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Instructional Methods for Differentiation & Deeper Learning

by James H. Stronge and Xianxuan Xu
Instructional Methods for Differentiation & Deeper Learning

Instructional Methods for Differentiation & Deeper Learning, by James H. Stronge and Xianxuan Xu (Solution Tree 2015). Excerpt from the Introduction chapter, pp. 1-2, and p. 35.
Deeper Learning
Researchers expect employment in the professional, scientific, technical, and computer systems fields to increase by 45 percent between 2010 and 2018 (U.S. Department of Labor, 2010), and this trend is likely to continue. These fields rely heavily on logic, reasoning, and critical thinking. Thus, business leaders, policymakers, and educators have begun to recognize the development and transfer of complex thinking skills as primary goals for education.
Education expert Tony Wagner (2008a; 2008b) has conducted conversations with several hundred business, nonprofit, philanthropic, and education leaders and conducted walkthroughs of classrooms in some of the most highly regarded public schools in the United States. He discovered a disconcerting gap between the qualities that students need to become productive citizens in the 21st century (such as critical thinking skills, problem solving, collaboration, leadership, adaptability, entrepreneurialism, creativity, effective communication, curiosity, and imagination) and the schooling the students are getting (passive learning environments and uninspired lessons that focus on test preparation and reward memorization). He notes that this problem exists in low-performing and high-performing schools.
Beyond this disconnect of expectations, however, effective teachers are aware that brain researchers consider students to be optimized for the development of higher-order cognitive processes. They care about students’ ability to transfer learning into out-of-school and other real-world contexts. They focus on meaningful conceptualization of knowledge and skills rather than on isolated facts (Fullan & Langworthy, 2013; Rogers-Chapman & Darling-Hammond, 2013; Wenglinsky, 2004). They provide in-depth explanations of academic content and cover higher-order concepts and skills thoroughly (Wenglinsky, 2004).
Again, the benefits are high; Robert Sternberg (2003) finds that elementary and middle school students who receive instruction emphasizing both critical thinking and memorization perform better on academic achievement tests than students in classrooms where instruction emphasizes critical thinking or memorization.
The concept of deeper learning has become a vital topic of conversation in U.S. education. The three-part definition of deeper learning given by the American Institutes for Research (2014) has a dual focus on academic learning inside of school and real-world application outside of school:
A deeper understanding of core academic content
The ability to apply that understanding to novel problems and situations
The development of a range of competencies, including people skills and self-control (p. 1)
Given the ever-evolving expectations for education, teachers need to examine how instruction has to adapt to be relevant for students’ learning needs for their college, career, and citizenship in the 21st century. What type of teaching can prepare the students to navigate the seismically changing world, have a rewarding career in rapidly changing workplace, and live a happy and self-fulfilling life?
We visualize teaching that develops knowledge, higher-order skills (such as the 4Cs of creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration), and character, as well as establishes lifelong learning habits and an ability to learn how to learn.
In part II, we have selected seven research-based instructional strategies: (1) questioning, (2) metacognition, (3) creativity, (4) critical thinking, (5) complex thinking, (6) active learning, and (7) problem-based learning. These seven chapters will illustrate specific methods to facilitate students’ development of a deep understanding of core content and students’ ability to think critically, solve problems, communicate effectively, collaborate, self-reflect, and understand how to learn.

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