Teaching and Learning for Deeper Learning

Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.

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There are a variety of instructional approaches and assessment methods that engage students and allow them to think critically and solve complex problems; work collaboratively; communicate effectively; incorporate feedback; and develop the academic mindsets necessary to direct their own learning and master core academic content.

These different approaches foster deeper learning outcomes that empower students and develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities they will need for college, a career, and life.

Although these instructional approaches engage students in different ways, all of them incorporate rigorous content grounded in state academic standards.

Explore examples of different instructional approaches that lead to deeper learning outcomes for students.

Project-Based Learning

Exploring meaningful problems

In a project-based learning (PBL) environment, students develop knowledge and skills while investigating a meaningful problem or answering a complex question. Typically, projects feature real-world context, incorporate standards-based tasks and tools, and tap students’ interests. Students share their project/work publicly by explaining, displaying, and/or presenting it to classmates and others.

In this project-based learning example, students …


Investigate a driving question, such as “How can we better prepare for Atlanta’s changing weather?” that connects to a real-world problem within their community and to the third-grade standard of learning about heat.


Research a recent snowstorm and interview community members about the storm’s impact.


Conduct an experiment on friction as part of a lesson on heat, draw connections, and apply that knowledge to the problem, exploring the possibility of creating mittens that create friction to warm hands.


Create a safety kit with materials that conduct heat to help community members stranded during a future storm.

Learn more about project-based learning in this video from edutopia.

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Connecting classroom to real-world

In a work-based learning environment, students apply classroom content and knowledge in real-world settings through a clear connection between school and work. Strong relationships between schools and local employers support this approach. Schools provide students with rigorous academic instruction and content preparation, while employers offer off-site job placements that allows students to participate in authentic work experiences and develop habits and skills, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration.


In this work-based learning example, students …

  • Witness the connection between the classroom and potential careers through a mentorship program with a medical ing pany.
  • Learn about real-world medical procedures by participating in clinical-skills workshops.
  • Experience course content coming to life by visiting professional medical facilities and gaining real-world work experiences.
  • Work with mentors on their course work and throughout their work experience.
  • Identify a clear career pathway beyond high school through postsecondary education and career training.

Watch how this approach prepared a first-generation college student for success in this video from the Alliance for Excellent Education.

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Blending classroom instruction and technology

Blended learning integrates in-person instruction with online and digital instruction. This approach provides teachers and students with real-time learning data to support a personalized and student-centered approach to learning and mastery-based progression. Blended learning allows teachers to deliver instruction efficiently; get and give feedback; and use student data to help struggling students, challenge gifted students, and inspire and empower students to do their best.


In this blended learning example, the teacher uses an application to create a podcast that pairs visual aids with a vocal explanation of a math problem. From there, students …

  • Listen to the podcast and view the explanation on their tablets, phones, and/or computers.
  • Repeat the podcast as many times as necessary, enabling them to progress at their own pace.
  • Access lessons from teachers at any time and in any place, expanding their learning beyond the classroom.
  • Record their own podcasts with written and vocal explanations of how they solved the problem and submit to the teacher.

See what blended learning looks like in a classroom in this video from edutopia.

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Acquiring knowledge through questioning

In an inquiry-based learning environment, students are the engines of their own learning and seek knowledge by asking questions. The resolutions to the questions, issues raised, and development of a process of inquiry are more important than correct answers.

The teacher works with students to establish a process and framework for asking questions and developing knowledge. As the leader and facilitator, the teacher models the process to enable students to see inquiry in action and learn its steps.


In this inquiry-based learning example, the teacher gives students a guiding question based on the curriculum. For example, what happens when water boils? From there, students …

  • Explore the inquiry and develop questions of their own. For example, how much time would it take to melt ice cubes in boiling water?
  • Create hypotheses, gather materials, and find answers to the questions.
  • Explore, experiment, and gain knowledge as part of the self-driven process.

Learn more about how this process works in this video from edutopia.

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Photos by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for
American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

Making learning relevant

Connected learning uses digital media to engage students’ interests and results in deeper learning outcomes, such as communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. The connected learning model posits that focusing educational attention on links between different spheres of learning—peer culture, interests, and academic subjects—better supports interest-driven and meaningful learning in ways that leverage the potential of digital networks and online resources to provide access to an engaging learning experience.


In this connected learning example, students …

  • Are prompted by the teacher to think of a place that has held significance in their lives and then recall an interesting memory that occurred in that location.
  • Write their memory, composing a story using a digital device.
  • Request and provide peer feedback as they write, addressing comments left by classmates.
  • Learn and improve basic keyboard, typing, and word-processing skills as they craft their stories; this helps students to meet the district technology curriculum requirements.
  • Are motivated by stories that interest them personally and by collaborating with peers to produce better quality stories.

Learn more about how connected learning works in this article from the National Writing Project.

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Student-centered instruction

With a personalized learning model, teachers, school staff, and adults in the community develop relationships with students, provide each student with targeted instruction and support, create flexible learning environments inside and outside the classroom, and connect each student with the local community and the world through work-based learning (e.g., internships, apprenticeships, hands-on projects, and global study). Personalized learning focuses not just on instruction but on teaching students how to apply what they are learning in meaningful ways.


In this personalized learning example …

  • A student and teacher work together to create a “learner profile” that outlines the student’s academic strengths, areas for improvement, aspirations, achievements, needs, goals, and historical academic information.
  • The teacher uses the profile to match the student with appropriate educational resources, instructional groups, and learning activities.
  • The student, her parents, and teacher view and edit the learner profile, allowing the profile to serve as a communication tool among those involved in the student’s education.
  • The profile moves with the student as she progresses through grades within the school system, serving as a tool for goal setting and informing her personalized learning plan.

Learn more about learner profiles and how they support the personalized learning approach in this video from Riverside Unified School District (CA).

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How Can Educators Assess Deeper Learning Outcomes Using These Instructional Approaches?

These instructional approaches require assessments that measure a broad range of knowledge and skills and that give students—including those from diverse backgrounds—the opportunity to demonstrate their learning through various modalities and methods that appeal to multiple styles and interests.

Assessing student learning under these instructional approaches requires going beyond multiple choice tests, essays, and short-answer exams, to determine whether students are attaining deeper learning outcomes. State, district, and school leaders can consider these assessment styles as they build a high-quality system of assessments.

Performance Assessments

Ask students to apply their knowledge and skills in creating some form of product, presentation, or demonstration.

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Portfolio Assessments

The systematic collection of students’ work samples, records of observation, test results, and other artifacts collected over time to evaluate student growth and achievement.

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Project-based Learning Assessments

Are cumulative in nature. These tasks offer students opportunities to apply a set of knowledge and skills to a topic, problem, or issue over time.

Learn More

Assessment Resources

Assessing Deeper Learning

Alliance for Excellent Education
Read the Report

Criteria for High-Quality Assessment

Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education
See the Criteria

Assessing Deeper Learning: A Survey of Performance Assessment and Mastery

Getting Smart
Read the White Paper
See more assessment resources