Systems to Support Deeper Learning
This chapter discusses elements of the U.S. education system that present both opportunities to advance the process of deeper learning and challenges that may slow such advance. The first section focuses on the role of the larger educational system in hindering or supporting educational interventions that foster deeper learning and development of 21st century competencies, with attention to two critical system elements (1) teacher preparation and professional development, and (2) assessment. The second section briefly summarizes the opportunities that could potentially emerge from wide implementation of educational interventions that foster deeper learning, as well as the challenges to such wide implementation. The chapter ends with conclusions and recommendations.
DESIGNING COHERENT EDUCATIONAL SYSTEMS FOR TRANSFER
The previous chapters presented a vision of the cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal competencies that are valuable for functioning effectively at home, work, and in the community. The vision is one in which students and other learners develop a suite of enduring, transferable competencies in the cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal domains. In Chapter 6, the committee recommended that formal and informal learning environments should include a set of coherent, interrelated features if they are to support development of such competencies. However, unless there is coherence in the larger educational environment, it will be difficult to widely implement instruction that incorporates such features.
In formal education, realizing the vision of deeper, transferable knowledge for all students will require complementary changes across the many elements that make up the public education system. These elements include curriculum, instruction, assessment, and teacher preparation and professional development.
While this report provides preliminary definitions of the kinds of transferable competencies that are valuable and offers general guidelines for use in designing instruction to develop these competencies, further research and development are needed to create more specific instructional materials and strategies—the curriculum. Future curricula inspired by our vision of deeper learning should integrate learning across the cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal domains in whatever ways are appropriate for the targeted learning goals. For example, when targeting cognitive knowledge and thinking strategies, curricula should integrate development of the intrapersonal skills of metacognition, self-efficacy, and positive attitudes toward learning that have been shown to enhance deeper learning in the cognitive domain.
Reflecting our findings about the development of competencies across different ages and stages of development, curricula designed to support the process of deeper learning should incorporate a developmental perspective. They should be offered beginning in preschool and provide repeated opportunities across grade levels and domains (cognitive, intrapersonal, interpersonal) for students to develop and practice transferable competencies.
Teacher Preparation and Professional Development
Current systems of teacher preparation and professional development will require major changes if they are to support teaching that encourages deeper learning and the development of transferable competencies. Changes will need to be made not only in conceptions of what constitutes effective professional practice but also in the purposes, structure, and organization of preservice and professional learning opportunities (Garrick and Rhodes, 2000; Darling-Hammond, 2006; Webster-Wright, 2009; Lampert, 2010).
Ball and Cohen (1999) have called for such major changes, proposing a practice-based theory of professional education that would enable teachers to “support much deeper and more complex learning for their students” (p. 7). The authors identified several types of knowledge and skills teachers would require for such instruction, including:
- understanding of subject matter;
- knowledge of both students’ common ideas and misconceptions related to the subject matter and also the thinking of individual students;
- understanding of, and sensitivity to, cultural, ethnic, and gender differences;
- knowledge of how children learn; and
- a repertoire of flexible, adaptable teaching strategies to engage learners.
The authors proposed that teachers could develop these capacities by learning in and from practice. Teachers would learn how to elicit students’ thinking on an ongoing basis and use what they find out to improve their teaching practice, framing, guiding, and revising tasks and questions. They would approach teaching from a stance of inquiry. Finally, the authors sketched the outlines of professional education that would develop the knowledge and skills teachers require. Such education would focus on learning professional performance, would cultivate the knowledge and skills outlined above, and would be centered in teachers’ professional practice. Teachers’ learning would be supported by colleagues in communities of practice, as they reflected together on samples of student work or videotaped lessons.
Building on this theory of practice-based professional education, Windschitl (2009), Wilson (2011), and others have recommended replacing current disjointed teacher learning opportunities with more integrated continuums of teacher preparation, induction, support, and ongoing professional development. Windschitl (2009) proposed that teacher preparation programs within such a continuum should center on a common core curriculum grounded in a substantial knowledge of child or adolescent development, learning, and subject-specific pedagogy; those programs also should provide future teachers with extended opportunities to practice under the guidance of mentors (student teaching), lasting at least 30 weeks, that reflect the program’s vision of good teaching and that are interwoven with coursework.
Research to date has identified other characteristics of effective teacher preparation programs, including extensive use of case study methods, teacher research, performance assessments, and portfolio examinations that are used to relate teachers’ learning to classroom practice (Darling-Hammond, 1999). Deeper learning and the acquisition of 21st century competencies—for both teachers and their students—might also be supported through induction programs that help new teachers make effective use of study groups, peer learning, managed classroom discussions, and disciplined discourse routines (Monk and King, 1994; Ghousseini, 2009). Wilson (2011) and others have noted that one of the most promising practices for both induction and professional development involves bringing teachers together to analyze samples of student work, such as drawings, explanations, or essays, or to observe videotaped classroom dialogues. Working from principled analyses of how
the students are responding to the instruction, the teachers can then change their instructional practices accordingly.
