If you don’t have an instamatic mode of training people, and then there’s no systematic support from professional learning when people get to schools, then what you’re going to witness is what we saw: highly variable instruction; some really great teaching and other people who would like to be doing that kind of teaching but don’t quite know how. – Jal Mehta
Mehta: I think on that point — would it take longer for teachers to become deeper teachers, or whatever you want to call it? And I think the answer to that is sort of yes and no. What we witnessed was the result of a non-system. If you don’t have an instamatic mode of training people, and then there’s no systematic support from professional learning when people get to schools, then what you’re going to witness is what we saw: highly variable instruction; some really great teaching and other people who would like to be doing that kind of teaching but don’t quite know how. I think we could lessen the learning time, if we were much more intentional at apprenticing new people to really skilled people who already knew how to do the work. But it would still take time.
Fine: We are nowhere near bumping up against the limits of what we could do with novice teachers if we could actually had a system to train them well.
How to Promote Deeper Learning in your Classroom
- Think of your students as apprentices. The great teachers profiled by Mehta and Fine are inducting their students into the art or science — or combination thereof — of their individual disciplines and allowing students to learn by working in that domain. Rather than taking multiple choice tests about their reading, an excellent philosophy teacher was having the students co-explore texts with him as philosophy scholars. A team of math teachers had teachers develop their own theories for questions like how many breaths it would take to blow up a balloon, making meaning like a mathematician rather than relying on predetermined formulas. Students were empowered by this logic of apprenticeship, and the expectation that they, too, could be experts, applying their knowledge as they saw fit. Fine and Mehta think about this in terms of allowing students to develop mastery (knowledge and skill); identity (connection to a subject), and creativity (using their understanding for work they find meaningful).
- Focus on depth over breadth. The great teachers Fine and Mehta observed emphasized going deep into a topic rather than covering a broad range of topics. That can be easier said than done, especially for subjects like history or math, where there’s pressure to get through specific content before the end-of-year state test. Rather than rushing through lectures and worrying about falling behind, the great teachers Mehta and Fine saw “were more concerned with whether students were adopting the habits and dispositions of inquirers in their disciplines.” The researchers noted that the teachers were able to do this by distancing themselves from testing pressures. Admittedly, that was often through routes not available to all teachers, like teaching an elective, or moving to a school with a compatible philosophy. But sometimes, teachers were able to get the freedom they required for deeper learning by making a strong case to principals, often bolstered by satisfied students and parents.
- Give up some control. Rarely does deeper learning happen when a teacher spends the entire classroom lecturing from the front of the room, Fine and Mehta found. By allowing students some choice in the topics they explore and the methods they use, teachers can let students see the purpose in their learning and be more engaged.