Course 4, Week 3: Learning Deeply, Digitally

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.

screenshot from Chris Gadbury’s Twitter page

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.

a page from the AAS Grade 2 HWOO PYP planner, listing the meaningful learning engagements for each line of inquiry

HWOO pacing calendar, page 1 and page 2

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.

Invisible Bias

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.

My Takeaways

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?


6 thoughts on “Course 4, Week 3: Learning Deeply, Digitally”

  1. Hey Erika, I love how voice and choice and taking more control over their learning begins in at such a young age. I know it is just expected of a middle school student, but to actually see how these skills are truly beginning in the elementary years is really wonderful. A piece that I don’t think middle school educators are greatly aware of. I found your experience with your student with Autism also to be super interesting and wondered more about the role of ES SEN educators, as I know it differs from MS/HS. Or that having the SEN teacher there to assist 1:1, but then having the kiddo no longer require (any?) SEN support the following year is mind blowing. I think our school in general, is overdue to looking at our entering/exiting criteria along with following the different tiers or levels of support paired with RTI. Would you agree? Or how much do you feel included and involved in the entire SEN side of things as a general education classroom teacher? I always love to hear, as responses can vary greatly. Thanks!-Shalene

    1. Hi Shalene!
      I agree that AAS would benefit from a SEN self-study, as it’s good to periodically self-reflect on how things are going, what’s working and what isn’t. Whenever I have a student receiving SEN services, the SEN teacher or OT assistant or speech/language pathologist always share information with me on the student and regularly check in to provide updates. This year in the elementary, each ES teacher has time built into our schedule to meet with the grade level SEN teacher once every 6 day rotation. This has been very helpful this year, to not have to find a common time in both our schedules if we want to meet.

  2. Hi Erika!
    Thanks for sharing such a through and insightful post. One of the things that stood out for me was your label of AppleTV and SmartBoards as ‘engaging’. Do your students enjoy those pieces of technology or is it about how you use them? I had just started teaching when SmartBoards became a thing, and everybody wanted one in their classroom. Right about the same time, I remember this push to decentralize teaching and learning. It felt, and still feels, like two forces pulling in opposite directions: a technology that brings (usually) one student to the front of the class against a pedagogical shift where everyone is learning together and from each other.

    I also had an AppleTV in my classroom. Getting rid of cables is 95% of the reason I wanted one. Slowly I began to see the power of having students being able to seamlessly connect to the screen on the front of the room. I’d always connect my phone to it during advisory to play some music. But for me, the reality remains: the AppleTV is connected to a screen at the ‘front of the room’.

    Obviously, there is a right time for both of these approaches and those tech tools simplify the process. The question that remains, for me, is “Do they have the ability to transform the learning task?”

    Have an awesome rest of your weekend!


    1. Hi Luiz!
      I have only used the AppleTV in my classroom a handful of times, mainly when I was showing the students something I wanted them to do on their iPads. This year, though, I have not used the AppleTV because I use the SmartBoard to mirror my desktop during our class lessons so that the student Huddle (group) that is in the classroom can also see the Huddle that is at home and joining virtually. Now that I think about it, I don’t know if the At Home Huddle would be able to see what we were doing if I used the AppleTV.

      Honestly, before this year, I had not used technology very much in my classroom, in my lessons. This is one of the reasons why I decided to do the COETAIL program, to learn how to incorporate more technology authentically into my lessons.

      “Do they have the ability to transform the learning task?”
      I think they do, but it depends on how you use these tech tools. I’m still learning and experimenting with how to incorporate them, but aren’t we all?


  3. Hi Erika,
    I’m a former COETAIL grad (Cohort 11) and I was just checking out some of your cohorts’ blog posts to try and kickstart my motivation for blogging again;) It sounds like you are doing a lot of great work with your students but also in your professional growth and practices. I couldn’t agree more with you that there is an inseparable link between deep learning tasks and learner agency. We know this to be true even as adult learners. You’re right that it’s a bit challenging with younger grades but I like how you approach agency in the ‘how they show their learning’- this seems far less intimidating and still honors voice and choice.
    I had the pleasure of working with Tania Lattanzio a few years back when my previous school was undertaking a pedagogical shift towards inquiry and she helped us craft units through a conceptual framework. Such a great learning experience! Thanks for sharing how your team plans and the ways you connect learning engagements to each line of inquiry in your UoI. I work closely with our PYP coordinator and it’s always nice to see how others do this work.
    Anyway, I’ve enjoyed perusing your blog and seeing your COETAIL journey unfold. Best of luck to you on your final project plans; I look forward to seeing how it ends up!
    Take care,

    1. Hi Reyna,
      Thank you for reading my blog post. It’s always good to hear the perspective/thoughts from others, people outside my classroom and school. Sometimes when I’m in the moment teaching or when I reflect after a lesson, I’m not always sure that I’m reaching my objective with teaching the concepts and using technology. Tania Lattanzio is such a great resource, fount of knowledge, and a wonderful consultant to work with – I always look forward to our planning sessions with her.

      What was your COETAIL project? I’m getting ready to plan mine out, and I’m curious to know what other have done.

      What skills that you learned from/during COETAIL have you implemented into your own teaching practice?


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