15 Resources for Rethinking the Role of Content

Content is a foundational and fundamental part of teaching and learning, though its role in our classrooms and schools is ever-evolving. What counts as content? Who determines what is essential content? Does some content promote deeper learning more than other content?

130 educators from over 55 schools and learning organizations in 10 countries convened around the topic of content in our weeklong Rethinking The Role of Content course. The course offered resources, strategies, and models for how to select and curate content, how to promote deeper learning through content, and more.

Here, we have curated some of our favorite resources that were either curated by our team for the course or were generated by course participants.

For clarity, these resources have been organized in the following categories:

  • Introductions & Inspirations
  • Strategies & Tools
  • Deep Dives
  • Conversation Starters

Introductions and Inspiration

Build Skills for 2030 Now With These Ideas (article). "So the pressure is on, to really consider how we can best prepare students not just for this school year, not just for life after high school graduation, but well beyond. We need to prepare our students for the year 2030 and the future. But how?" This article offers insight and ideas to explore this question.

Rethinking School for an Era of Innovation (podcast). A participant shared: “A provocative look at several different schools and how they are restructuring curriculum. Not exclusively about content, but certainly touches on it.”

The human skills we need in an unpredictable world (video). In this TED talk, Margaret Heffernan cautions against an over reliance on the tools we have now to confront the unexpected of tomorrow. Instead, she encourages building human skills that are timeless.

Vrain Waves, Episode 11: Dan Meyer - If your Content is the Aspirin, How do you Create the Headache? (podcast). In this podcast episode, math teacher Dan Meyer shares how to build a story around content to allow for deeper learning in students. His own classroom story and method for rethinking content is relatable for any classroom teacher - not just math.

What is Calculus and Why do We Study It? (MIT course notes). A sample conversation that begins with a student asking the question of what is calculus and why study it? Answers to the students’ questions surface the purpose of learning calculus.

Strategies and Tools

Applying Learning in Multiple Contexts (article). "New learning is fragile until something is done with it. It can be strengthened by simply repeating, rereading, and drilling on the specific information again and again, until it embeds as rote memory. But there’s a better way: Providing students with directed opportunities to employ multifaceted manipulation of information promotes strong, transferrable memory creation."

Are You a Curator or a Dumper? (article). Jennifer Gonzalez highlights the importance of considering how much content one delivers through a question around how teachers organize and present it. She offers guidelines, strategies, and tools to assist with curation of content. Podcast episode available at this link as well.

Teach the Teacher (video). "Written and developed by students, Teach the Teacher is a student-led professional learning program for teachers that empowers students to address issues affecting them. This program creates an inclusive culture where students lead collaborative conversations with teachers and principals in a constructive and judgement free environment." Read more here.

Deep Dives

How to Teach Critical Thinking (report) "This paper considers what cognitive science can tell us about how critical thinking is acquired, and the implications for how education might best develop young people’s critical thinking capabilities in light of this evidence. The author [Daniel T. Willingham] concludes that scientists are united in their belief that content knowledge is crucial to effective critical thinking." For the MindShift article about this report, click here.

Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom (Report). Even when the content is the same, learning can differ. From this report's abstract: "We compared students’ self-reported perception of learning with their actual learning under controlled conditions [...] Both groups received identical class content and hand- outs, students were randomly assigned, and the instructor made no effort to persuade students of the benefit of either method."

Retrieval Practice and Transfer of Learning: Fostering Students' Application of Knowledge (article) This reading offers a look at how to combine transfer and retrieval practice to promote student learning. It begins with the question: "How can we help students successfully apply what they have learned from one lesson to another, from one class to another, or from school to the real world?"

Conversation Starters

Humanizing the Immigrant Label (video). This video by EL Education features one school's example for rethinking content. Students share how and why this reshaping of content has changed their perceptions of self and the other. This offers a glimpse of how powerful content can be.

NPR's On Point- Part 3:Behind 'The Knowledge Gap.' Is School Curriculum to Blame? (podcast). This podcast episode explores the question: "Could the problem be the nation’s focus on teaching skills rather than actual knowledge?" Guests include Natalie Wexler (author of The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System – And How to Fix It) and teacher Sarah Webb who piloted a content-based curriculum.

Searching for Deeper Learning: An interview with Jal Mehta (interview). Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine "visited 30 innovative public high schools across the country to examine where students were experiencing what the two call deeper learning. What they found was surprising: Even in the most celebrated schools, the learning that allows students to grow as thinkers and critical and creative learners is more often the exception than the rule."

The Columbus Day Problem (article). History teacher and Director of the Harvard Teacher Fellows Program Eric Shed discusses the "challenges of learning and teaching history, as distinct from celebrating it." This introduces very interesting questions and considerations for thinking through the role of content in our classes.

We hope that these resources can offer you some ideas for rethinking the role of content in your classroom or school. Let us know on Twitter @GOALearning. Interested in joining us for a future Rethinking School course? Click below to learn more about and register for the next two courses in our Rethinking School series:

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