Elliott Seif

Philadelphia, PA

Interests: 21st century learning,...

  • Posted 1 Month ago
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Deep Learning Teaching Strategies: Part 5c

In part 5b, I suggested a set of activities that teachers who want to pursue “deep learning” will find useful. They included ambiguous assignments and questions, activators and summarizers, visual learning tools, and interactive notebooks. In this, part 5c of my deep learning commentary series, I examine some teaching strategies – multiple activities combined to form a strategy – that promote deep learning. The strategies have been analyzed using the following deep learning dimensions described in earlier commentaries:

  • Setting the Stage: engaging students, developing interest, building curiosity, setting goals
  • Basic Learning: Equipping students with key background knowledge and core skills
  • Deep Learning: Refining, enlarging and extending understanding, processes and skills, and applying learning to new and novel situations
  • Closure: Opportunities for students to complete a product or products, demonstrate and explain what they have learned, and share their work with others.


The project or problem based learning strategies(both often called PBL) are designed to develop a project or solve a problem, and incorporate multiple skills related to deep learning[i]. For example:

  • Setting the Stage

Provide a challenging, key problem or question that is operationalized by an open-ended, engaging driving question

Engage the student in activities that develop initial interest in the problem or question

  • Basic Learning

Conduct initial research into the problem or question – finding useful resources, collecting, organizing and evaluating basic information, asking further questions.

  • Deep Learning

Dig deeper into the question or problem through further research, analysis of information and data, asking higher order thinking questions that require analysis, synthesis, etc. Developing alternatives and solutions.

  • Closure

Create and share a product or products, conducting presentations

Give and receive feedback on their work

Reflect on the process


A literacy strategy is designed primarily to improve reading, writing, and thinking skills[ii]. Its primary characteristics are focused around before-during-after activities, such as:

  • Setting the Stage:

Select, introduce, and read high quality fiction and/or non-fiction reading material

Survey reading-introduce questions

  •      Basic Learning

Read individually or as a group (guided reading)

Teach vocabulary, concepts, background knowledge

Take notes, synthesize basic information

  • Deep Learning

Raise important, open-ended, interpretive questions for discussion

Write an analysis or interpretation based on an open-ended, interpretive question

Conduct a debate

  • Closure

Write and reflect on both the content and the process

Share thoughts and reflections

Read independently as follow-up


A scientific investigation strategy emphasizes the search for empirical “truth”. Teachers who use this important strategy will focus their instruction around the following aspects:

  • Setting the Stage

Identify questions-problems-challenges for exploration

  • Basic Learning

Gather information and data, conduct research, and analyze many information and data sources, including primary and secondary sources, field experiences, surveys, interviews with “experts”, experiments…

  • Deep Learning

Collect, analyze and further process information and data

Test hypotheses

  • Closure

Draw conclusions, synthesize, reflect

Share results


 Teaching for understanding[iii] is designed to promote understanding of core ideas and teach the skills that foster understanding. Its essential elements include:

  • Setting the Stage

Engage and interest students in inquiry for understanding

Raise and begin the exploration of essential questions, enduring understandings, big ideas, products and performances, transfer goals.

Diagnose background knowledge and skills

  • Basic Learning

Equip students with background knowledge, key skills, basic understandings.

Further explore essential questions, conduct research, develop basic understanding. Prepare students for completing performance tasks and other assessments.

  • Deep Learning

Develop a deeper understanding through analysis, interpretation, open-ended questions and discussions, and other activities that promote deep learning.

Begin to develop performance tasks and other assessments – go deeper into the topic, and develop deeper understanding of the topic.

  • Closure

Develop performance tasks as key culminating assessments.

Conduct presentations and exhibit student work.

Develop reflections of student work.


 The creative problem solving process is another approach to teaching and learning focused around the goals of increasing creativity and creative thinking[iv]. It can be broken down into the following dimensions:

  • Setting the stage:

Begin with a “mess” (an open-ended problem or question) that is shared and explored

  • Basic Learning

Research the problem – what is this problem about? What basic information will help us to understanding the problem?

problem-find - discovering the real underlying problem that will focus our attention on the problem

  • Deep Learning

Idea find- brainstorming alternative solutions to the problem

Continue research to uncover information and ideas to help solve the problem

  • Closure

Judge alternatives and develop the best solution(s)

Acceptance find - making the solution(s) workable, developing a plan).

Another, similar creative problem solving approach, with some variations, is called design thinking and is taught at the d.school at Stanford University[v].


If developing deeper learning by promoting thinking and problem solving are key goals, Ron Ritchart’s, et. al. Thinking Routinesare a good place to start[vi]. He, along with his colleagues, have developed a set of “instructional routines” designed to introduce and explore ideas, synthesize and organize ideas, and in general dig deeper into learning. For example, the routine What makes you say that? is designed to help students elaborate on the thinking that lies beyond their responses. “…this routine, when used as a regular part of the classroom discourse, goes a long way toward fostering a disposition toward evidential reasoning”.[vii] In the claim-support-question routine, students are asked to make a claim about the topic, issue, or idea being explored, to then identify support for the claim, and finally to raise a question related to the claim. The purpose of this routine is to help students probe the claims, look for patterns, spot generalizations, and identify assertions.[viii]


These are just some of the many instructional strategies that can be used to foster and promote deep learning. Many of the best teachers develop their own hybrid approaches over time using these and other activities and strategies.


[i] For further information about project based learning, go to the Buck Institute for Education, https://www.bie.org/. More information about problem based learning can be found at: https://www.niu.edu/facdev/_pdf/guide/strategies/problem_based_learning.pdf

[ii] An example of the many activities that promote a literacy strategy can be found in: Beers and Howell, Reading Strategies for the Content Areas: An Action Tool. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2003.

[iii] Teaching for Understanding can be broken down into two distinct programs: Understanding by Design and Teaching for Understanding. For further information about Understanding by Design, go to: www.jaymctighe.com/, then to resources, then to articles, websites and downloads. For more information about Teaching for Understanding, go to http://www.pz.harvard.edu/projects/teaching-for-understanding

[iv] Two creative problem solving resources include The Center for Creative Learning (http://www.creativelearning.com/); and The Creative Education Foundation.

[v] For further information about design thinking, go to http://dschool.stanford.edu

[vi] See Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison, Making Thinking Visible; How to Promote Engagement, Understanding and Independence for all Learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011.

[vii] Ibid., p. 165

[viii] Ibid., p. 191


Elliott Seif is a long time educator, teacher, college professor, curriculum director, ASCD author and Understanding by Design cadre member and trainer. He currently continues to write about and address educational issues and volunteers his time in the Philadelphia School District. His other many commentaries can be found on ASCD Edge, and his website can be found at: www.era3learning.org

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