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Deep Learning Initiative


The Deep Learning Initiative at Wooster School Introduction At Wooster, one of our goals is to ensure that our Upper School students have the opportunity to apply the skills, dispositions, and knowledge that they have been developing over the years in the pursuit of deeper learning in areas of academic interest. To that end, we launched our Deep Learning Initiative (DLI) in 2016-17. Through the DLI, students pursue a greater understanding of concepts in our academic disciplines by engaging in a learning experience based upon best practices and our growing understanding of brain science and learning. At the heart of our DLI courses are tutorial methodologies developed at Oxford University and Williams College, which provide the framework for a deeper dive into each course’s concepts and meaning. Wooster’s DLI courses are structured so that students can engage with a core body of knowledge and information in a particular discipline, develop areas of inquiry from this “deep dive” into the core, and produce original thinking and analysis based upon their questions, independent research, and collaborative engagement with their teacher and fellow students. While delving deeper in pursuit of more nuanced meaning, students are building on skills that are essential to learners in college, the workplace, and in life -- reading/observing/listening for understanding, researching, identifying problems, questioning, reflection, writing, and collaboration.


Deep Learning Initiative courses require that students demonstrate important dispositions like imagination, creativity, and perseverance, in the pursuit of more sophisticated, original, and independent thinking.

Why Deep Learning Based upon a growing understanding of brain functions, our interest in growing the strongest, most sophisticated learners here at Wooster, and ongoing conversations with college admissions officers, the creation of these courses is a natural next step for our community of thinkers and learners. The following elements emerged as being most important as we did our research and designed our courses: Reading: Students need to engage with texts that communicate factual and conceptual content in sophisticated ways. The readings in a DLI course require that students apply skills like attention, annotation, and reflection in order to make meaning of the texts. The volume of reading is such that students are challenged to manage their time while still having the time necessary to wrestle with the advanced information and concepts found in the materials. Writing: Students in DLI courses write to reflect, to better understand, and ultimately to communicate their own best thinking about questions that they have developed as a result of their experiences in the course. More advanced instruction in the skill of writing, particularly as it relates to research and rhetoric, is also a part of DLI courses, especially those in the Humanities.


Reflection, Collaboration, Critique, Discussion: Making meaning is often the product of an iterative process which involves collaborative interactions like brainstorming, and text-based and protocol-driven discussion. Learning the “rules of engagement� and how to best listen, critique, and contribute are skills that are intentionally taught and practiced in DLI courses. Demonstration of Learning: Every DLI course requires a culminating, capstone presentation and product which demonstrates the new skills, dispositions, and knowledge that students have gained through the experience. Within the framework of each class, students tell us what they have learned, while using their skills to demonstrate a deep understanding in a concrete fashion.

Personalized Learning: Because the internal structure of DLI courses relies on the tutorial model, each student is challenged to understand and build on his/her own skills, dispositions, and knowledge throughout the course. Small group and individual meetings with the instructor are essential to assuring progress in learning and an honest assessment of students’ work and learning throughout of the course.


What is the Tutorial Process? A tutorial class is built around a core body of content and knowledge within an academic discipline with which all students become familiar. The process of engaging with the content can include reading, listening, watching, note taking, annotation, lab work, and problem-solving. As students become more familiar with the content, they work as a class and in smaller groups on developing questions about the material which guide their inquiry in pursuit of deeper learning.

The tutorial model requires that students work in pairs or triads as they refine their thinking, identify other sources of information and knowledge, and develop fully formed answers to the questions that are guiding their inquiry. Throughout the process students are collaborating, journaling, discussing, and conferencing with their instructor. At the culmination of each tutorial cycle, of which there are a minimum of three per course, students must write an essay, prepare a formal critique of their learning partner’s essay, and participate in a formal discussion of both in the presence of the instructor. In the end, students emerge having “made meaning� through a rigorous, skill-based, intellectual process, and with a better understanding of what it takes to engage with concepts at a deeper level.


Redefining Rigor Our shift to a Deep Learning model is predicated on the broader shift that is occurring in the workplace, at our universities, and throughout world cultures. As our understanding of the neurological roots and realities of learning evolve, so too does our understanding of knowledge itself. When coupled with the pervasiveness and power of search technology, the proliferation of data in our digital world, and the processes necessary to parse that data and find meaningful patterns in it, this new understanding requires more complex and sophisticated coursework than that presented through Advanced Placement. Put simply, we have shifted from a model of knowledge (and therefore schooling) shaped by the character and constraints of print technology, one which valued the collecting and cataloguing of facts, figures, and concepts, to a model which requires that students develop the critical and creative thinking skills to make meaning from the data and information saturating our world in dynamic and unstructured formats. Remembering facts and information is no longer as important as understanding how to think about those facts and that information in ways that will help solve problems and create new ideas. The Deep Learning Initiative is designed to test and build those skills in our Wooster students.


