In the immortal words of Chubby Checker, “How low can you go?” These words should resonate loudly with all educators, as students need, and deserve, routine opportunities to explore concepts to their desired depth, not simply the curriculum’s prescribed depth.
This marked disparity between the teacher’s prescribed depth and a given student’s desired depth will eventually generate frustration and resignation among even the most motivated learners. As John Hattie states, the vast majority of classroom lessons don’t afford opportunities for deeper learning. Over time, after being routinely stuck in the wading pool of wonderment, learners will eventually become reluctant to dive right in and become content to sit on the deck waiting for instructions. After all, kids learn at a very young age not to dive into shallow water!
Opportunities to dive deeper are often missed altogether, or greatly minimized, by having students drown in superficial data. Random facts and figures related to a given unit of study are truly endless in our modern world, and they are easy to attain and even easier to assess. The value of these endless tidbits is surface level at best, however, and answering them requires the student to do little more than tread water.
If, and when, a student struggles while trying to go deep, it will naturally highlight content skills that require additional isolated practice before they can be contextually applied effectively. After all, impactful teaching, and sustainable learning, is not about tossing struggling learners a PFD at the first sign of difficulty, but rather all about showing them how to reflect and refocus, as they refine their ongoing exploration.
The great irony of sustainable learning is that students must routinely explore the depths of a given task, in order to reach the heights of their learning potential. Educators must ensure that all students routinely receive these opportunities to swim in the deep end of the pool of discovery.