Series: Expeditionary Learning Deeper Learning

Challenge at the Heart of Deeper Learning
Lesson Objective: Build academic courage and perseverance
Grades 6-12 / All Subjects / Mindset

Thought starters

  1. How are students supported to step up to challenges with courage?
  2. This school gets every single graduate into college. What do you notice in the culture of the school that you feel may contribute to that?
  3. Where do you see students “going deeper” in their learning?
I learned that students need to struggle in order to learn. I remember growing up in elementary, middle and highschool I was scared to be wrong. I was scared when I did not understand something the first time. I realize through this video that struggling and not understanding is okay. It is actually even better because the student would have to read through the passage more than handful of times and when they do, not only will they soon understand the context as a whole, but come to an even deeper understanding.
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You are correct about fostering an a classroom atmosphere that allows students to agree or disagree. As an educator, you have to CONSISTENTLY assign roles to students who are shy. Everyone in the group (groups of three or four) should have a role that allows them to express themselves. Sometimes that student (thy shy one) can take the lead role or be in charge! There are cooperative learning strategies (Literature Circles, Jigsaw) that allow everyone to participate. Research and locate information on these cooperative learning strategies.
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It's difficult for a student to understand that struggle, failure, and not knowing the answers to questions is a good problem to have. Students tend to be afraid to present their ideas to others whether it be on one one or in a group setting. Once students overcome the barrier of shyness they become avid learners. Fostering a classroom atmosphere where it's acceptable to disagree but not becoming disagreeable allows students to freely exchange thoughts and ideas without fear.
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I love the enthusiasm around learning in this school. I wish I was in a place to create this environment in our school.
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The teachers were giving the students confidence which helped the students to step up with courage to embrace their own learning.
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  • Challenge at the Heart of Deeper Learning Transcript

    +++ 00:00:00 +++
    DEEPER LEARNING Elevating Student Thinking and Student Voice

    Challenge at the Heart of Deeper Learning Transcript

    +++ 00:00:00 +++
    DEEPER LEARNING Elevating Student Thinking and Student Voice
    Master core academic content
    Think critically and solve complex problems
    Work collaboratively
    Communicate effectively
    Learn how to learn
    Develop academic mindsets

    +++ 00:00:29 +++
    Edward: I was looking at myself from outside of myself. By that I mean, I was examining my life in a new lens, being meta cognitive, thinking about my thinking.
    Ron Berger: 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.
    Ashley: Quotes, quotes, quotes, they emphasize your point.
    Ron Berger: It's this willingness to push kids deeper and let them struggle to do more.
    Edward: Hello, Renaissance, how you doing on this beautiful Tuesday.

    +++ 00:01:01 +++
    Student: I could argue that Lady Macbeth also showed a lot of growth.
    Julia St. Martin: Deeper learning is really helping kids feel smart.
    Edward: One, two, three-- Beat it.
    Edward: Perseverance, at least to me, is mental.
    Student: I didn't get it.
    Maria Ekmalian: So you were completely stuck.
    Maria Ekmalian: I do let them struggle, I do that a lot.
    Student: It lets me, like, create a relationship with a teacher.
    Challenge at the Heart of Deeper Learning featured organization: Expeditionary Learning
    Lower Third:
    Springfield Renaissance School Springfield Massachusetts

    +++ 00:01:35 +++
    Teacher: What should happen, should it get narrower or wider?
    Lower Third:
    Ron Berger, Chief Academic Officer Expeditionary Learning
    Ron Berger: 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.

    +++ 00:02:01 +++
    Julia St. Martin: Hello.
    Lower Third:
    Dr. Stephen Mahoney Founding Principal, Springfield Renaissance School Springfield MA
    Dr. Stephen Mahoney: You know, every day we tell kids, work hard, get smart, be nice, and you know, those two things, that work hard and get smart, kids really-- they get it.
    Julia St. Martin: All right, so we're going to get started.
    Lower Third:
    Julia St. Martin 10th Grade English Teacher, Springfield Renaissance School Springfield MA
    Julia St. Martin: 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.
    Lower Third:
    10th Grade English Class
    Julia St. Martin: The first round is going to be six minutes, timekeeper. Facilitator, you will start with the first question.

    +++ 00:02:32 +++
    Student: The first question. Compare and contrast Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
    Ashley: 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 for sticking place and will not fail."
    Lower Third:
    Ashley, 10th Grade Student Springfield Renaissance School Springfield MA
    Ashley: Shakespeare English 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 rereading and rereading and rereading until I was able to finally understand the information.

    +++ 00:03:06 +++
    Ashley: 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 that have ambition, rather than the females when they were more submissive and just listened to the males.
    Ashley: 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 agree with you, you're wrong, but you do want to share your ideas and you do want to, you know, interpret the text in a different way to challenge them.

    +++ 00:03:41 +++
    Student: He wanted to be king, but he didn't want to have to do the things that it took to be king.
    Student: 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 a confident one.
    Julia St. Martin: 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.

    +++ 00:04:10 +++
    Julia St. Martin: 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.
    Students: I could argue that Lady Macbeth also showed a lot of growth.
    Ron Berger: The common core asks that kids struggle with complex texts 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.

