What are deep learning tasks?
According to Michael Fullan and Maria Langworthy in their publication, A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning, deep learning tasks “harness the power of the new learning partnerships to engage students in practicing the process of deep learning through discovering and mastering existing knowledge and then creating and using new knowledge in the world” (p. 21). When students engage in deep learning tasks, especially learning activities that have been redesigned with deep learning in mind, they take ownership of their learning because they are interested in learning the content and can apply what they are learning to the real world.
Boring to Engaging
One of the ways that deep learning tasks redesign learning activities is to “re-structure students’ learning of curricular content in more challenging and engaging ways made possible by digital tools and resources” (A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning, p. 22). At AAS, technology plays a big role in the learning that is happening. Students in grades Pre-K to Grade 4 have one-to-one iPads purchased by the school. There are also Chromebooks assigned to classes and grade levels from Grade 2 to Grade 4. Starting in Grade 5, all students must have their own personal device/laptop which they must have with them every day. Teachers also must have their own device, and we teachers can use part of our Professional Development money every two years to purchase a new device. Besides these, each classroom is equipped with a SmartBoard and AppleTV. All of this technology makes learning more engaging for the students, because they are able to access information very quickly. In the younger grades, students can find videos to watch or digital books to read on the topics they are learning. My Grade 2 students like to use technology to complete various tasks and show their learning because they have become very tech-savvy as they have used the technology in each previous grade level.
Student Voice and Choice
A critical part of deep learning tasks is giving students real choice about what and how they learn. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) focuses on students taking ownership of their learning. In the spring of 2018, the IB added student agency as another focus point of the PYP as part of the new enhancements to the PYP. However, I feel that in the lower elementary it is not easy to give students more voice and choice of their learning, because here they are learning the foundation contents that the rest of their schooling will build upon. We teachers design the summative tasks that the students need to execute for each unit – their voice and choice comes in as to how they decide to complete the task.
Meaningful Learning Experiences
Before we start each unit, we elementary teachers at AAS spend time unpacking the unit, discussing what the main focus is, what the summative task or assessment will be, and making sure that we have meaningful learning experiences planned for the unit. Our curriculum leader and subject-area coaches help each grade level team check that the learning experiences we had already planned for the unit are meaningful (relate back to the main topics or lines of inquiry); if we don’t have enough meaningful learning experiences, then they help guide us in planning them. Each year that I have been at AAS, we have had Tania Lattanzio (twitter) come work with each grade level on our PYP units, especially ensuring that we have meaningful learning experiences. Each learning activity that we elementary teachers plan has a clear learning goal. For example, in Grade 2 for Grade 2 we plan out a calendar of the activities/learning engagements for each unit of inquiry and group the activities by each line of inquiry.
Reaching ALL Students
As teachers, we naturally want all students to learn and excel. In reality, there will always be students who struggle to learn or do not master the content as quickly as their classmates. In order to create the reality that all students can and will learn, I use the knowledge of child development acquired during my 15 years of teaching experience to adjust my lessons and to ask for help from other teachers when a student’s struggles or difficulties are beyond my expertise. Two examples come to mind right away. During my second year at AAS, one of my students was a high-functioning autistic girl. The SEN (Special Education Needs) teacher and I worked with her extensively that year. I knew that I could not do it on my own, so I would frequently call the SEN teacher to my classroom to help me, especially when incidents escalated out of my expertise. This student improved greatly in the year that I had her in my class; she improved so much that the following year, in Grade 3, she did not need SEN services. The other instance that comes to mind is one of my students from last year. He was very resistant to doing any classwork and I also noticed some issues I thought were related to OT (occupational therapy). I really advocated for him with his parents and with the Child Study Team to get him an OT evaluation. Turns out that I was right – he had many issues that could be resolved with OT. Though he did not make progress in the year that I taught him, I know that long-term he will do great, once his issues can be resolved through OT sessions.
Reading the article Everyone Has Invisible Bias. This Lesson Shows Students How to Recognize It really showed me that each of us has our own unconscious biases. In order to not bring those biases into my classroom, I need to make a conscious effort to rethink the language and vocabulary that I use with my students. This poster below about the language of the classroom that Joel shared with our cohort is very helpful. I like that it gives examples of what you can say.
In the world that we live in today, technology plays an important role in deep learning. Thanks to technology, students can take more ownership of their learning by finding the resources online on the topic or curricular content they are learning. As a lower elementary teacher, how can I give more voice and choice to my students and still ensure that all of my students are learning/mastering the content?