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Upper School

A Look at Deeper Learning

Lindley Shutz
At Derryfield, we transform children’s lives and learning by drawing on the best ideas in education. One idea that is inspiring us is ‘deeper learning.’ According to Harvard School of Education professor Jal Mehta, in his Education Week article, “No One Has a Monopoly on Deeper Learning,” sustained, powerful education combines three critical elements: “identity (it matters to me), mastery (I've developed significant knowledge and skill in the domain), and creativity (I'm not only receiving but creating knowledge). Identity provides the motivation, which fuels the commitment to the subject; building mastery is what differentiates learning that is fun from learning that reflects real understanding; and creativity is what separates remembering others' ideas from developing your own.”

Deeper learning, or what at Derryfield we might call transformative learning, occurs in the classroom and often quite spectacularly in extracurriculars, such as our Exploration courses. As Mehta explains, “This is presumably because these extracurricular and elective domains draw on a method of teaching that looks more like apprenticeship and induction. Students in those fields (take theater as an example) have models taken from adult world for what they are shooting for, adults act as facilitators in helping students to achieve the standards of the field, repeated practice and feedback allow for the building of skill in the domain, and, finally the making of the production gives students an opportunity to try their own interpretation, to create rather than simply receive knowledge.” 

In his Advanced Topics History class, US History Since 1960, Dr. Brandon Gauthier challenges his students with a "Historical Nuance" project, inviting his students not only to master critical historical content, but also to commit to a topic they deeply care about and to creatively engage the larger community in the issue. In essence, they are apprentice historians and social media developers. 

Each student responds to a controversial topic in the popular media, building their mastery with a focused argument on why a more nuanced history of that given issue would improve the public’s understanding of US society in the past and present. As we near the end of winter term, the second phase of this project is now commencing. Students are solving a key problem concerning the frequent lack of historical nuance in popular media stories: how do you make historical substance go viral? 

With this goal, the students have been tasked in groups with creating their own historically nuanced stories about a pressing issue in the United States today; they will publish their work on social media platforms, including TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Their submissions must reflect: 1) a non-partisan perspective; 2) an excellent idea-driven thesis rooted in careful thought about the meaning of "historical nuance" for the present day; and 3) creativity in terms of how to draw a wider public's attention to a story that demands greater intellectual engagement. 

They are attempting what at times can seem impossible: to bring integrity to sound bite exchanges; creating new forms of social media to improve the accuracy and complexity of the information. In doing so, they transform not only their own understanding but the community’s as well.

Lindley Shutz
Dean of Academic Programs
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