What will the world look like in 2033 when today’s kindergarten class graduates from high school?
And what is the best way to prepare those students for the world of tomorrow?
For the past two years or so, teachers and administrators at Chatham Elementary School (CES) have been studying and implementing a program called “deeper learning.” To further educate the community on deeper learning, on April 28 author Jal Mehta will be present for an in-depth and interactive Zoom discussion of his book, coauthored with Sarah Fine, “In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School.”
Deeper learning theories go back to John Dewey and the Montessori methods, CES Principal Robin Millen told the Monomoy Regional School Committee last year. But deeper learning represents “a shift in how we educate children.”
Today “we know that our system of education was built for our factory/industrial age so that our workers in the United States could create things for making cars, and industrialized nations,” Millen said. Schools operate from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., with bells ringing throughout the day, for 180 days. But the world has changed radically in the last century. “We’re trying to break those things down so that we can meet the needs of the children of this world now.”
Mehta is a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. For their book, he and Fine spent 750 hours in 30 innovative high schools (one of which is on Cape Cod). “In Search of Deeper Learning” “lays out an inspiring new vision for American education.”
When you think back to elementary school, what do you remember? Mehta asked in an email interview on Monday. A play you performed in? When a visiting poet gave you feedback on your poem? A game you won in Little League?
“All of those things are the whole game at the junior level,” Mehta says. “The idea is that in baseball, in Little League, you don’t spend a year throwing and a year catching and a year running the bases and say we will play the whole game of baseball when we grow up. You have Little Leaguers doing all of those things, when they are seven, not well, but they have a sense of the whole game of baseball and why you play.
“Which isn’t to say you don’t practice the parts, of course you do, but you have a sense of the context and reason for the work. In comparison, much of what happens in school is a lot of decontextualized parts and few whole games.”
So, what if kids played 40 whole games, roughly eight a year, in elementary school, and by the time they went to middle school, they had some experience writing poetry, designing a garden, computer programming and more? Mehta asks. “Wouldn’t each kid have at least three-to-five passions that they would want to carry forward?”
Another idea from his book relevant to the elementary level is that “we argue that deep learning emerges at the intersection of mastery, identity and creativity,” Mehta says. “Elementary schools sometimes alternate between activities which build mastery and activities which are more fun, when the best teachers frequently hit the center of the Venn diagram.”
And a third, related idea, is the “power of apprenticeship learning.” This flips the traditional idea of “you will sit here and listen to what we want to teach because we are the adults and said so,” to “we will follow the interests of the child wherever they lead.” In this scenario, the learner is doing the real work, with the teachers acting more like coaches, offering feedback and guiding the children.
In January 2020, Millen and her team made a 90-minute presentation to the school committee about deeper learning. At that time about 1,300 schools worldwide were involved in a deeper learning partnership. Millen said that by the end of 2019 her faculty decided to “go to scale with this.” CES is now one of 21 schools in Massachusetts chosen to take part in the state’s Kaleidoscope Deeper Learning Collective.
Deeper learning involves “the six C’s” — critical thinking, communication, citizenship, creativity, character, and collaboration. Rote learning is out.
“It requires all of us to shift our thinking,” Millen said. Teachers need to understand the art and science of teaching – the tried and true as well as the innovative. “Delivery of content needs to be deep so it sticks.”
When Mehta appears on the CES Zoom, it will be something of a homecoming as he has been visiting the Cape since he was four and has attended many Cape Cod League baseball games at Veterans Field. “I’m glad to have a chance to give something to a place that has given me so much over the years,” he says.
It is not necessary to have read Mehta’s book to join the one-hour Zoom presentation which will begin on Wednesday, April 28 at 6:30 p.m. Join the Zoom at bit.ly/CESMehta2021. To hear CES students talk about their experiences with deeper learning, watch video at youtu.be/W31j86P15k8.