By Maria Davou* and Angelos Evangelidis*
Our school is in a heavily exam-centered setting, but we identify ourselves as a language learning school and not an exam prep center. This has surprisingly been welcomed with commercial success and educational prestige. To reinforce this image of an educational institution, focusing on educational and pedagogical values instead of exam prep classes, we use a series of innovative tools, piloting one each year (formative assessment instruments, honor codes to promote ethics etc.). In 2018 we launched our new language program called Deeper Learning. Drawn from the Intermediate Plateau literature, CLIL, Critical Pedagogy and Philosophy, and after analyzing the data on constantly lower ages of students at B2 level, we designed a program that breaks all rules in the language teaching “industry”.
Deeper Learning is a program for B2 and above levels and its main tool is philosophical inquiry. In DL we do not use any ELT books or any practice test materials. Content teaching becomes central: from poetry to comics and AI to myths, the program explores age-appropriate content in English.
In DL, we explore content areas such AI, Comics, Visual Arts, Fairy Tales, Dystopias, Questions about Life, Animals Masks, Empathy, Human Rights, Identities and Labels, Gender. We look at the world around us, the world inside us. DL brings Knowledge into the foreground along with formal logic and art, its main premise being Uncertainty. In DL, we teach language through the exploration of big questions, which possibly have no answer!
The structure of DL is as follows: We offer a variety of topic/content/ question-based areas at the beginning of the academic year. Students can choose up to 3 different topics that correspond to 1.5 teaching ‘slots’ each. In each slot, they explore a topic throughout the school year. By April they have to submit a mini research paper (1200 words) addressing a research question related to one of the 3 chosen topics. Students also give an academic presentation related to their paper at our Youth Conference, organized annually in March. Finally, students take part in our Youth Creativity Day, presenting a creative project (video installations, oral poetry, dance or music performances, Art exhibits, fiction, comics etc.), taking place in June as an open gallery.
Students embraced DL and kept attending English classes even 2 years after passing a C2 exam.
Below are the main principles of Deeper Learning as outlined in its mission statement:
1. DL is a democratic framework, within which the voice of the students in not only important but central. In fact, in DL students are emancipated, given a voice and this voice is heard.
2. Teachers do not censor ideas. All contributions are welcome for discussion.
3. DL is about unlearning and relearning. Nothing is taken for granted.
4. DL lessons are multimodal: videos, photos, pictures, Art, cinema, books, texts and the physical environment are necessary tools for a lesson.
5. DL lessons are not exam-prep. They are language and thought lessons.
6. DL lessons are student-centered and student-led.
7. Students should be encouraged to produce multimodally: not just written texts but also, oral presentations, videos, mini movies, art and all products of literacy and visual literacy are welcome.
8. DL is a language lesson, where language is the vehicle to approach and explore a topic, a content-area or a big question.
9. DL lessons are content and vocabulary rich. Grammar teaching is not part of the lesson because students are constantly exposed to authentic texts and are required to produce texts (oral and written) of high standard. Grammar correction though is part of the feedback given to students’ written works.
10. DL lesson should be a pleasant experience for the learner and the teacher.
11. In DL lessons, formative assessment is central. Summative assessment is done in non-threatening ways. As the classroom is a democratic space of equality, trust and respect, assessment is used to promote learning and involvement and not to make students feel uncomfortable or judged. Alternative testing (take-home exams, collaborative testing, honor codes etc. should be used).
12. The role of the teacher in a DL class is that of a fellow-traveler and explorer.
13. DL is an innovative approach to teaching language and therefore, should be enriched with webtools, the use of students’ own tech resources (cell phones, tablets etc.).
DL is both about humanistic and technological innovation
In DL, we do not prepare students for exams. In DL, we explore questions like who am I?, Is the body necessary for consciousness?, If your brain is copied and duplicated exactly as it is, do you think that the robot which now has your brain also has your feelings?, Can robots feel pain?, Do animals feel the same type of pain as humans?, Is the trolley problem a meaningful thought experiment and, if so, how should we program self-driving cars? How do social media shape who I am? How does racism impact my community? What happened to Cinderella after she married the prince?” Was the prince really a foot-fetishist? Who is really the Little Red Riding Hood? Is the theory of evolution merely a hypothesis and if not, why is it called a theory? How can I understand your Otherness? Why do we dream? Do we dream in words or images? Could you imagine what it is to be a bird, navigating through the magnetic pole? Is falling in love with a robot a possible sexuality expression? Am I already a cyborg? Does my smartphone count as an extension of my hand? Do we have free-will? How accurate is memory?
We ask all the questions the normal educational system shuts up.
Not surprisingly, DL students pass C2 tests (CPE & ECPE) with great results, taking away not a mere language certificate but a whole learning culture.
Deeper Learning is our educational innovation, with 31 schools around Greece and Cyprus adopting it and making waves in education, hacking the system and re-inventing ourselves and the terms of the game!
Deeper Learning is conceptualized, designed and coordinated by Angelos Evangelidis. It is put together practically by Angelos Evangelidis and Maria Davou.
It is dedicated to the memory of Professor Ares Arageorgis, who passed away in 2018 and was our professor of Philosophy of Science. He taught us Uncertainty.
*Angelos Evangelidis studied Applied Science at NTUA, is a graduate of Philosophy from the American College of Greece and is currently completing his MRes in Compararive Literarure at the University of Amsterdam. He’s the Deeper Learning coordinator and promotes radical changes in language education.
*Maria Davou (BA, DELTA, MA, PhD (ABD) is a teacher, teacher trainer, international speaker and education visionary. She runs her own language school in Athens and is a co-founder of QUALIFY.