Windschitl (2009) identified a number of features of professional development that could help science teachers implement new teaching approaches to cultivate students’ 21st century competencies in the context of science. These features are as follows:
- Active learning opportunities focusing on science content, scientific practice, and evidence of student learning (Desimone et al., 2002).
- Coherence of the professional development with teachers’ existing knowledge, with other development activities, with existing curriculum, and with standards in local contexts (Garet et al., 2001; Desimone et al., 2002).
- The collective development of an evidence-based “inquiry stance” by participants toward their practice (Blumenfeld et al., 1991; Kubitskey and Fishman, 2006).
- The collective participation by teachers from same school, grade, or subject area (Desimone et al., 2002).
- Adequate time both for planning and for enacting new teaching practices.
More broadly across the disciplines, preservice teachers and inservice teachers will need opportunities to engage in the kinds of teaching and learning environments envisioned in this report. Experiencing instruction designed to support transfer will help them to design and implement such instruction in their own classrooms. Teachers will also need opportunities to learn about different approaches to assessment and the purposes of these different approaches. For example, as noted in the previous chapter, formative assessment can play a key role in fostering deeper learning and the development of 21st century competencies. However, most teachers are not familiar with formative assessment and do not regularly incorporate it in their teaching practice (Heritage et al., 2009; Herman, Osmundson, and Silver, 2010).
Research has shown that assessment and feedback play an essential role in the deeper learning of cognitive competencies. In particular, as noted in Chapter 6, ongoing formative assessment by teachers can provide guidance to students which supports and extends their learning, encouraging deeper learning and development of transferable competencies. Current educational policies, however, focus on summative assessments that measure mastery of content and often hold schools and districts accountable
for improving student scores on such assessments. Although this focus on summative assessment poses a challenge to the wider teaching and learning of 21st century competencies, recent policy developments do appear to open the window for a wider diffusion of interventions to develop these competencies. For example, the previous chapter noted that the new Common Core State Standards and A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (hereafter referred to as the NRC science framework) include facets of 21st century competencies.
While the new English language arts and mathematics standards and the science framework articulate goals for deeper learning and the development of facets of 21st century competencies, the extent to which these goals are realized in schools will be strongly influenced by their inclusion in district, state, and national assessments. Because educational policy remains focused on outcomes from summative assessments that are part of accountability systems, teachers and administrators will focus instruction on whatever is included in state assessments. Thus, as new assessment systems are developed to reflect the new standards in English language arts, mathematics, and science, significant attention will need to be given to the design of tasks and situations that call upon a range of important 21st century competencies as applied in each of the major content areas.
Although improved assessments would facilitate a wider focus on teaching approaches that support the development of 21st century competencies, there are a number of challenges to developing such assessments. First, research to date has focused on a wide variety of different constructs in the cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal domains. Although our taxonomy offers a useful starting point, further research is needed to more carefully organize, align, and define these constructs. There are also psychometric challenges. Progress has been made in assessing cognitive competencies, but much further research is needed to develop assessments of intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies that are suitable for both formative and summative assessment uses in educational settings. Experiences during the 1980s and 1990s in the development and implementation of performance assessments, including assessments with open-ended tasks, can offer valuable insights, but assessments must be reliable, valid, and fair if they are to be widely used in formal and informal learning environments.
A third challenge involves political and economic forces influencing assessment development and use. Traditionally, policy makers have favored the use of standardized, on-demand, end-of-year tests for purposes of accountability. Composed largely of selected response items, these tests are relatively cheap to develop, administer, and score; have sound psychometric properties; and provide easily quantifiable and comparable scores for assessing individuals and institutions. Yet, as discussed in Chapter 6, such standardized tests have not been conducive to measuring or supporting the
process of deeper learning nor to the development of 21st century competencies. In the face of current fiscal constraints at the federal and state levels, policy makers may seek to minimize assessment costs by maintaining lower cost, traditional test formats, rather than incorporating into their systems relatively more expensive, richer performance- and curriculum-based assessments that may better measure 21st century competencies.
The fourth challenge involves teacher and administrator capacity to understand and interpret the new assessments. The features of instruction and assessment discussed in Chapter 6 are not well known to teachers, students, or school administrators.
With support from the U.S. Department of Education, two large consortia of states are currently developing new assessment frameworks and methods aligned with the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics. If these assessment and frameworks include the facets of 21st century competencies included in the Common Core State Standards, this will provide a strong incentive for states, districts, schools, and teachers to emphasize those facets of 21st century competencies in English language arts and science instruction. Next Generation Science Standards based on the NRC science framework are under development, and the NRC has begun a study to develop an assessment framework based on the NRC science framework. When new science assessments are created, the inclusion of facets of 21st century competencies will, as is the case with English language arts and mathematics, provide a strong incentive for states, districts, schools, and teachers to emphasize those facets in the context of science lessons.
