Teaching for deep learning

Pramila Kudva

Teaching is about using a variety of strategies to help students gather information. It is about teaching how to ask questions to clarify concepts and gain some control over their own learning. For teachers to be able to regularly evaluate their impact in the classroom and adjust their teaching methodology in response to what they see, the student learning in the classroom needs to be made visible. The concept of seeing clearly what teachers are teaching and students are learning is known as visible learning.

Visible learning is the result of the research undertaken by John Hattie (a professor of Education from New Zealand) to understand what provides the most success in learning. It is based on over 68,000 studies involving around 25 million students. One of the techniques that can be used to bring visible learning into the classroom is to focus on surface and deep learning. Surface learning is not superficial learning. It is the basis on which learning is built. It is the foundation.

Fig 1: Steps of surface and deep learning

The components of each level in terms of visible learning

  • Acquiring surface level – involves highlighting, note taking, using mnemonics, underlining and using imagery.
  • Consolidating surface level – test taking, rehearsals, learning how to receive feedback.
  • Acquiring deep level – organizing content, strategy monitoring, concept mapping and metacognitive strategies.
  • Consolidating deep level – self-questioning, self-monitoring, self-explanation, self-verbalizing, peer tutoring, collaboration and critical thinking.
  • Transfer of learning – similarities and differences between concepts.

Surface and deep learning can be compared to an iceberg, wherein the deep learning skills are on the ocean floor and the surface learning skills are on the surface. If knowledge is fuel, engine is deep learning and the driver is the learner; learners need to use fuel to run the engine. Deep learning takes more instructional time and can be accomplished only when the students have the requisite surface learning skills.

Strategies for deep learning
Connect: Create a community of learners

The biggest effect on learning happens when teachers become learners of their teaching and learners become their own teachers. Leaders need to spend time getting feedback, collect evidence on aspects that have the most impact on student outcomes.

Empower: Activate students to lead their own learning
Active and meaningful educational experiences are critical in helping students reach deeper learning goals. Teachers need to look at assessment as learning and involve rubrics to measure the learning outcomes. E.g., A “mock election” representative of the electoral process, or generating electricity by building wind turbines can lead to deep learning.

Subjects are not to be taught in isolation and when learning is connected to larger themes, concepts and across multiple subjects, learning becomes more meaningful and deep1.

Fig 2: Integrated approach

Beyond school walls
In Mumbai we have a mobile museum which works on a theme every year and visits schools free of cost. If you have similar initiatives in your city invite them to your school or plan field trips for children.

Judicious use of technology
Interactive boards have entered many classrooms. However, more often than not, they are used only to teach and not as a tool to drive student learning. For digital technology to contribute to deep learning it must be transformational rather than transactional.

Some of the core skills for deep learning are:
1. Critical thinking/problem solving – an example is dealt with under the jig-saw technique.
2. Creativity and imagination.
3. Communication and collaboration.

Deep learning using the jig-saw technique
Subject: Social Studies

The teacher presents three facts to the class.

Fact 1
In late 1354, King Magnus Erikson, first ruler of combined Norway and Sweden, commissioned an expedition to rescue the vanished Norwegian colony on the west coast of Greenland. Apparently, they sailed early the following spring never to be heard of ever again.

Fact 2
50 years ago, a stone slab was found clutched to the roots of a tree near Kensington by a farmer named Ohman. The inscription was dated 1362. It recorded the massacre of explorers by Native American groups. The artifact is about 30 × 16 × 6 inches in size and weighs 202 pounds (92 kg). Ohman’s 10-year-old son, Edward Ohman, noticed some markings and the farmer later said he thought they had found an Indian Almanac.

Fact 3
The slab was placed in the great hall of Smithsonian institution in Washington. It was called one of the important archaeological objects ever found in North America by historian Hjalmer R. Holand. Although for the first 10 years it was considered to be a local fraud by Prof. Breda (a professor of Scandinavian literature and languages).

Questions for group work:
1. How would you feel about the discovery if you were farmer Ohman? Why?
2. If you were Ohman would you trust – Holand or Breda? Why or why not?
3. If you are a reader, whom would you trust? Justify.
4. If you were of Scandinavian descent, what would your feelings be?
5. What do you think happened to the expedition? Base your narration on the facts given to you.

Students to research on the internet to gather more information on the Kensington stone slab and the expedition.

Groups are formed with equal numbers. Teacher uses the jigsaw technique for teaching2.

Steps of the jig-saw method

Step 1: Divide students into three groups or multiples of three if the students are large in number. Try to keep the groups diverse in terms of capability. Each group should have the same number of students.

Step 2: One student from each group is appointed the leader. During the initial stages of the introduction of this technique, the leader should be the most mature student in the group.

Step 3: Divide the day’s lesson into three segments based on the facts presented.

Step 4: Assign each student to learn about one fact. Make sure students have direct access only to their own concept. Provide references and resources – internet facility if possible.

Step 5: Give students time to read over their concept at least twice and become familiar with it. There is no need for them to memorize it.

Step 6: Form temporary “expert groups” by having one student from each jigsaw group join students from other groups assigned to the same segment. E.g., all students assigned to fact 1 will get together and discuss. Give students in these expert groups time to discuss the main points of their segment and rehearse the presentations. The expert group is an opportunity for students to share their ideas and learn.

