educators out there doing cool stuff using the New Pedagogy. I was fortunate enough to learn from one last week (along with my COETAIL buddy, Danielle Richert). Since Danielle and I both love Shifting Schools, we decided to attend their “Now is the Time” training pathway together.

The training was focused on helping teachers become better allies to the LGBTQ+ students in their schools. It was organized by Tricia Friedman, who produces the Be A Better Ally Podcast. Tricia is passionate about building more inclusive schools. She is also excellent at fostering opportunities for deep learning and global collaboration.

Tricia used some of the following strategies to promote the 4Cs of collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity in her workshop:

  1. She provided frequent opportunities for us to talk to a partner in a breakout room.
  2. She gave us choices about what we wanted to learn, often giving us a menu of resources around a topic, and then asking us to click on the links that interested us.
  3. She allotted plenty of time for us to think, write, and process what we were discussing.
  4. She didn’t expect us to master everything at once. She encouraged us to keep looking through the slide deck over the coming weeks and to return to the ideas presented there as we saw fit.
  5. She created a Slack Space called “Queer Wisdom” to help us continue the conversation with each other (and other like-minded international educators) moving forward.
  6. She asked us to engage in deep listening and deep conversations, which, in my opinion, are essential components of deep learning.

Deep Conversations for Deep Learning. Source: Tricia Friedman (AllyEd.org).

Looking Ahead: As an EAL teacher, I am passionate about using mentor texts in my classroom. They provide students with models of what good writing looks like. This training with Tricia was like a mentor text for me. It provided me with a model of what deep learning can look like.

I’m going to think carefully about some of the techniques that Tricia used in her training when planning my COETAIL Course 5 unit next semester. If I want my students to be co-constructors of the knowledge with me, and to engage in sustained conversations about important topics with me, then I need to be intentional about how I structure our time together. More on that in the weeks to come…

Food for thought: Which of the 4Cs do you think is the most important – collaboration, communication, critical thinking, or creativity? Why?

3 thoughts on “Diving Into Deep Learning!

  1. Hi Megan,
    I’m so flattered to be included here in your COETAIL journey. I’m a former COETAILER too, and I really appreciated my experience.
    I’m glad you were able to look at our session and link with UDL characteristics. In my mind though you don’t give yourself enough credit for bringing the critical thinking forward. A PD provider can do as much ‘idea conveying’ as they want, but if the learner doesn’t engage (or doesn’t leverage opportunities to engage), those ideas fall flat.

    There has never been a more trying time for educators to make the space and time for PD, and I commend the effort and energy you are bringing to your community.
    Thanks again,
    Tricia

  2. I love your juxtaposition of the use of old pedagogies to teach new pedagogies – ironic and sad, but your post brings the problem to light! Thank you also for sharing examples of what it looks like to be engaged or not. It’s so helpful to have the specifics rather than only the abstract ideas.

    Regarding your question about the 4Cs, creativity is definitely one upon which I place high value. Creativity is required in all disciplines and I am often saddened by the assumption that creativity is relegated to the arts. Divergent thinking is creative. New pedagogies is creative. I also love curiosity, not one of the 4Cs, but definitely and important C. When we remain open and curious, we learn more, empathise more, question more and reflect more.

  3. Megan, a great post and a great read. I agree with Tara in the benefit of seeing how your own PD training shows the differences in how teachers are subject to ‘Deep Learning’. I am working with my Grade 9 class to have them ‘teach’ other students a topic and have to keep asking them how they like to be taught and not to use “text-heavy slide after text-heavy slide in rapid-fire succession.”

    Of the four C’s I think communication is most important for society but for the individual I would say critical thinking. I separate them into categories as I find students have trouble being open in their communication and honest with each other. I think that if as a society we can be better at communicating we will be able to learn from each other to collaborate and benefit from others creativity and critical thinking. Yet, on an individual basis I feel critical thinking is most important in this day and age given the nature of news sources. I recently ran a few lessons on sources and how reliable they were and almost had the student believing in
    House Hippos and Spaghetti Trees.

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