The Many Roads to Christian Deeper Learning: An Introduction

Updated: Aug 3

A version of this article was originally published on the CACE Blog on June 30, 2020.

February 26-28, 2020. Just before the coronavirus brought our corporal gatherings to a halt, 378 of us came together for the Christian Deeper Learning conference at Denver Christian School. We shared our experiences seeking to inspire students to become people of God’s story engaged in real work that forms self and shapes the world.

Our first conference, held in 2018, drew about 150 people to Gainesville, Florida. In 2019 we hosted about 200 when we met in Dallas, Texas. In 2020, we were encouraged by the increasing interest of the Christian education community in the vision of Christian Deeper Learning (CDL) and what it looks like to manifest this vision in our schools and classrooms. God is bringing us together to renew our passion, reimagine our practices, and reflect on the relationship between our values and our habits.

This post is an introduction to a series of six more blogs exploring different Deeper Learning design models, the “many roads” used to implement this approach in Christian schools. Four questions will provide the basis for each exploration:

  1. What was the reason your school adopted this design model?

  2. How does this model promote CDL?

  3. How has this model helped you meet your mission as a Christian school?

  4. What impacts have you seen on students, teachers, and community?

What is Deeper Learning?

Let’s go back to the basics and define what we mean by deeper learning. The reimaging of schools has been taking place by innovative educators over more than twenty years. As they learned about needed student outcomes for work and life, insights on how students learn, standards reform, personal digital technology, authentic work, etc., these educators grappled with how to translate this knowledge into workable teaching and learning models.

A number of models and networks arose, and commonalities were recognized among the goals of the various groups. The Hewlett Packard Foundation brought some of these groups together and first coined the term “Deeper Learning” in 2010. They described “a set of competencies students would need to compete globally and to become engaged citizens at home in the 21st century.” HPF’s first four competencies, often called the 4 Cs, are content, collaboration, critical (and creative) thinking, and communication. Two others have to do with the attitude of the learner: positive/growth mindset and independent learning (becoming leaders of their own learning). Whereas networks of Deeper Learning schools share common goals, there is no one organization of Deeper Learning schools. Rather, this is a set of principles any school could choose to follow. For a further description of Deeper Learning and these groups, see this excellent summary.

As Christian educators, we (Dan and Steven) chose to incorporate the term “Deeper Learning” because of its commonly understood meaning and its utility. Our desire is to invite teachers to think more deeply about the connection between their values and their practices, and to explore ways of uniting them more consistently in the context of Christian schools.

What is CDL (Christian Deeper Learning)?

Over the years, a number of Christian educators and schools have been implementing what we now call Christian Deeper Learning. These institutions have begun to network more intentionally for collaboration, learning, and mutual encouragement. Coming together from across existing organizations, networks, and denominational boundaries, Christian school educators have united in a desire to educate children in ways that honor them as image bearers, ground them in The Story, and inspire them to live out Christlikeness in serving neighbors and caring for creation.

At the end of February 2020’s Denver conference, we asked participants to respond to the question, “How would you define Christian Deeper Learning?” Many spoke of the concept of real work meeting the needs of real people and of immersing students in God’s Story as they explore and partner with him to redeem the good world he made.

Yes—these participants understand the heart of CDL. We all desire fervently to accomplish two things: for students to be deeply engaged in learning and for them to find their place in God’s redemptive story for his world. We have attempted to spell out our core beliefs and shared principles in a document called “Deeper Learning in Christian Schools: Playing Our Part in God’s Story.” We hope that this document serves to stimulate, clarify, and encourage schools as they consider CDL. You can read more about this document here and here.

Among Christian educators who are embracing the principles of CDL, there are a variety of ways to live them out in various settings. Reaching these common ends will occur through different models that schools find helpful in their contexts. What we hope to do in this blog series is to celebrate, lift up, and explore these models to promote clarity, understanding, and encouragement among schools desiring to move into CDL. We have chosen to highlight six current approaches to CDL in our upcoming series, but desire to enfold and communicate about other models as we learn of them. The six models we will explore are PBL (Project Based Learning), EL (Expeditionary Learning) Education, TfT (Teaching for Transformation), IB (International Baccalaureate), Big Picture Learning, and Redemptive Education.