Deep Understanding

District 30 is a learning system. We are fortunate to have a board of education that understands the power of professional learning and its effect on student learning. Our staff and administration are committed to their craft. The past 2 days are a reminder of that commitment.

The district’s 2nd through 5th grade teachers enjoyed working with reading consultant and literacy expert, Ellin Oliver Keene. Ellin engaged teachers on defining what deep understanding means to them. We began with rich discussion and conversation around our own comprehension and deep learning experiences. Of course, this is the focus of her book “To Understand“.

Ellin cited research on the conditions needed for deep learning.

  • Focus on a few concepts of great importance.
  • Teach in real depth. Explore…. Over a long period of time.
  • Find plenty of opportunities for kids to apply new learning. We may need 4-6 weeks for kids to get a reading comprehension strategy under their belt.

We talked about the value of an aesthetic experience or personal attachment to new learning and experiences. How can a book, a piece of art, or music transform us? We need to address this with our students. We need to model this for our students.

What do we see when a child understands at deep level? What are the cognitive and behavioral markers? We see excitement or astonishment. Sometimes is comes out all at once. Sometimes is comes out slowly over time. Sometimes it looks like deep satisfaction or inspiration to understand more… a call to action.

What do we do to make that happen? What are the conditions that are required? How do we bring our own intellectual lives into the classroom? It’s our presence as teachers. Ellin modeled some of the conditions needed for deep comprehension. These conditions included books with real substance or gravitas; teachers thinking aloud as they read; time for conversation, discussion, and argument; and time to reflect on ambitious questions.

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