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
The development of 21st century competencies in K-12 education and informal learning environments opens up many new opportunities. Because these competencies support the learning of school subjects, more attention to them in school programs and also in informal learning environments could potentially reduce disparities in educational attainment. Reducing these disparities would prepare a broader swathe of young people to enjoy the positive outcomes of increased educational attainment, including greater success in the workplace, improved health, and greater civic participation relative to people with fewer years of schooling. At the same time, developing these competencies in K-12 education could also lead to positive adult outcomes for more young people, independent of any increases in their years of schooling.
Important challenges do remain, however. For educational interventions capable of developing transferable knowledge and skills to move
beyond isolated promising examples and flourish more widely in the educational system, larger systemic issues involving curriculum, instruction, assessment, and professional development will need to be addressed. In particular, as noted above, new types of assessment systems are needed that are capable of accurately measuring and supporting the acquisition of these skills. A sustained program of research and development will be required to create assessments that are capable of measuring cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal competencies. As noted in Chapter 3, such assessments are needed first for research purposes, to increase our understanding of the extent to which these competencies affect later life outcomes. In addition, improved assessments of the competencies would be valuable for formative assessment purposes and might ultimately be used for summative purposes.
It will be important for researchers and publishers to develop new curricula that incorporate the research-based design principles and instructional methods described in Chapter 6. Finally, as noted briefly above, new approaches to teacher preparation and professional development will be needed to help current and prospective teachers understand the instructional principles for the teaching and assessment of 21st century competencies and the role of these competencies in the learning of core academic content. If teachers are not only to understand these ideas but also to translate them into their daily instructional practice, they will need support from school and district administrators, including time for learning, shared lesson planning and review, and reflection.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
While new national goals that encompass 21st century competencies have been articulated in the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and mathematics and in the NRC science education framework, the extent to which these goals are realized in educational settings will be strongly influenced by the nature of their inclusion in district, state, and national assessments. Because educational policy remains focused on outcomes from summative assessments that are part of accountability systems, teachers and administrators will focus instruction on whatever is included in state assessments. Thus as new assessment systems are developed to reflect the new standards in English language arts, mathematics, and science, it will be necessary to give significant attention to the design of tasks and situations that call upon a range of important 21st century competencies as applied in each of the major content areas. A sustained program of research and development will be required to create assessments that are capable of measuring cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal skills.
- Recommendation 7: Foundations and federal agencies should support research to more clearly define and develop assessments of 21st century competencies. In particular, they should provide sustained support for the development of valid, reliable, and fair assessments of intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies, initially for research purposes and, later, for formative assessment. Pending the results of these efforts, foundations and agencies should consider support for development of summative assessments of these competencies.
Two large consortia of states, with support from the U.S. Department of Education, are currently developing new assessment frameworks and methods aligned with the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics. If these assessment frameworks include the facets of 21st century competencies represented in the Common Core State Standards, they will provide a strong incentive for states, districts, schools, and teachers to emphasize these critical facets of 21st century competencies as part of disciplinary instruction.
- Recommendation 8: As the state consortia develop new assessment systems to reflect the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics, they should devote significant attention to the design of tasks and situations that call upon a range of important 21st century competencies as applied in each of the major content areas.
Next Generation Science Standards are at an early stage of development, and assessments aligned with these standards have not yet been created. When new science assessments are developed, the inclusion of facets of 21st century competencies will provide a similarly strong incentive for states, districts, schools, and teachers to emphasize those facets in classroom science instruction.
- Recommendation 9: As states and test developers begin to create new assessment systems aligned with new science standards, they should devote significant attention to designing measures of 21st century competencies properly reflecting a blend of science practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas.
Because 21st century competencies support learning of school subjects in particular and educational attainment more generally, more attention to the development of these skills in the K-12 curriculum could potentially reduce disparities in educational attainment and allow a broader swathe
of young people to enjoy the fruits of workplace success, improved health, and greater civic participation. However, important challenges to achieving this outcome remain. For educational interventions focused on developing transferable competencies to move beyond isolated promising examples and flourish more widely in formal educational settings, larger systemic issues and policies involving curriculum, instruction, assessment and professional development will need to be addressed. Addressing these systemic issues will require supportive state and federal policies and programs, to facilitate the development of new types of assessment systems, new curricula that incorporate the instructional design guidelines and research-based features described above, and new approaches to teacher preparation and professional development.
- Recommendation 10: The states and the federal government should establish policies and programs—in the areas of assessment, accountability, curriculum and materials, and teacher education—to support students’ acquisition of transferable 21st century competencies. For example, when reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Congress should facilitate the systemic development, implementation, and evaluation of educational interventions targeting deeper learning processes and the development of transferable competencies.