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Deeper Learning: Beyond 21st Century Skills

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Education authorities from around the globe explore deeper learning, a process that promotes higher-order thinking, reasoning, and problem solving to better educate students and prepare them for college and careers. Relying on research as well as their own experience, the authors show how to use intensive curriculum, instruction, assessment, and leadership practices to meet the needs of 21st century learners.

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Chapter 1 Deeper Learning for Students Requires Deeper Learning for Educators


Chapter 1

Deeper Learning for Students Requires Deeper Learning for Educators

Richard DuFour and Rebecca DuFour

Pundits and politicians are increasingly strident in portraying the public schools of the United States in a negative light. Their references to American schools inevitably include derogatory descriptors, such as declining or failing. Yet, 2013 was arguably the greatest year in the history of American education. The American workforce is more educated than ever before (Carnevale, Smith, & Strohl, 2013). The nation’s high school graduation rate was the highest in forty years (Education Week, 2013). Student achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress continued its two-decade trend of slowly improving scores in reading and mathematics. More students than ever pursued the challenging curriculum of college-equivalent advanced placement (AP) courses, and more students than ever were successful in scoring an honor grade of three or higher on those exams. In fact, far more students earned honor grades in 2012 than even attempted AP exams a decade earlier (College Board, 2013). Parent satisfaction with their local school was at an all-time high (Bushaw & Lopez, 2013).


Chapter 2 Dispositions: Critical Pathways for Deeper Learning


Chapter 2

Dispositions: Critical Pathways for Deeper Learning

Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick

What makes learning “deeper”? Is it adding content to an already overcrowded curriculum? Is it giving more time to learning by extending the school day or school year? Is it deliberately ensuring that instructional strategies are used to develop students’ understanding? Is it posing questions to cause students to think at higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy? Is it ensuring that students justify their answers by citing evidence and references from the text? Is it making the curriculum more interdisciplinary? Is it “toughening” the achievement tests to measure a student’s increasing depth of understanding of the content being taught? Perhaps it is all the above. It is clear that something more is needed.

We must all think anew about the important outcomes of education as we prepare students for a vastly different future than that we have known in the past. The first task is to identify what we believe to be the critical dispositions of deeper learners and then suggest ways to design instructional and assessment strategies intended to cultivate the growth of deeper learners over time. This will require a reframing of our mental maps about what education is for, what the attributes of deeper learners are, and what needs to go on in dispositionally oriented schools and classrooms. It will require a new language with which we communicate about educational purposes, assessments of student progress, and excellence in teaching and learning.


Chapter 3 Paradigm Shift: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students


Chapter 3

Paradigm Shift: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students

Yong Zhao

Today’s education is inadequate for preparing tomorrow’s citizens. That is the consensus around the world. International organizations, national and local governments, educational institutions, businesses, and the public all have put forth tremendous efforts with unprecedented courage to improve education. But as former U.S. president John F. Kennedy once said, “Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.”

The purpose is clear—a better education capable of preparing our students to live successfully in the future—but the direction is not. There are so many paths before us. Some are a waste of time, and others move us even further away. In fact, the path most countries have chosen does both, because it has been infected with the GERM.

The GERM, short for the Global Education Reform Movement, is a term coined by Pasi Sahlberg (2011), Finnish education scholar and author of Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn From Educational Change in Finland, to summarize education reform efforts undertaken by many nations around the world. In his view, one pattern is being copied too widely:


Chapter 5 Developing Teachers for Deeper Learning


Chapter 5

Developing Teachers for Deeper Learning

Rob Riordan, Stacey Caillier, and Ben Daley

It’s Monday. Carla is on a visit to San Ysidro, a port of entry on the border between the United States and Mexico. She is part of a small group of new teachers at the High Tech High (HTH) schools in San Diego County ( Earlier that morning, her first day on the job, she met with forty other teachers new to HTH and several veteran HTH teachers to embark on the HTH New Teacher Odyssey addressing the essential question, How do we honor the experiences and meet the needs of all our students? The first day is a “project slice” focused on the Mexico-U.S. border; the goal is for these new teachers to experience project-based learning as learners, while investigating an issue relevant to their local community.

Carla and her colleagues began by examining brief texts as well as photos of the border area, some showing the border crossing as it looked in 1920. They viewed and shared interpretations of maps, which are in Spanish, showing the paths illegal migrants take across forbidding terrain, the location of water stations, and the sites of migrant deaths. They also looked at statistics on legal and illegal immigration and raised questions. Then they split up into groups of five to ten to go out to sites near the border—Carla’s group to San Ysidro, others to a Mexican American artist’s studio, a soup kitchen for day laborers, or a youth center across the border in Tijuana.