Step 7: Bring the students back to their original groups.

Step 8: Ask each student to present her/his concept to the group. Encourage others in the group to ask questions for clarification.

Step 9: Move from group to group, observing the process, guide them if needed. Leaders can be trained by whispering an instruction on how to intervene if any group is having trouble.

Step 10: At the end of the session, conduct a quiz.

During this whole process, the teacher acts as a facilitator. Teacher should lend support or explanation wherever necessary.

A contrast model
The entire elementary school was rehearsing for the Republic day programme. They had the flags of different countries and the national flag to hold on to and march. Unfortunately, one of the students dropped the national flag. The rehearsal was abandoned. The children were given a lecture on why the flag cannot be dropped. The teacher launched into a diatribe in which she expounded that only those wounded in the battle would be pardoned for dropping the flag. She continued to paint a frightening picture by stating that those who fought for their country must be willing to die for their country.

Comparison of the jig-saw technique and the contrast model
In the first example, the teacher guided them towards the right answer but the students were involved in a healthy discussion, used their cognitive processes to do research, share within the group and there was no stress. In the second model however, the students were admonished and exposed to a frightening visual imagery that caused stress and the chances are that the admonishing by the teacher would not have led to any learning.

Using the KLEWS technique3
Subject: Science
KLEWS is a take-off from KWL where K is knowledge, W is wondering and L is learning.

A KLEWS chart consists of the following columns:
K = What students know already.
L = What we are learning.
E = Evidence they learned through observation: This is generally filled in tandem with the L column. This could include observations, experimentation results, and calculations.
W= What the students wonder about: These are questions that arise from their investigation.

Topic – Germination – Grade 2
The objective is to define germination, to identify the factors that help seeds germinate and to learn new scientific vocabulary.
1. Planned activity before class: A project done at home.

  • Students bring to class their little potted plants with seeds – some hypogeal – cotyledons that stay below the ground and some epigeal – cotyledons that stay above the ground.
  • A few seeds are watered daily, a few are kept in the sun and watered and others are neither watered nor kept in the sun.
  • The students have to bring the observation sheets and photographs as discussed by the teacher indicating the growth pattern of the seeds.

2. The teacher asks them an ‘overarching’ question – What is germination? What factors are needed for germination?
3. Students think, pair and share.
This is a co-operative learning technique that involves thinking, pairing up to discuss and sharing ideas with the group.

The answers are listed out in column 1 – Knowledge. If there are answers that are similar, they are grouped together. They should be able to define germination at this stage in their own words.

Some of the expected answers would be – seed changes colour and shoot grows, roots are seen, the stem becomes long, seed shrinks in size, seed did not grow at all.

4. The next column to fill in is the Evidence column. The students need to provide evidence to substantiate their knowledge. The teacher directs the groups to compare the pieces of evidence of where the seeds were not watered or kept in the sun and substantiate the need for sunlight and water.
• Compare the plants – Some pots were kept in the sun and some were not. What do you observe?
• Compare the plants – Some were watered and some were not. What do you observe?
• What does this mean to you?

5. Now the teacher focusses on further observations by asking questions.
• On which day in your diagram/picture/sample is the germination complete?
• Why do you say that?
• Where is the part of the seed found in your sapling on that day?
• Is it necessary for the parts of the seed to be above the ground? Why do you say that?

By asking these questions, the teacher acts as a facilitator to build the L column.

6. What is that question that still makes you wonder? How can some seeds remain underground and some above? Which is a quicker method of germination?

  • Let’s compare the plants where the seeds are seen above the ground with those where the seeds are not seen above the ground. What do you observe?
  • Compare day 3/4 of both these plants. What do you observe?
  • Name the seeds that had their shoots above the ground during germination. Introduce the scientific term cotyledons here.
  • Name the seeds that had their cotyledons below the ground during germination. Introduce the terms hypogeal and epigeal.

7. Students are introduced to scientific vocabulary: hypogeal and epigeal germination and cotyledons, which are written down in the last column S – Scientific terminology.
8. The teacher gives assignments to the students to study the new concept of germination. Initially, the seeds can be grown in a pot and later transferred to a kitchen garden.

All scientific concepts could be built using this technique.

Deeper learning has a great potential to redefine what teaching and learning looks like in the 21st century. It’s time for us to invest in deeper learning and designate it as the new normal.

1, 2 and 3 Pramila Kudva, From Chalk to Talk The Art of Teaching, 2019.

1. https://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/finding_common_ground/2016/08/what_are_the_best_strategies_for%20surface_to_deep_learning.html by Peter DeWitt.
2. https://www.teachthought.com/learning/6-powerful-strategies-deeper-learning-classroom/
3. Lloyd Duck, Teaching with Charisma, A teaching styles Overview.

The author is the principal of Pawar Public School Kandivali, Mumbai. She has a PhD in Education and has worked both in schools and B.Ed colleges. She has written the book, From Chalk to Talk: The Art of Teaching based on her experiences that span over 30 years. She can be reached at pramilakudva2016@gmail.com.

Leave a Reply