An Example of Deeper Learning in English Language Arts
The Common Core State Standards for English language arts (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2010a) provide many opportunities to enact the principles of deeper learning embodied in this report. First, they promote a double vision of integration—(a) that reading, writing, and discourse ought to support one another’s development, and (b) that reading, writing, and language practices are best taught and learned when they are employed as tools to acquire knowledge and inquiry skills and strategies within disciplinary contexts, such as science, history, or literature. Hence the standards for reading, writing, and language are unpacked in grades 6 through 12 within the three domains of literature, science and technology, and history. Further, a common criterion for rigorous thinking embedded in the standards centers on developing argumentation skill—the ability to understand, critique, and construct arguments that are valid within the norms of each discipline. Students are asked to deal with what counts as evidence, how arguments are constructed, what constitutes a counter claim and counter evidence—in short, both the structure and substance of reasoning is privileged. While not as ubiquitous as cognitive skills, interpersonal skills are strongly implicated in the speaking and listening standards, with an emphasis on collaboration and listening with care to understand and evaluate others’ utterances as a part of rigorous discourse.
At the elementary level, project-based learning has a long history dating back to days of John Dewey and the progressive education movement in schools, a tradition in which the goal was to minimize the distance between school learning and the learning that occurs in the enactment of everyday life outside of school. In one (of many) modern instantiation of this tradition, literacy and science educational researchers at the University of California-Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science and in the Graduate School of Education have worked with elementary classroom teachers on an NSF-sponsored curriculum in which reading, writing, and academic language are used as tools to support the acquisition of science knowledge, inquiry strategies, and argumentation skills (Cervetti et al., 2012). Aptly named Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading, the program combines hands-on science activities (e.g., designing mixtures such as glue or hair gel from everyday household ingredients or using models to understand the formation of sand on a beach) with a host of reading, writing, and oral discourse activities to support and extend students’ investigations and projects. Over the course of an 8-week unit, students read nine different types of books about various aspects of the topic (e.g., the science of sand, light, soil habitats) in a range of genres. These genres may include reference books, brief biographies of scientists, information pieces, books that model an aspect of either a scientific or a literacy process, and books that connect science to everyday life. All of the books are coordinated with specific subtopics within the unit. For example, a hands-on investigation of snails’