Chapter 6 The Worst of Times, The Best of Times


Chapter 6

The Worst of Times, The Best of Times

Tony Wagner

In 2008, I published The Global Achievement Gap, which outlined the new skills all students need for work, learning, and citizenship in the 21st century. The global achievement gap is the disparity between these new skills versus what is taught in the overwhelming majority of our public and independent schools. One conclusion of that book is that a test-prep curriculum increasingly dominated classrooms around the United States.

Since the book was published, we have continued to see fundamental changes and disruptions in our economy, as well as a dramatic increase in the number of so-called education reforms. Frighteningly, these reforms have done nothing to close the gap between the skills that all students need more urgently than ever and what is tested and taught in even our best schools. But we have also seen the creation of new networks of schools and districts that are genuinely innovating in learning and teaching. They are working together to reimagine—not merely reform—schools for the 21st century. Borrowing from Charles Dickens, education today is experiencing the worst of times and the best of times.


Chapter 7 Road Maps to Deeper Learning


Chapter 7

Road Maps to Deeper Learning

Bernie Trilling

A different future, both confounding and full of hope, is already appearing in our daily lives. With a button click, shiny screens stored in pockets and on laps and desktops become instant portals to vast libraries and storerooms of media-packed information, knowledge, and online learning—along with distracting advertising, enticing entertainment, and persuasion masquerading as facts. Live news clips and round-the-clock, up-to-the-minute developments from every global corner flash on our digital panels and widescreens, keeping us instantly and perpetually informed—as streams of gripping images transfix our attention, leaving little room for reflection or deep analysis. With a screen tap, we instantly connect with friends, helpers, and experts from nearly anywhere, mingling and learning together, exploring and sharing insights and possible solutions to common concerns and issues—as well as droves of gossip, crowds of celebrity chatter, and flocks of clever tweets from a vast, global, public, social media network.


Chapter 8 21st Century Curriculum: A Global Imperative


Chapter 8

21st Century Curriculum: A Global Imperative

Charles Fadel

How do we prepare our students to thrive in a rapidly changing world? In the 21st century, humanity is witnessing remarkable changes that affect our societies, economies, and personal lives: international mobility, shifts in family structures, increasing diversity in populations, globalization and its impact on economic competitiveness and social cohesion, new and emerging occupations and careers, rapid and continued advances in technology and its increased use, and new knowledge about learning. This reconfiguration of our world is forcing us to explore ways to redesign what is being taught in schools, not just how we teach.

Acceptance and integration of technology and access to information have become integral components of our societies. The pervasiveness of technology creates learning opportunities never seen before. Expectations of employers are also changing: in addition to hiring workers who harness the power of digital tools, employers are demanding that workers be skilled in thinking critically and creatively to generate original solutions, solve problems, and have the confidence to bring about positive change. Moreover, new research from the learning sciences has revealed vast new insights on how people learn (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000). The role of students in their own learning is at the heart of these new ideas, and student engagement is a key priority of the 21st century learning agenda. These changes have made clear the need to reposition education systems to ensure that learners have the skills necessary to learn, live, and work in this century.


Chapter 9 Assessment Systems for Deeper Learning


Chapter 9

Assessment Systems for Deeper Learning

Linda Darling-Hammond and David T. Conley

Reform of educational standards and assessments has been a constant theme around the world. As part of an effort to keep up with countries that appear to be lengthening their educational lead over the United States, the nation’s governors and the Council of Chief State School Officers issued a set of Common Core State Standards in 2010. Their purpose is to specify the concepts and skills needed for success in the modern world. These internationally benchmarked standards seek to create fewer, higher, and deeper curriculum goals that ensure more students are college and career ready.

This goal has profound implications for teaching and testing. Genuine readiness for college and 21st century careers, as well as participation in today’s democratic society, requires, as U.S. President Obama has noted, much more than “bubbling in” answers on a test. Students need to be able to find, evaluate, synthesize, and use knowledge in new contexts; frame and solve nonroutine problems; and produce research findings and solutions. The rapidly evolving U.S. workplace increasingly requires students to demonstrate well-developed thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, design strategies, and communication capabilities. These are examples of so-called “21st century skills” that education reformers, business spokespeople, higher-education leaders, and others have been urging schools to pursue—skills that are increasingly in demand in a complex, technologically connected, and rapidly changing world. Yet college faculty have noted that first-year college students are often lacking these critical-thinking and problem-solving skills (Conley, 2005, 2014; Lundell, Higbee, & Hipp, 2005).


Chapter 10 Breakthrough Learning


Chapter 10

Breakthrough Learning

Michael Fullan

The term 21st century learning skills has been around for a decade and probably more; and the concept behind the term—deep learning—has existed at least since Socrates. The problem has been that 21st century learning skills have become a catchphrase with too little accompanying progress on the ground. In the meantime, traditional schooling is increasingly becoming outmoded. For reasons that I will spell out in this chapter, the situation is dramatically changing. Whatever solutions arise will have to work for the whole system. This is not the time for sporadic innovations.

