80% of the world's oceans are unexplored. We have no idea what exists, what's possible, and what might be beneath the surface of the unexplored waters. Because of the difficulty, risk, and cost associated with exploration, we are unaware of the potential that lies beneath.
What if the same is true for student learning? What if we have only scratched the surface of our learners' potential because of our unwillingness to be uncomfortable, fear of taking risks, and inability to see what's possible?
The reality is that the shallow parts of the ocean and those close to the coastline have been explored and receive much of the attention and time dedicated to exploration. These parts are easy to access and really aren't that risky. Sound familiar?
I know that for me, in my own classroom, teaching surface-level was easy. I was comfortable in doing so and felt like it was where I spent much of our time. Ever so often, we would venture into the deep unknown, but it wasn't easy and I certainly wasn't comfortable.
Fortunately, a few years ago, my mindset shifted and I began to realize that it wasn't about what made me comfortable or how risky it was, it was about what my students needed and wanted from a learning experience. And, they needed to go deep. If I'm completely honest, they didn't know that they wanted to go deep at first. They were just as scared and uncomfortable as I was. But once we decided to take the risk and spend our time beyond the shallows and in the deep, everything changed.
So, what's the difference between surface level learning and deep understanding?
I think it’s also important to acknowledge that learners often need surface learning level learning to support where they are in their learning. However, the goal should always be to help them achieve deep understanding. I don’t believe that differentiation means that everyone gets a different learning experience. Instead, it means that they experience it differently. This means that educators can design an experience and then consider whether their learners need to begin at surface level learning or jump right into deeper understanding. They can then adapt and adjust the experience to what their learners need knowing that the ultimate goal is to having them all diving deep and driving their own learning.
The next question is how do we move into the deep in a way that makes sense and doesn't cause everyone to want to jump ship?
Talk to your learners. Help them understand the difference and be able to recognize when they are experiencing surface level learning and when they are experiencing deep understanding.
Observe other teachers. Look for the ways that they are diving into the deep and be willing to ask questions and learn from them.
Try new things. Innovative ideas such as Genius Hour and Makerspace give learners real opportunities to dive deep and learn by doing.
Be reflective. After a learning experience, consider the percentage that was surface level and the percentage that involved going deep. Do you need to make adjustments? Did everyone get what they need and what will result in real learning?
Change your perspective. See your role as leading learners rather than managing students. Lead those that are ready into the deep, while continuing to prepare those that aren't.
Look for opportunities. When designing a learning experience, consider how it can be taken deeper. Can it be done through questioning, real-world connections, creativity, or reflection?
These are just a few ideas to get started. The goal is to move beyond what has been easy and comfortable and start doing what's best for today's learners. So, how about it, my friend? Are you willing to go deep? What is it about the shallow water that has kept you there for so long and might that very reason be enough to push you into the deep, unknown, unexplored waters of student learning knowing that is where the potential for real change exists?