The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the Advanced Placement (AP) Program, cannot hope to allow teachers to measure the processes, thinking, and hard skills that students apply to the solving problems and thinking deeply and originally about questions that matter while also requiring that they “cover” a specific amount of “book learning” on a daily basis. Every teacher who teaches AP will tell you that they routinely sacrifice the time needed for deep learning to the imperative that they race through the curriculum in preparation for the test. This tension has long been a complaint of AP teachers, and removing it is part of the reason that our teachers are so excited about Deep Learning. This problem is only compounded by the psychometrics of developing a test that can be scored on a scale of 1-5 and nationally norm referenced. When students at Wooster reach the 11th and 12th grade, they must be involved in the difficult but engaging business of having to make meaning in a deeper learning environment. Their teachers should have developed course designs which result in those students receiving feedback designed to further develop those skills. This rigorous experience should be personal, and the feedback that we give should be individualized to help each student improve in all areas. Through Deep Learning courses we are asking them to show us that they are ready to think and work at the next level of learning.


Beyond Advanced Placement Wooster has transitioned its Upper School programming to Deeper Learning Initiative courses, and no longer uses the designation of “Advanced Placement” (AP) in course titles. Academic departments have identified particularly advanced courses as Deep Learning Initiative (DLI) courses and the course titles reflect this designation in the school’s course program guide and on students’ transcripts. In making this change, Wooster has joined a growing cohort of independent schools that have ended the use of the AP designation. We realize this can be seen as a bold change. Here are answers to common questions we’ve been asked. Q. Why has Wooster Changed from AP to Advanced Courses? Our move to DLI courses more effectively supports Wooster’s philosophy to develop and extend students’ learning through active and engaged instruction. Through our Deeper Learning Initiative curriculum, we’re able to provide our students with interesting and in-depth modern coursework to challenge them to learn at their highest levels all the time. Q. How are Wooster’s DLI courses stronger than traditional AP courses? Traditional AP courses cover only the topics and concepts that are addressed in the AP exams. They prepare students to memorize answers to multiple-choice questions and to practice writing standard answers to generic questions. Essentially, AP courses are rooted in the philosophy that teachers must “teach to the test.” This means teachers are obligated to instruct solely on the topics covered by the AP exam to net the best AP test score possible. At Wooster, we are challenged to provide students with a strong academic foundation and then empower them to achieve a level of critical thinking that is open-ended and allows for deeper learning.


Rather than build a course curriculum around memorizing answers to the AP exam, we have created courses of study that teach students to think more critically about each subject and topic, which more effectively prepares them for college and beyond. Because Wooster’s DLI programming is geared toward deeper learning and critical thinking, and is on par with the classes offered in college departments throughout the nation, Wooster students have a great advantage during the college admissions process. Q. Will Wooster students still be able to take AP exams if interested? Yes. Students who want to sit for the AP exam at the end of an appropriate course will continue to receive guidance and support from Wooster faculty. Q. Why were AP exams created? AP exams were created in 1957 when The College Board wanted to identify the most elite students attending private preparatory high schools and distinguish those students more easily during the college admissions process. The board based the initial AP exams on what colleges taught in freshman survey courses. Over time, the board began providing a brief description of college-course themes and specifying which topics in those courses would be covered on the AP exams. Thus, schools began the concept of “teaching to the test.” In recent years, the mission of the AP program has changed as The College Board has made a commitment to help the nation’s disadvantaged schools upgrade the quality of curriculum and instruction, and provide these schools with academic testing standards upon which to base their programming.


Q. What other schools have moved beyond the AP designation? Many schools across the nation are moving towards creating advanced curriculum. Here is a small list of some of the schools which have already made this transition: Calhoun School (NY), Concord Academy (MA), Dalton School (NY), Doane Stuart School (NY), Fieldston School (NY), Friends Central School (PA), Friends Select School (PA), Germantown Friends School (PA), Haverford School (PA), The Hill School (PA), Lawrenceville School (PA), Oldfields School (MD), Phillips Exeter Academy (NH), Providence Academy (MN), St. Andrew’s Sewanee School (TN), St. Paul’s School (NH), University of Illinois Laboratory School (IL), and University Preparatory Academy (WA), Q. How will the absence of AP designations impact my child’s college choices? The move to DLI courses benefits Wooster students in the college search process. Colleges compare the transcript to the offerings at each student’s school. It’s clear that our DLI courses are among the most advanced options students can choose. Also, our DLI innovative curriculum differentiates our transcripts from thousands of others, a key consideration in the world of increasingly selective college admissions. Our College Guidance Department promotes the curricular advances to Admissions offices. Information about Wooster’s challenging program is included as part of the college application process.


