When Associate Professor Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine, Ed.M.'13, Ed.D.'17, set out to study nontraditional, innovative high schools, what they discovered was that these schools weren't exactly breaking the mold. Instead, they were much like what many have come to experience in traditional spaces: lectures, rote tasks, bored students. But within this sameness, there were pockets of powerful learning happening that piqued their interest and which, they hoped, were leading to deeper learning.
“Powerful learning can happen in an hour, deep learning happens over time,” Mehta explains.
Their efforts to chronicle the good work being done is the focus of their new book, In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School. During the six-year study, Mehta and Fine shadowed students, interviewed teachers and administrators, and accumulated 750 hours of observations in 30 high schools, discovering where and how powerful learning was occuring — in all types of schools.
“Early on one of the things I’d ask a kid…which classes are the most rigorous,” says Fine, who is a faculty member at High Tech High Graduate School of Education and a lecturer at the University of California San Diego. “I’d get answers — often math, sometimes history — and those classes did not match up to what I think of as powerful learning…. Whereas if I ask a kid, ‘Where are you doing work that’s meaningful?’… then we would get answers that would reflect the places in school where the most powerful learning was.”
In this episode of the Harvard EdCast, Mehta and Fine discuss the work that stood out in classrooms, the elements that made these learning experiences so powerful, and how other educators can take steps back in their practice in an effort to replicate successful engagement.
About the Harvard EdCast
The Harvard EdCast is a weekly podcast featuring brief conversations with education leaders and innovative thinkers from across the country and around the world. Hosted by Jill Anderson, the EdCast is a dynamic space for discourse about problems and transformative solutions in education, shining a light on the compelling people, policies, practices, and ideas shaping the field. Find the EdCast on iTunes, Soundcloud, and Stitcher.