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San Diego Educator's Quest To Find 'Deeper Learning'

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"In Search of Deeper Learning" authors study innovative schools to find out what it takes to inspire deeper learning in students at public high schools.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 A San Diego educator has been on a quest to transform the American high school. Her pursued has taken her to some of the most innovative schools across the country where teachers are focused on deepening student learning. KPBS evening edition Anchor Ebony Monet speaks with Sarah fine about her new book in search of deeper learning. So what does

Speaker 2: 00:20 learning mean for you? I spent the last eight years with my coauthor Jal Mehta from Harvard, trying to figure that out. Um, we did a study of 30 different high schools around the country where we were looking for evidence of kids that, who are really engaged in what they were learning in their classrooms. Um, but beyond engage really intellectually stimulated by what they were doing, found personal meaning and what they were doing. Um, and we're doing work that was kind of a conceptually rich, so some combination of rigor and engagement and joy. And I think we found that over time, kids who, who were engaged in that kind of learning found that they kind of came to identify with what they were doing. So, rather than I am a kid who sits in science class, I am a scientist or I am somebody who might become a scientist one day.

Speaker 2: 01:03 And why did you focus on public schools? Well, we felt that, first of all, I'm a former high school teacher. Um, and so I know more than anybody how hard it is to come by that kind of learning with adolescence. Um, and I think we felt very deeply that it was likely that the least rich learning was happening for the least well served students who are in public schools for the most part. And I think we also really wanted to know what are the possibilities of public education. So what did you find? We found pockets of very powerful learning, but we did not find very many schools, which has whole institutions who are doing very well in terms of consistency of that work with all kids. Uh, and so that at first was a disappointment for us and then we kind of, um, change our lines a little bit and became more intrigued by those pockets.

Speaker 2: 01:44 Like what was it that was making those places tick? Why were, why was it so different, like at 10 o'clock in science class then what was happening at 11 o'clock in history class? Did you find that? We did. Yeah, we did. There's pocket. The thing that was really heartening is that there were pockets of deep learning in almost every school we went to regardless of whether they were a specialty schools well resourced, under resourced. Um, and it's felt like there was something sort of qualitatively different about those spaces for kids where teachers were seeing kids differently in the places where this was happening. So, um, they were treating kids as agents who really had lots of, could make some choices who really weren't creative and capable of um, rich thinking. They were sort of breaking down boundaries between the school and the world beyond school.

Speaker 2: 02:27 Uh, in some cases in really powerful ways where they're getting the kids out away from school and other cases where there was more constraint. They were bringing in outsiders helping kids to understand why they were doing what they were doing. I'm really trying to model their work after the real world rather than after some school version of math or school version of science. What's wrong with the current system? What should administrators who read this book? What should they do? Our current system is based on a conception of what it means to learn. That is about sort of filling kids' heads with stuff, right? Capital ass. Um, it's a very old tradition, sort of thinking about teaching as telling and what it means to be proficient at something means to know something. Capital K and in this case, um, it often means to be able to do well on advanced placement exams or on sats and or on state tests.

Speaker 2: 03:17 And that whole conception of knowledge is, is misaligned with the way that our world is developing right? Kids. It's not enough to know stuff. In fact, it's really not very relevant anymore to have memorized history from, you know, the Crusades to the present. Um, although clearly it, some knowledge of history is useful as a, as a foundation for other kinds of skills like analysis, but it's not those, it's not the kind of hard knowledge that is going to help kids succeed and navigating this the world we live in anymore. It's more about skills of analysis, synthesis, um, being able to take in a multiplicity of views and make sense of them and try and make some decisions about, okay, what do I, how do I make a choice based on these 17 dimensions? Um, and so we need schools that are helping kids learn to do that rather than continuing to tell them stuff and ask them to spit it back on exams when it's time to like actually get accepted into college.

Speaker 2: 04:09 Is there going to be that gap? Is there a problem there? I think the biggest problem is those schools that are making those choices are having to figure out how they can also have their kids do well enough inside of the sort of world we live in that they can still get into college, that they are still have some sort of criteria that certify them as ready. And that's really hard for those schools. Right? Because then they're, they're saying, well our kids need to do well enough on the test, but really we know that what kids need is not on those tests. So we're going to try to kind of play that game where we're cutting the middle. Think of what those schools could do and what other schools might be able to do if we could change the logic of how we're valuing kids and valuing what, you know, what gets you into higher education?

Speaker 2: 04:47 If we had assessments that were more about problem solving and critical thinking and less about regurgitating, you know, you remember the, the, the formula for the math problem. Do you think as many kids would succeed with this format? I think more kids would. I have, I have like a deep belief in the capacities of adolescents to do really powerful work. We, I think we like as a system, we undervalue adolescence. They are incredibly capable, uh, when given the right opportunity. There's so passionate. Think about the kids from Parkland and some of those who have joined that fight, they can do more than many adults can. They have like a sort of zealotry that a lot of adults, uh, let go of. Um, and when they're engaged, they just, they'll just hold onto it and go incredibly deep. But we don't often treat them that way in schools. More often we're saying, uh, you need to, you know, earn this credential. You need to memorize this thing. You need to take the pass to go to the bathroom. And, you know, um, we, we sort of infantilize them and we micromanage them rather than really leaning into what they could do. Sarah? Fine. Thanks so much. Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks for having me. That was San Diego author and educators here. We're fine speaking with KPBS evening edition Acre Ebony Monet.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.