The four major components of what I call breakthrough learning—deep learning on a whole-system basis—are emerging and converging at a rapid rate:

1.The dynamics of push-pull forces

2.New pedagogies linked to deep learning

3.New change leadership

4.An explosion of activity

The Dynamics of Push-Pull Forces


Chapter 11 All or Nothing: A Deeper Learning Experience


Chapter 11

All or Nothing: A Deeper Learning Experience

Steven Zipkes

After years of watching minor adjustments to the high school program fail, the Manor (Texas) School District’s board of education elected to change its approach—dramatically. With collaboration from community, parents, teachers, and other organizations inside and outside the state, the district asked that I use my thirteen years of experience as a high school principal to take a different route. That was 2006. It was all or nothing.

The board decided to create an innovative high school open to all in-district students who wished to apply. The school would be an alternative to the district’s traditional comprehensive high school but not a dumping ground. This is the story of how Manor New Technology High School (MNTHS) came to be a nationally recognized, top-performing school able to offer Manor students a deeper learning path to 21st century college and career success.

The success of MNTHS as a Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (T-STEM) initiative school was the result of an intentional effort to bring deeper learning to this semirural Texas school district, located almost at the end of Austin’s airport runways. That success sprang from the school’s 100 percent project-based learning (PBL) instruction in a collaborative school culture marked by 21st century learning outcomes and a transformative school structure.


Chapter 12 Ears to the Ground: School Leadership in the New Millennium


Chapter 12

Ears to the Ground: School Leadership in the New Millennium

Deborah Rosalia Esparza

As a school leader in this new millennium, I have faced many new and unique challenges and seen many exciting discoveries. Our students and their families are living in a world dramatically different from past generations. Rapidly developing technology tools, shifting national demographics with blended cultures, and changing accountability standards in our schools have brought a renewed and immediate need for public schools to proactively re-examine curriculum and instruction, school leadership models, and diverse stakeholder expectations. With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium assessments in the majority of districts throughout the United States, many school leaders have accepted the challenge and put their ears to the ground. In order to implement new school leadership insights, 21st century instructional approaches, exemplars of sound practice, and new and unique challenges on a daily basis, I found it essential to do the same—to listen to stakeholders and prepare students to live, learn, and work in a new millennium.


Chapter 13 The Pivotal Role of the District


Chapter 13

The Pivotal Role of the District

Ken Kay and Valerie Greenhill

In 2012, the San Jose Unified School District embarked on a bold mission: eliminate the opportunity gap and ensure that all students receive the finest 21st century education. To that end, the California district of 32,000 students adopted a five-year strategic plan that emphasizes critical thinking and problem solving, creative thinking, communication, collaboration, and global citizenship, along with digital literacy.

“The concept of 21st century skills is hugely supported by our leaders, teachers, parents, students, and community,” says Superintendent Vincent Matthews.

In fact, we developed our 5 Cs in partnership with these stakeholder groups. . . . Early in our strategic planning process, we held roundtables where some of the leading companies in Silicon Valley engaged on the skills they would like to see from their future employees. We consistently heard the message that our local businesses must hire globally because they do not see 21st century skills locally. This hammered home that we must focus in this area, not only for the good of our students, but also the local economy. (EdLeader21, 2013)


Chapter 14 Levers for Change: The Role of the States


Chapter 14

Levers for Change: The Role of the States

Helen A. Soulé and Steven Paine

When you close your eyes and imagine “school,” what do you see? Do you see desks in rows, teachers at a board (white, black, or green), and students engaged (or not) in individual activities intent on mastery of specific content knowledge with their tools of textbook, paper, and pencil? If you do, you stand with the majority of us who were educated in this manner. Yet, the question of what are (and how can we create) 21st century learning environments evokes a very different image of learning, for the expectations of learning have changed dramatically. Moreover, how each state’s education system reacts to change leads to different results.

Because the expected outcomes of learning have changed dramatically, no longer do we envision mastery of discrete content as the primary or preferred outcome of twelve years of schooling. As this century dawned and business began to demand a different kind of worker for a global, competitive economy, a coalition of business, education, and policy experts became the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) and collaborated to define a framework for learning that reflected the need for more comprehensive student outcomes. In addition to deep content knowledge mastery, P21 posits that all students must possess a collection of skills that would enable them to navigate any situation, profession, or educational setting throughout college, career, and life. These skills include the 4Cs—(1) critical thinking and problem solving, (2) communication, (3) collaboration, and (4) creativity and innovation—as well as life and career skills and media information and technology skills.



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