Deeper Learning in Education

8 Principles of Deeper Learning

Every educator recognizes the importance of stimulating a student’s curiosity and motivation to learn for them to succeed in school. We know that when students are allowed to complete meaningful tasks to solve real-world problems, their levels of engagement skyrocket.

Teachers, on the other hand, are under a great deal of pressure today to cover standards for students to pass a test that measures competency. Curriculum and instruction have been stifled in many cases due to strict pacing guides and a focus on discrete learning, among other factors.

Week after week, I collaborate with educators who share their passion for helping students learn more deeply when they are given the freedom to design meaningful learning experiences for the students they serve. Teachers share lessons that are authentic, hands-on, challenging and have a clear point of departure. These lessons cover more ground than just standards: We know that soft skills are important for student success in college, career, and life—skills such as being able to collaborate, create, solve problems, communicate effectively with others and persevere in difficult tasks are among those that they emphasize.

There are steps we can take right now to equip teachers with the tools they need to achieve these higher levels of learning. We can guide students to think critically about arguments, concepts, and ideas, as well as to develop solutions to real-world problems, through the intentional design of instructional materials.


1. Learning objectives and success criteria include the following: Any great lesson begins with a clear set of objectives for what students must know and be able to do to succeed. For students to understand our expectations and to serve as a guide for self-assessment, goals should be communicated to them in a manner that clarifies our expectations and serves as a guide for self-assessment.

2. Engaging content and products: In addition to discrete standards, teachers have the opportunity to use content and performance expectations to create real-world problems or situations for students to solve in the classroom. Students benefit from learning experiences that are authentic and interdisciplinary because they are relevant and stimulate their curiosity.

Three, cultivate a collaborative culture: Learning is a social activity, and intentionally incorporating collaboration into the learning process is extremely engaging for students. Collaborative designs are virtually limitless and include everything from flexible groups to partners, peer tutoring, Socratic seminars to academic discussion forums, and online experts to name a few.

4. Student empowerment: When students are allowed to choose how they will demonstrate mastery or create a final product or performance, their sense of ownership of their learning increases exponentially. This includes the use of digital tools and resources. As a bonus, involving students in the process of developing their knowledge and understanding of content allows them to take on the role of co-designer.

Fifth, deliberate instruction: Evidence-based strategies should be carefully chosen to have the greatest impact on the learning objectives. One such strategy is the gradual release of responsibility (GRR) model, which provides a framework for direct instruction and modeling (“show them”), as well as guided practice on a task (“help them”), before students attempt the task on their own (“let them.”

Genuine tools and resources: Throughout the learning process and when creating products to demonstrate their learning, students should have access to a variety of authentic tools and resources, both print and digital. Students have more choice when a variety of tools are available, and the emphasis is on the process rather than the product. Blended learning and flipped classrooms are two examples of digital strategies that provide rich experiences that are highly engaging and take into account how students prefer to learn and create.

7. Emphasize literacy: No matter what the subject matter is, reading, writing, and speaking should be incorporated into every learning experience. Students should be exposed to a variety of texts, primary and secondary sources, and online resources. Assign lab reports, technical manuals, narrative stories, research summaries, and opinion papers as well as interactive notebooks to provide students with frequent opportunities to write.

8. Feedback for learning: There are feedback loops in place throughout the learning experience to provide students with guidance on their progress toward the learning goals. Feedback can come from a teacher to a student, a student to a teacher, or it can come from a student to themselves. Feedback is formative, and it provides students with the safety and security of knowing that they can take risks and try new things without fear of failing because they have received it.


Using the story “Thank You, Ma’am,” by Langston Hughes, as an example, here’s a lesson that demonstrates how these elements come together: Roger, a teenage boy who wants a pair of shoes and attempts to steal the purse of Luella Jones; and Luella Jones, who wants to steal Roger’s purse. Among the learning objectives for this lesson is the ability to cite textual evidence, to analyze how an author develops the points of view of various characters, and to write arguments to support claims with logical reasoning and relevant evidence.

Encourage students to imagine Roger as a juvenile offender who has been arrested for violating his probation, which includes charges of attempted theft, harassment, assault, and violating curfew, among others. To prepare for a hearing, you should educate yourself on the court system and the procedures involved. You can do this through videos, video calls with local officials, or even a visit to the local courthouse.

Assume Roger is a student at a local high school who also happens to live in a group home for children who don’t have families. A parole officer, a social worker, or a son or daughter of Luella Jones will be among the characters that students will portray and decide whether to prosecute or defend Roger.

It is expected that they will prepare a minimum three-paragraph opinion for the judge and jury, in which they will cite at least three pieces of evidence to support or oppose Roger’s position. Throughout the experience, there are numerous opportunities to explore themes of shame and forgiveness, as well as empathy and compassion.

Students then work in groups with other students in the class who have chosen the same role, exchanging arguments and evidence. They then revise their argument and practice presenting it in front of their peers, while also brainstorming possible questions that could be asked during a courtroom trial.

After that, you should repeat the trial a couple of times to ensure that every student has had the opportunity to participate at least once as a judge, jury, prosecution, or defense.

This instructional strategy makes learning a pleasurable and memorable experience. Students are presented with an authentic problem that gives them a sense of purpose and provides a context for their learning.