Deep Understanding

The ultimate goal of Powerful Learning is to design learning experiences that will enable our students to develop a Deep Understanding and for our students to grow, discover and change –change their thinking, change themselves, and help change the world.

Deep Understanding occurs when learners are immersed in a culture of thinking and when the development of “understanding” is the primary goal of learning.


Designing tasks that allow for choice, creativity and challenge in the context of collaboration helps learners to achieve deep understanding. As well, it includes exploring a topic from many angles, building connections, challenging long-held assumptions, looking for applications, and producing what is for the learner a novel outcome (Ritchhart). To achieve deep understanding learners are engaged in the actions of applying, performing, adapting, and transferring.

Powerful Learning recognizes the importance of a balance between surface, deep and transfer learning or in other words a balance between teaching for knowledge and teaching for understanding. As defined by Hattie and colleagues, surface learning involves the initial learning of concepts and skills to develop conceptual understanding and initial consolidation of ideas. Surface learning is not shallow learning and it is not about the rote memorization of skills. Deep learning gives students further opportunity to consolidate understanding and make deeper connections among ideas. As well, it allows for the transfer and application of knowledge, skills or strategies to a new task or situation.

How do we get to Deep Understanding?

  • Learning that involves surface, deep and the transfer of ideas.
  • Learning that sticks.
  • Learning that is built on innovation relative to key problems and issues.
  • Learning that engages the world to change the world.
  • Learning that creates citizens of tomorrow today*

*Adapted from pg. 160 Fullan, Quinn & McEachen, 2018

Deep Understanding occurs in a thinking classroom where students are provided powerful and purposeful tasks. It is achieved when students actively and intentionally construct their understanding of concepts and are able to make connections between ideas and concepts. In other words, “students put knowledge into use and assimilate or own the ideas if they are to understand them” (pg. 83, Gini-Newman and Case 2016). Students are provided “regular opportunities to reflect upon and explain how new learning deepens their understanding of a big idea and students are encouraged to draw conclusions or reason based upon criteria about possible answers to an inquiry question” (pg. 89, Creating Thinking Classrooms- Garfield Gini-Newman and Roland Case).

In order to foster powerful thinking and flexible creative problem solving, Golden Hills teachers share a sense of collective efficacy with a shared language and pedagogy that focuses on student learning.

students to construct a deep understanding by extending ideas, making connections, inferring and by focusing on big ideas or central concepts.

is to help students acquire the thinking skills necessary to pose and solve problems, make decisions, form judgments and engage in creative endeavors. When students are able to do this, they are able to use or apply the learning in new and innovative ways. Reasoning with evidence is instrumental in developing a “thinking disposition”. As well, consideration is given to creating a safe learning environment where unusual ideas are supported, students are provided voice and choice, novelty is incorporated and constructive feedback is provided. These are the basic conditions of a powerful learning environment as outlined by Drapeau. (Drapeau, 2011, p 30, as cited in Drapeau, 2014).

teachers believe that success and failure in student learning is impacted by their instruction and that changes they make can increase student learning. During the Golden Hills Collaborative Days teachers reflect and solve problems of practice together. Evidence of impact on learning is collected to inform next steps. It is through this reflective practice and the focus on improved student learning that Powerful Learning continues to grow in Golden Hills.


Core competencies are at the heart of Deep Understanding and are woven throughout all areas of Powerful Learning. Competencies are sets of intellectual, personal, and social and emotional proficiencies that all students need to develop in order to engage in deep learning and life-long learning. The Powerful Learning competencies are consistent with the Alberta Learning Student Competencies as outlined below (in pink):

  • Creativity: From imagination to innovation (Creativity and Innovation)
  • Communication: Purposeful and powerful in multiple way (includes Managing Information)
  • Citizenship: Actively and compassionately engaged citizens working to make a difference in our classrooms communities and the world (Cultural/Global Citizenship)
  • Critical Thinking: Making informed judgments through investigation analysis, questioning and reflecting. (includes Problem Solving)
  • Connecting and Collaborating: working interdependently and synergistically (Personal Growth and Well-Being)