The authors contend that learning how to learn is the most essential skill for 21st-century students.
“Deeper Learning” is the term education advisers Martinez and McGrath (The Collaborative Advantage: Lessons from K-16 Educational Reform, 2005, etc.) use to describe the educational goals they advocate. “Deeper Learning,” they write, “is the process of preparing and empowering students to master essential academic content, think critically and solve complex problems, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, have an academic mindset, and be self-directed.” It’s hard to imagine any school system arguing against these laudable aims, but the authors assert that most American schools fall short of achieving them. Setting Common Core State Standards, they believe, is a step in the right direction, but implementing those standards has been challenging, and they serve as only “one element” in getting students to acquire the knowledge and skills they need. The authors cite eight schools that have met the goals of Deeper Learning, including the Avalon Charter School in St. Paul, Minnesota; Impact Academy of Arts & Technology, a charter high school in Hayward, California; Science Leadership Academy, a magnet high school in Philadelphia; and High Tech High, a charter school in San Diego. These schools represent diverse ethnic and economic populations but are “slightly smaller than the norm” for American high schools. Indeed, with all having fewer than 600 students, the schools selected are far smaller than high schools in many U.S. cities, which serve thousands. Six chapters show how each school meets Deeper Learning goals: establishing collaborative learning communities; fostering students’ self-direction; contextualizing and integrating subjects; taking education outside of the school and into the community; motivating students to discover their own interests; and incorporating technology to enhance learning.
The anecdotes are uplifting, but the authors are not persuasive about the ease of adapting these schools’ strategies to larger, financially strapped settings.