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Deeper Learning

At Nazareth Prep we believe that students need to develop deeper content knowledge and an ability to apply their knowledge and skills to tasks and situations inside and outside of the classroom. The combination of a deeper understanding of core academic content, the ability to apply that understanding to novel problems and situations, and the development of a range of competencies, including people skills and self control, is called deeper learning. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation—a leader in the national initiative to promote deeper learning in schools—has defined deeper learning as “a set of competencies students must master in order to develop a keen understanding of academic content and apply their knowledge to problems in the classroom and on the job.” The American Institute for Research Study (2016) found that students who attended high schools that explicitly focused on deeper learning experienced better outcomes when measured against students in comparison schools.

Despite growing workplace demands and expectations, an insufficient number of American students are graduating from high school with the content knowledge and analytical skills needed to be fully ready for postsecondary education, the workforce, and civic life in the 21st Century. At Nazareth Prep we are trying to reverse this trend; students learn skills and mindsets important to succeed in the classroom but also later on in college, careers, and as engaged citizens through project based learning, collaborative group work, longer-term assessments like portfolios and student-run exhibitions and internships.

We believe that deeper learning is equally if not more rigorous than traditional styles of teaching and learning.

What is Project-Based Learning?

Project-based learning hails from a tradition of teaching which asserts that students learn best by experiencing and solving real-world problems. According to researchers (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2008; Thomas, 2000), project-based learning essentially involves the following:

  • students learning knowledge to tackle realistic problems as they would be solved in the real world

  • increased student control over his or her learning

  • teachers serving as coaches and facilitators of inquiry and reflection

  • students (usually, but not always) working in pairs or groups

Teachers create real-world problem-solving situations by designing questions and tasks that correspond to two different frameworks of inquiry-based teaching: Problem-based learning, which tackles a problem but doesn't necessarily include a student project, and project-based learning, which involves a complex task and some form of student presentation, and/or creating an actual product or artifact. These inquiry-based teaching methods engage students in creating, questioning, and revising knowledge, while developing their skills in critical thinking, collaboration, communication, reasoning, synthesis, and resilience (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2008). 

Learning Outcomes

Studies comparing learning outcomes for students taught via project-based learning versus traditional instruction show that when implemented well, PBL increases long-term retention of content, helps students perform as well as or better than traditional learners in high-stakes tests, improves problem-solving and collaboration skills, and improves students' attitudes towards learning (Strobel & van Barneveld, 2009; Walker & Leary, 2009). PBL can also provide an effective model for whole-school reform (National Clearinghouse for Comprehensive School Reform, 2004; Newmann & Wehlage, 1995).

A 2016 MDRC/Lucas Education Research literature review found that the design principles most commonly used in PBL align well with the goals of preparing students for deeper learning, higher-level thinking skills, and intra/interpersonal skills (Condliffe et al., 2016).

Read More about PBL on Edutopia