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Challenge at the Heart of Deeper Learning

Teaching Channel Deeper Learning Series

Students learn by doing at EL Education's network of more than 160 schools. Math, science, and other subjects are taught through "expeditions" that connect them to their communities and teach them the value of service. Students are encouraged to have "academic courage," and they work alone and in groups to conduct original research, analyze data, and present their findings.

The work goes in stages as students solicit feedback and make revisions along the way. Each step in the process reinforces a culture of continuous improvement and refinement.


- I was looking at myself from outside of myself. By that, I mean I was examining my life in a new lens, being metacognitive, thinking about my thinking.

- The main thing that unites deeper learning across the country is this belief in the capacity of students to do more than we expect they could.

- Quotes, quotes, quotes. They emphasize your point.

- It’s this willingness to push kids deeper and let them struggle to do more.

- Hello, Renaissance, how are you doing on this beautiful Tuesday?

- I could argue that Lady Macbeth also showed a lot of growth.

- Deeper learning is really helping kids feel smart.

- One, two, three!

- [Edward] Perseverance, at least to me, is mental.

- [Girl] I didn’t get it.

- So you were completely stuck. I have to let them struggle. I do that a lot.

- It lets me like create a relationship with the teacher.

- What should happen? Should it get narrower or wider?

- I think challenge is at the heart of deeper learning, which is this concept that we don’t push ourselves hard enough. We could do more than we think we can. And that as a team we can push each other to go beyond. So you see that in Renaissance when students go on outward bound trips and push each other physically up the mountain to succeed together. But you see it with them taking academic courage in their classes, to support each other to take risks.

- Every day we tell kids work hard, get smart, be nice. You know, those two things, that work hard and get smart, kids really, they get it.

- Alright, so we’re gonna get started. Kids are just finishing up work with Shakespeare’s Macbeth. So today was a public speaking assessment where kids were asked to really push themselves to think about Shakespeare’s themes. Corruption, violence, gender roles, and several motifs. The first round’s going to be six minutes, timekeeper. Facilitator, you will start with the first question.

- The first question, compare and contrast Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

- I have a quote from act one, scene seven. Macbeth says, “If we should fail.” And Lady Macbeth replies, “We fail, but screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we’ll not fail.” Shakespeare language is a very different language than our modern English and what we’re used to, so it definitely did take a lot of academic courage, especially me. I didn’t really understand the first time, just by reading it. Therefore, I had to keep re-reading and re-reading until I was able to finally understand the information. It shows that Lady Macbeth has more of an ambition, a stronger ambition, than Macbeth has. And as we all know, back then, men were considered the ones who have courage, the ones who have ambition, rather than the females, when they were more submissive and just listened to the males. Stepping up to sharing a different idea or maybe disagreeing with something else, that’s something that’s very difficult sometimes. You don’t want to seem like oh, I don’t want to agree with you, you’re wrong. But you do want to share your ideas and you do want to interpret the text in a different way to challenge them.

- He wanted to be king, but he didn’t want to have to do the things that it took to be king.

- I agree with you guys, but then again, I disagree because in the end it changes and Macbeth says, “The mind I sway by and the heart I bear shall never sag with doubt nor shake with fear.” So in the end, he becomes the confident one.

- Can we pause? I love that you guys are focusing on thematic words like loyalty, but let’s see if we can push our conversation to really unpack or dissect the character of Lady Macbeth. Okay, continue, great job. In today’s class, I spoke about five minutes and kids facilitated and moved through the lesson for 65 minutes of the course. And I think the preparation for that was guided through really good reading comprehension, you know, short benchmark assessments, as well as giving kids some feedback on classroom culture.

- I could argue that Lady Macbeth also showed a lot of growth.

- The Common Core asks that kids struggle with complex text or complex math problems before we help them. That they try to make sense of it themselves so they don’t always get bailed out.

- Lady Macbeth is known as more of cold-hearted and Macbeth is known as more fragile, and I got this from an outside resource on

- The other thing about the Core is that it’s very evidence based. They want kids to be able to speak with evidence and cite evidence.

- I have a quote that supports what you were saying, where Macbeth says, “Stay you, imperfect speakers, tell me more.” It’s act one, scene three.

- What was really awesome today was to see kids take on really powerful essential questions and really make them their own. And I think through ownership of their understanding of Macbeth, they were able to use the language in a careful way, and they were also able to respect each other’s ideas.

- Quotes, quotes, quotes, they emphasize your point. And you guys were all using them This school has definitely taught me to push myself to the extremes and try new things. Back then, the person who would have fear would be the female, and the one who would be fearless was the male. But in this case, it was switched, right? That’s what you were saying? Okay, perfect.

- Doing school different is what’s really keeping our kids engaged here and what’s getting them into college. Okay, good job. Alright, guys, thank you.

- We talk a lot about 100% college acceptance. We’ve had three graduating classes. Every single class has had every graduate accepted to college. But beyond that, we’re preparing them to be great citizens.

- Kids have to force themselves, or kids have to struggle. It takes a perspective, a level of sophistication, and the need to be comfortable with, you got ambiguity or messiness, that are all the kind of prerequisites for deeper learning.

