Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning
reviewed by Bradley M. Conrad - June 06, 2019
Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning
Linda Darling-Hammond & Jeannie Oakes
Harvard Education Press, Boston
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The complexity associated with educating children in contemporary America is difficult to overstate. While education has never been a simple process, the evolution of technology, changes in the economy, complex social challenges, increasing income inequality, a tumultuous political climate, and shifting demographics have left schools questioning the best way to prepare young people for the future. Compounding the challenge of preparing students for a world marked by change and uncertainty is the means by which we prepare teachers to assist children in meeting these challenges. In their book Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning, Linda Darling-Hammond and Jeannie Oakes offer a framework for 21st century learning as well as a roadmap for how we might go about best training teachers for such an education.
Building upon the ideas of educational and psychological scholars such as John Dewey, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Maria Montessori, Jean Piaget, Kenneth Clark, Gloria Ladson-Billings, and many others, the authors offer readers the idea of deeper learning, which they explain has gained currency recently as necessary for acquiring twenty-first century skills but is not a new type of learning (p. 6). Deeper learning is comprised of five dimensions that also serve as goals for teaching: (a) learning that is developmentally grounded and personalized; (b) learning that is contextualized; (c) learning that is applied and transferred; (d) learning that occurs in productive communities of practice; and (e) learning that is equitable and oriented to social justice. The authors argue for deeper learning as an educational aim that moves away from an antiquated model of school focused on basic skills (which is often the case particularly for schools in less affluent areas) and towards a model that is much more progressive, constructivist, student-centered, and equitable. In order to meet such an end, Darling-Hammond and Oakes posit that teacher education programs must possess values and practices aligned to the five dimensions of deeper learning. This premise guides the researchers work in examining seven teacher education programs across the United States that align with the principles of deeper learning.
Darling-Hammond and Oakes explore the key content and practices of teacher education programs ranging from small to large, public to private, and traditional to alternative. The sites include three private colleges (Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Bank Street College in New York City; and Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas), two large state universities (Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey and the University of Colorado at Denver), and two alternative programs (the San Francisco Teacher Residency Program and High Tech High Schools internship program in San Diego, California). Researching sites that are geographically and programmatically heterogeneous allows the authors to effectively argue that deeper learning is an approach to teacher education that can be applied successfully across settings.
Throughout the text, the authors offer vignettes, concrete examples, interview excerpts, common themes, and shared challenges among the seven programs before considering the structures and policies required to take such programs to scale. At each site, the authors consider how curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, and clinical experiences align with each of the five dimensions of deeper learning, both in terms of how they prepare future teachers to provide these kinds of experiences to children and in terms of how these experiences are afforded to the future teachers themselves. At every stop, survey data from teacher candidates and graduate employers indicated that teachers from all seven of these programs were well-prepared to teach diverse populations in all five dimensions of deeper learning, leaving it difficult to argue the power of such an approach. While the seven sites are distinctly different in a number of ways, they share several commonalities, including a curriculum that is coherent with clinical experiences, pedagogy from faculty and cooperating teachers that models deeper learning practices, a programmatic focus on making connections between theory and practice, and a focus on performance assessment.
Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning is a magnum opus synthesizing much of the work in educational justice, teacher education, curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, teacher quality, and education policy to which the authors have dedicated their careers. There are many triumphs in this outstanding work, but one that particularly stands out is the clear roadmap the authors offer for how to design exceptional teacher education programs that seek educational equity, teach the whole student, build capacity in learners, empower teachers to teach with intention (practice grounded in theory), develop meaningful partnerships with districts, schools, and mentors, and focus on deeper understanding of relevant content rather than simply playing school. The authors paint a vivid picture of teacher candidates engaging in rich clinical experiences that are tightly connected to university classrooms, ones where faculty continuously model and reflect on deep learning practice while offering authentic assignments linked to the K-12 classrooms in which the teacher candidates are teaching. In this model, teacher candidates are far less likely to experience poor examples of educational practice on the part of cooperating teachers due in large part to careful screening and ongoing collaboration with teacher education program faculty. Such an approach benefits not only the teacher candidates but also their future students. It also has the potential to lower the teacher attrition rate.
In the end, this outstanding book brings into focus how teacher education programs can prepare teachers to provide a world-class 21st century education focused on the best research and theory in education. This book is a must-read for teacher educators, educational policymakers and influencers, or anyone interested in improving schools. Those involved in building effective clinical partnerships between teacher education programs and K-12 institutions would be well-served to read this text. I would go so far as to implore all leaders in teacher education to read this book thoroughly. Doing so will either affirm what they are already doing in the programs they oversee or inspire them to develop better teacher education for their students. Even if all of the ideas espoused in this text are not adopted by teacher education programs with fidelity, much can be learned from this text that will help to improve teacher education and K-12 education as a whole.