Is understanding deep learning, surfacing learning and transferring knowledge the answer?

I know its a long title but I have been reading Hattie’s work on Visible Learning in Mathematics and it struck me that maybe our conversations around rote or conceptual is all wrong.

Now to behonest, I think that the conversations about this are all wrong, to begin with as this false dichotomy pits teachers against each other and that it really has never been about rote and conceptual but Hattie’s work gave me a new aha moment to consider.

I guess before we can get any further what is surface learning, deep learning and transferring knowledge. Since I am reading Hattie’s work I will use his definitions.

Surface learning has two parts. 1) it is the initial learning of concepts and skills and 2) it goes beyond just an introductory point. It is also important to note that surface learning is not shallow learning, it still takes time and needs consolidation. This was a key point in my learning. I often saw surface learning as just that surface. Like going through the curriculum as fast as I possibly can but not really going deep with the learning. Surface learning is the beginning of a students development of learning. It is where they are exploring, listening and creating files to find the information again.

Deep learning provides students with opportunities to consolidate their understanding of concepts and procedures and make deeper connections to the ideas. In Hattie’s book, he makes reference to a familiar student aha moment about multiplication arrays and area. He mentions a student telling his teacher, “hey this is just like arrays miss!” I have seen that spark so often but I also question have I given my students enough lessons or time to have those deep learning moments.

Transferring knowledge is the hope of all teachers. Yet it is also an area I know we all comment on. Why can’t they take this information and apply it? In fact, our problem with test scores is often with questions that involve transferring knowledge.

Hattie mentions when students are able to transfer knowledge this is where real learning happens. It got me thinking of my favourite Fosnot quote:

To teach is to learn but without learning there is no teaching

This got me thinking does this mean that if teaching is about students learning and learning is about being able to transfer knowledge then teaching is the art it helping students transfer knowledge?

It was this aha moment that got me thinking that maybe our discussions should be about how much time are we spending on these three types of learning?

Now I know that being in the classroom has its unique personality and there are many, many things to consider when planning lessons but how often are we thinking about areas where our lessons are surface or deep or give opportunities for transferring to happen? It doesnt matter what your teaching style is, if you are more dialogic, direct or inquiry this question applies to all of us.

If you are like me I thought I was doing deep learning but maybe I was just extending surface learning. It is why this got me thinking do we need to put more emphasis on our purposeful planning and thinking about where in our plans and curriculum maps we are giving students the opportunities to have surface learning, deep learning and places where they can transfer knowledge.

What do you think?


Author: MrSoClassroom

I am a grade school Teacher, promoting creativity and exploration in all of my students. My classroom is always in a state of Inquiry.

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