- As a sixth grader, they’re just still learning how to do school, and you know, be in a classroom. In order to help them to really get a deeper sense of learning and to own their own learning, I have to let them struggle.

- I didn’t get it, so I didn’t do the problem.

- Okay, so you were completely stuck.

- Yeah.

- You got some support here. Pick, you got lifelines.

- Haley.

- She divided the regular height by six to get two. Then you have to divide 24 by six to get four, and that will become your new width.

- Okay, were you able to pick out the important words? The facts that mattered?

- Yeah.

- Okay, what was one of them at least?

- Reduced.

- Reduced, okay, good. When a student struggles and they find some type of answer, the confidence that builds in them and the courage for them, and they also persevere. So it’s just a really you know, nice thing to let them struggle, and I do that a lot. Great job, great job, guys!

- Within our crew program, we create a family that travels with students all through middle school and then again all through high school. And it’s the good, the bad, and the ugly, but it’s what keeps kids focused and grounded in terms of who they are and who they can become.

- The crew structure is a really key structure is a really key structure. They share their feelings, their academic progress, and their problems with their colleagues.

- I have printed your standard base grades, and so you are going to look through them, and you are going to set one academic goal, one habit or work goal, and one personal goal. Crew is a place that we spend a half an hour three days a week, one hour two days a week, and where we get to know students on a personal and academic level. Today, we are doing some goal-setting. So we’re reflecting on our third quarter grades, and we’re looking to see where the students were, how far they’ve come, and setting small goals to finish off the year strong. LaSandra, habit of work, please.

- I want to keep my grades the way they are by completing daily homework, revising my work, and participating in group work in class.

- Nice job. So remember, a goal can also be something you’re doing well. I want you guys to share what you’ve written with each other. We get to really dig deeper into who our students are and where they’re coming from, where their challenges are, and who they are as a student, helping them to grow.

- We have like what, three or four days, left together as a crew and this is a time for us to just kind of think about where we’ve been. I’ve grown so much moving here just from you all that surround me and you know you all bring something different to the crew and to the school community. So thank you for helping me grow.

- It lets me like create a relationship with the teacher. I never had one with a teacher because teachers are on the other side of the fence, they’re our enemy. He’s not our enemy no more. He’s on our side now.

- You push them to own their education, the quality of their education, and that’s a tough thing because you can’t just kind of throw that at a kid. You have to scaffold it. You have to structure it. You have to practice it. You have to get good at it.

- [Students] One, two, three, four.

- It began with the outward bound experience that we have in ninth grade. We pushed ourselves. We climbed mountains. We climbed on the side of cliffs, all those different things. And when I came back to school after that week, I realized that there was more I could do, both physically and mentally, so I decided to take up cross country.

- What time is it?

- [All] Race time!

- I didn’t really have any running experience previously. I know I was huffing and puffing through the first half of that year in ninth grade, but I eventually got my body in tune to be able to run the minimum of three miles, which is a cross country race. I think taking on this kind of challenge has made me realize that all of perseverance, at least to me, is mental.

- Edward’s an inspiring person. I have gone to the state cross country championships just about every year, and every year I watch Edward Brown, and he’s not at the front of that group. But every year he stays with it.

- No matter what your body may be feeling at the time, if your mind is feeling that you can go harder or faster, then you can, and then that applies to every other aspect of life. So that’s the second platform?

- Yeah, the one we have in the middle.

- So the gold paint represented God, the idea that God really knew of his hypocrisy.

- Or how they’re beginning to see his faults.

- Explanations of their growth as scholars and as human beings is built into the day here. And that kind of reflective depth and that courage to speak up, to me, is very much at the heart of deeper learning.

- By sometimes removing oneself from the environment, reflecting on the experience, you gain more perspective on it, and you’re able to see things that are brought to light. You are able to make adjustments to whatever you’re thinking or doing easily because you understand how and why it occurs that way.

- When you are, you know, 18, and you’re told that you have the opportunity to speak in front of 400 kids and share your wisdom of the last seven years, that’s a thing that you will never forget for the rest of your life.

- You adapt, you survive, and you thrive. You find hidden meanings and are able to finally gain an understanding of yourself like no other. But in order to do so, you must understand who you define yourself to be. And at this point in my life, I finally feel like I do. I am Edward Faustino Brown. I’m saying hello to a future that they have prepared me for the past seven years, that I’ve been working towards, that they’ve been along with me every single step of the way. And that journey is going to be at Brown University.

- As the first Ivy League graduate of this school, I think Edward Brown is destined for great things. He is a living example of perseverance. I think that deeper learning is everywhere, but it’s hidden in most places. And our job is to sort of cultivate it. It’s a team effort, and it’s a team success. So it’s a different paradigm of schooling. Deeper learning is the key for us to build a better world.

- I have incredible expectations of myself. Whoever said that there was anything wrong with it, this is my version of the American Dream. Like many great men and women before me, I am here to stake my claim in this land, on this earth, and in this universe. But if I am to get all these things done in one lifetime, I had better start now, and this is just step one.

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