Marshall Cavendish Education

Finding Meaning in Learning

Mar 2022

In recent years, there has been growing interest in the concept of deep learning to draw out students’ full potential. How can we create meaningful learning experiences for our students and equip them with the necessary skill sets to adapt to changes of the future? Two Master Teachers discuss how they instill deep learning in their students in a classroom setting.

Dr Foo Kum Fong, Master Teacher (Secondary Mathematics), Serangoon Secondary School
Dr Foo Kum Fong

How can we help students to develop the desired skill sets and dispositions necessary for deep learning?

Deep learning encompasses the following:

  • content mastery for the joy of learning

  • acquisition of the trait of life-long learning

  • proficiency in critical thinking and problem solving

To help students develop these skill sets, we need to first empower them as self-directed, “unfettered” learners – the latter meaning that students can learn anytime and anywhere with the use of technology. During my teaching stint, I have developed a series of instructive video clips related to the current lessons and uploaded them onto a Google site for easy access and retrieval. Some may argue that such a mode of learning is not suited for all students, but I do not agree. During the June holidays last year, I received a text message from a Normal Technical student enquiring about a Math problem. Initially, I had tried my best to explain to him in a written note, but he was confused by the text-heavy written explanation. I then made a succinct explanatory video (which was subsequently uploaded onto a self-learning website for unfettered, continuous access) which demonstrated the solution to the Math problem. He found it clear and helpful and could even access it as many times as he wished. Some of his classmates followed suit when they heard about it. We should believe that no student chooses failure over success as an option. This is especially so when they feel empowered to take charge of their learning.

Could you share some life-deep learning tips from your own teaching that may be useful for other teachers to implement in their own classroom practices?

While textbooks present a quick and easy access to resources, it may not be the best learning tool for all students. Often, as teachers, we need to contextualize the knowledge and make correlations to relatable real-world examples so that understanding of the topic becomes palatable to all. For example, on the topic of indices, I related the learning to the spread of COVID-19 and contact tracing by demonstrating how an infected person who met with just three friends could trigger an exponential growth in infection numbers. Similarly, I used the statistics on how much it cost China to host the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics (USD 42 billion) vis-à-vis the 2022 Winter Olympics (USD 3 billion) to illustrate the use of standard form.

To foster deep learning, teachers are no longer just content experts or gatekeepers of information. Instead, they are enablers of students’ learning, empowering them in their learning journey by creating opportunities to give them access to meaningful learning experiences and in the process, transform them into life-long learners, critical thinkers and problem solvers.

Dr Leong Swee Ling, Master Teacher (Secondary Mathematics), Bukit Merah Secondary School
Leong Swee Ling

Why is it important to instill life-deep learning in our students?

The 6Cs of global competencies are character, citizenship, collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. These are guiding principles for teachers who are change makers that impact students in our day-to-day teaching. However, the teaching and learning process is a complex phenomenon. How can we create meaningful learning experiences to equip our students with these competencies?

The classroom is the environment and space where we engage our students; we need to listen to and understand our students to design lessons that would be interesting, meaningful and relatable to them. We should build a rapport with students to create a conducive environment and help them to find joy in learning. We can acknowledge their efforts and celebrate their successes to encourage them to take ownership of their own learning.

How can we create an engaging life-deep learning experience?

Engage them to dive deeper, develop flexibility in thinking and take a healthy amount of risk. Programmes such as problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning, interdisciplinary learning, creative problem solving, design thinking and computational thinking have the potential to invite our students to learn deeper. Teachers can integrate thinking tools such as “see, think, wonder” into their lessons to not only make thinking visible but also promote thinking as a way of life.

Another method to build knowledge, skills and self-confidence is to connect learning to “real-world” examples, such as finding connections with and between the learner, their family, and their communities. This helps students to deepen their connections with others while engaging in meaningful activities. Teachers are no longer in front, but rather beside them guiding them in the learning process. With the advances in technology, we have many tools to excite our students, encourage independent learning and collaboration and increase mentorship by teachers, peers and the larger community.

We can consider research-based teaching methods such as:

  • using multiple and varied representatives of concepts and tasks such as diagrams, mathematical representations, simulations, multi-modal representations;
  • encouraging elaboration, questioning, reasoning and communication;
  • engaging learners in challenging tasks with opportunities to reflect on their own learning;
  • priming student motivation by connecting topics to students’ personal lives and interest, engaging students in collaborative problem solving;
  • using formative assessment with clear learning intentions and success criteria, monitoring and provide feedback and include self and peer assessment

(National Research Council, 2012. Education for Life and Work: Developing transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century).

Teachers should create learning driven by curiosity and creativity through learning experiences that are meaningful, authentic, relevant and promote metacognition. Teach students to be problem designers and to pose problems, instead of just solving problems. Believe that our students want to learn and that they can learn. Together we can learn and dive deeper in our quest for skills, knowledge and values that could make a difference to our lives and those around us.

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