Monica Martinez is a Deeper Learning Senior Scholar for the Hewlett Foundation. After reading her 2014 book, Deeper Learning: How Eight Innovative Public Schools Are Transforming Education in the Twenty-First Century, she and I had some great conversations where we reflected on the fact that despite how inspirational those stories were, many educators were left feeling stuck: it’s not all that surprising that a school can be innovative when there’s an internationally recognized school reformer at the helm or there is an influx of private support to build a new school from scratch. But what can schools do if they share the same vision but don't have the resources? So Monica decided to write a companion guide (Deeper Learning: The Planning Guide) that extends the work from her first book and offers practical advice for educators interested in creating the conditions necessary for deeper learning instructional practice to take root in their own schools—to be able to take lessons from her book and take those next steps themselves. And to make it easier for educators and educational leaders to get started on this work, the Foundation invested in the project so it could be released as a free downloadable PDF.
Marc Chun: What do you see as the most significant challenge facing our schools today?
Monica Martinez: The ways we teach students are irrelevant to their day-to-day lives and what students need to be able to know and do in the twenty-first century. Our students are waiting for our schools to catch up with their lives. But our schools and the education system overall both cling to outmoded practices. We simply cannot prepare our students for the twenty-first century by only teaching them to memorize or recall knowledge. They have to be able to apply their knowledge to multiple situations, and we need to provide them with learning experiences that are relevant to their lives. That's the heart of teaching for deeper learning. If we cannot do that, our schools will remain an artificial environment—a place where learning has no meaning for our students, and where students are just followers instead of being empowered to be leaders of their own learning.
Marc Chun: Why did you create the Deeper Learning Planning Guide? Who is it for, and how is it different from the Deeper Learning book you wrote last year?
Monica Martinez: I created the Guide because I heard from many educators, teachers and principals alike, who want to integrate the practices from my first book (Deeper Learning: How Eight Innovate Public Schools Are Transforming Education in the 21st Century-Ed.) in their own classrooms and schools. I’ve met many educators who have a broader vision for student success, one aligned to deeper learning outcomes. What they need is the opportunity to think about how they can lead their school in making the necessary shifts. It is my hope that the Guide gives them a place to start thinking about what they can do to design their school for deeper learning, as well as a practical and clear process to manage change—from articulating a vision for student success, to identifying the key strategies that will help them establish the four conditions necessary for deeper learning.
Marc Chun: How can we lower the barriers to let other schools benefit from the approaches you’ve written about?
Monica Martinez: We have to find ways to communicate directly with principals and teachers about what is possible—to encourage them to pursue a broader vision for student success beyond just academic achievement. But there is so much “noise” out there—about the value of the Common Core, what college and career readiness is or is not, and especially the use of annual testing—that our educators are under fire, and parents and students alike are inundated with conflicting messages. We need to cut through this noise—re-state our vision for student success, and shine a light on what students are capable of day-to-day as self-directed and capable learners. And with that, we need to help educators see and understand the conditions that have to be put in place in their schools to ensure students can transfer their knowledge and skills to college, career, and citizenship—a strong school culture where students are trusted and respected, and a professional community of teachers who share in the leadership of the school. Only then will educators be able to provide meaningful and dynamic learning experiences where students are engaged in the deliberate practice of multiple skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, effective communication, and productive collaboration. I hope the Planning Guide is one way to help them get there.
How can we measure learning beyond just knowledge about academic content? KQED writer Katrina Schwartz ponders this provocative question. In her article, I was quoted as suggesting, “Ultimately what we want students to be able to do is solve problems they’ve never seen before." I feel this resonates with the idea of transfer that was explored in a recent National Research Council report. I do believe that when students are engaging in challenging projects in class or in an internship (or even in a conference deep dive about lobsters), what we should try to measure is their ability to apply what they have learned to solve non-routine, novel problems they will likely face later in life.
Last week the Teaching Channel launched the “Deeper Learning Video Series,” with more than 50 videos that depict teaching practice that prepare students for success in college, career and everyday life. Taken together, the videos capture practices from the Deeper Learning Network, which includes more than 500 schools across the country. The series includes a special introduction from expert-in-residence at Harvard University’s New Innovation Lab Tony Wagner, who said, “Deeper Learning captures the nuances, the ideas, and the energy behind an entire effort to fundamentally rethink the most important outcomes in education for the 21st century.” This unprecedented series also includes commentaries from Carol Dweck, Kathleen Cushman and Milton Chen, and tools for hosting your own screening in your school or educational community.
Katrina Schwartz from KQED’s MindShift has been participating in the Deeper Learning MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), and reports on her experience thus far. She writes that even though for years great teachers have individually been engaging in effective practices, now she feels there is a movement “to codify the different pieces that define the deeper learning approach, and to spread the knowledge from teacher to teacher, school to school” through the MOOC.
A new project (the Deeper Learning MOOC) gets underway today that all logic would suggest should not work. It is attempting to accomplish its apparent polar opposite, and to spread a set of practices through what appears to be their very antithesis.
Now, when you work at a foundation, you grow accustomed to coming face to face with the seemingly impossible, which often times seems drawn from science fiction and fantasy. Sometimes it’s the big, hairy, audacious goal that depicts a utopian vision of the future. Sometimes it’s when grantees manage to succeed along their quest even when battling insurmountable odds. Sometimes it’s what happens when you’re introduced as a grantmaker, and you suddenly discover your jokes are funnier, your comments more insightful, and that you are just so much better looking.
Today, I invite you to join me in witnessing what should be an utter impossibility of the “Star Trek” variety. And not just in the “boldly go where no one has gone before” way.
The Hewlett Foundation’s Education Program is focused on an initiative called Deeper Learning, which aims to ensure the education system graduates students prepared for success in college, career, civic, and everyday life. To do so, students will need to take everything they’ve learned, and then apply it to solve complex problems they’ve never seen before. And research suggests that students must therefore master core academic content, as well as have skills in critical thinking, communication, collaboration and learning how to learn, and while doing so, maintain an adaptive (and academic) mindset about their abilities.
We searched for examples of school models that are focused on doing just this, and established the Deeper Learning Network, comprised by more than 500 public schools committed to helping students – especially those from communities of poverty and students of color – to develop these Deeper Learning competencies. Many are small schools, where educators personalize learning. They form connections to the real world through internships or community projects. And these schools find ways for teachers to have ample opportunities to work together to plan and collaborate.
Given their success, our big question is, how we can get these ideas to spread so all students benefit?