    +++ 00:04:42 +++
    Student: Lady Macbeth is more-- known as more of cold hearted, and Macbeth is known as more fragile, and I got this from an outside resource, on iblogs-dot-saintjschool-dot-org.
    Ron Berger: 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.
    Student: 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.

    +++ 00:05:06 +++
    Julia St. Martin: 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.

    Ashley: Quotes, quotes, quotes, they emphasize your point, and you guys were all using them.
    Ashley: This school has definitely taught me to push myself to the extremes and try new things.

    +++ 00:05:36 +++
    Ashley: Back then, the person 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're saying? Okay, perfect.
    Julia St. Martin: Doing school different is what's really keeping our kids engaged here, and what's getting them into college.
    Julia St. Martin: Okay, great. Good job. All right, guys, thank you.
    Ron Berger: We talk a lot about 100 percent 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.

    +++ 00:06:13 +++
    Dr. Stephen Mahoney: 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, kind of ambiguity or messiness that are all the kind of prerequisites for deeper learning.
    Lower Third:
    Maria Ekmalian 6th Grade Teacher, Springfield Renaissance School Springfield MA
    Maria Ekmalian: 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 learning and to own their own learning. I do let them struggle.
    Lower Third:
    6th Grade Math Class

    +++ 00:06:43 +++
    Student: I was just going to-- I didn't get it so I didn't do the problem.
    Maria Ekmalian: Okay, so you were completely stuck.
    Student: Yeah.
    Maria Ekmalian: You got some support here. Pick. Got lifelines.
    Student: She divided the regular height by six, to get two, then you have to divide the 24 by six to get four and that will become your new width.
    Maria Ekmalian: Okay, were you able to pick out the important words, the facts that mattered?
    Student: Yeah.
    Maria Ekmalian: Okay, what was one of them at least?
    Student: Reduced.
    Maria Ekmalian: Reduced, okay, good.

    +++ 00:07:16 +++
    Maria Ekmalian: 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.
    Maria Ekmalian: Nice job. Great job. Great job, guys, nice job, Jaquan [ph?].

    Dr. Stephen Mahoney: Within our Crew Program, we create a family that travels with students all through middle school, and then again all through high school, and you know, 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.

    +++ 00:07:52 +++
    Ron Berger: The Crew structure is a really key structure. They share their feelings, their academic progress, and their problems with their colleagues.
    Lower Third:
    6th Grade Crew
    Maria Ekmalian: 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 of work goal, and one personal goal.
    Maria Ekmalian: 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 were 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.

    +++ 00:08:37 +++
    Maria Ekmalian: Lasandra, habit of work, please?
    Lasandra: I want to keep my grades the way they are by completing daily homework, revising my work and participating in group work in class.
    Maria Ekmalian: Nice job. So remember, a goal can also be something you're doing well, and I want you guys to share what you've written with each other.
    Maria Ekmalian: We get to really dig deeper into who our students are and where they're coming from, where they're challenges are, and who they are as a student, helping them to grow.
    Lower Third:
    12th Grade Crew
    Student: We have, like, what, three or four days left together as a crew, and this is a time for us to just think about where we've been.

    +++ 00:09:14 +++
    Student: I've grown so much moving here, just from, you know, you all that surround me, and you know, you all bring something different, you know, to the crew and to the school community. So thank you for helping me grow.
    Student: It lets me, like, create a relationship with a 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.

    +++ 00:09:46 +++
    Dr. Stephen Mahoney: We push them to own their education, the quality of their education and that's a tough thing, because you've got to really-- 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.
    All: One, two, three, four--
    Lower Third:
    Edward 12th Grade Student Springfield Renaissance School Springfield MA
    Edward: 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--
    Student: What time is it?
    All: Running time!

    +++ 00:10:18 +++
    Edward: Didn't really have any running experience previously. I know I was huffing and puffing for 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 the perseverance, at least to me, is mental.
    Ron Berger: Edward is 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.

    +++ 00:10:51 +++
    Edward: 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.
    Edward: So that's the second part form?
    Ron Berger: Yeah, the one we have in the middle.
    Edward: So the gold paint represented God, the idea that God really knew of his hypocrisy?
    Ron Berger: Oh, how they're beginning to see his faults.

    +++ 00:11:13 +++
    Ron Berger: 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.
    Lower Third:
    Edwards's Senior Talk

    Edward: By sometimes removing oneself from the environment, reflecting on the experience, you gain more perspective on it, and you are 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.

    +++ 00:11:40 +++
    Dr. Stephen Mahoney: When you are 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.
    Edward: 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 [ph?].

    +++ 00:12:10 +++
    Edward: I'm saying hello to a future that they have prepared me for these past seven years that I have 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.
    Ron Berger: 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.
    Ron Berger: 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.

    +++ 00:12:50 +++
    Edward: 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.
    #### End of expeditionary_learning_main

School Details

The Springfield Renaissance School
1170 Carew Street
Springfield MA 01104
Population: 689

Data Provided By:



Julia St. Martin
Maria Ekmalian
Ron Berger
Dr. Stephen Mahoney


TCH Special

Grades 6-12, All Subjects, Civic Engagement

TCH Special

Grades 6-12, All Subjects, Civic Engagement

TCH Special

Grades 6-12, All Subjects, Civic Engagement

Teaching Practice

All Grades / All Subjects / Collaboration


Social Justice & Equity


English Language Learners