What Are Colleges Saying? “It (DLI) seems to get at many of the same things that we desire of our own curriculum -- development of strong communication, analytical and organizational skills -while emphasizing research, critical thinking and exposure to a broad range of disciplines and ideas.” We have spoken and corresponded with college admissions officers from Amherst, Colorado College, Fordham, Wesleyan, High Point, Carnegie Mellon, and numerous other schools who have been unanimous in telling us that their primary concern is that they be able to determine how students have chosen to challenge themselves while in Upper School. Colleges and universities want to know what our most challenging and rigorous courses are, be they Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or a schooldeveloped option like Deep Learning. If a school is creating intellectual rigor through an organically developed program grounded in relevant inquiry, critical, and creative thinking and skill development -- all the better.

“I love it. Personally, this is the kind of learning I want for my own children. Professionally, I think this is the kind of education that allows young people to appreciate the meaning of learning and the application of knowledge. Students who have the ability to see how diverse concepts fit together will be well-prepared for the higher order learning that takes place at the University level and beyond.”


We have also heard from schools that Wooster will benefit from developing a program like the Deep Learning Initiative because we are already known for Self-Help and the strength our relationshipbased community. DLI redefines and reinforces the strength of our academic program as well. As you can see, they have also been uniformly positive about the philosophy and structure of our Deep Learning Initiative.

“The idea of moving away from official AP designations to focus on deeper learning is very encouraging to me as an admissions officer and educator. We routinely work with schools that are able to maintain a high level of rigor in their coursework, while also ensuring that the students are engaging in content more richly. Not only does it not affect a student’s chances of gaining admission to a selective institution, I think that this often can provide an even stronger foundation for success once they arrive on a college campus.�


Deep Learning Courses Art and the Making of Meaning Art and History This DLI course explores the big ideas in art and art history through indepth analysis and dialogue. By looking thematically at art across cultures, visiting museums, and sharing our observations, students explore the stories that are told throughout the history of art, as well as examining the role our cultural institutions play in telling these stories. We explore exhibitions and meet and talk with museum staff during field trips scheduled throughout the course. Through critical discussion, writing, and creating, students examine artists, art history, and the role of the museum in creating meaning.

Adaptions English This course examines the relationship of literature and film by considering a question that precedes them both: What does it mean to be human? Adaptation allows us to consider how our culture answers this question in different ways at different times while offering an important window into cultural influence. Adaptation offers insight into the process of turning a short story or novel into a screenplay. Whether you’re a fiction reader or a film buff, Adaptation is your behind-the-scenes look at the process from the printed page to the big screen.


Literature of the Outsider English In this course, students become more comfortable reading and writing about works of different literary genres, cultures, and time periods that feature unconventional protagonists. Students develop their own questions for group discussion and write frequent analytical essays on themes of their choice. Opportunities for creative writing include off stage scenes, modern adaptations, poetry, and occasional fictional pieces. The heart of our course is in tracing how the literary convention of “the outsider” has been used to offer social criticism. We also try to better understand how social expectations manifest themselves in different contexts and impact people’s lives.

The Essay English This Deep Learning Initiative course helps the student find and curate a collection of their best contemporary essays, understand and practice the art and skill of writing, and experiment with new forms of the essay: Curriculum includes podcasts, TED Talks, as well as an array of model essays. This DLI aims to have the students be the best prepared writer and communicator in your college Freshman Composition class.


The Story English Human beings are natural storytellers. We use stories to explain, to question, to dig deeper, to convince, to sell, to cry for help, and to aspire. This course examines the power of stories and dig into how to utilize that power in all of our writing in a supportive workshop environment. The learning intentions of the course are to understand and practice developing the elements of a powerful story. Students in the course also build a portfolio of work they have curated over the course of the year through the tutorial model.

Europe in the Short 20th Century History From 1914-1989, Europe saw the two most destructive wars in history, two madmen committing two genocides against their own people, and the division of the continent over political ideals. Since 1945, however, Europe has created an economic and political union that virtually guarantees peace. The 20th century is thus yet another in Europe’s long history of stark contrasts. This course investigates this history in a student-driven discussion format and utilizing the tutorial learning and writing process. Students are expected to use all the skills and dispositions gained over the course of their academic careers to reach success in this course. The keys to this include careful and comprehensive preparation, active and civil participation in discussions, and true curiosity for and love of the study of history. Students are expected to express themselves clearly in discussions and in writing, support arguments with primary and secondary evidence, and analyze the arguments of others.


US History: Cultural Calamity and American Resolve History Several times during the rich history of the United States, Americans have confronted periods which challenged their resolve and necessitated a reevaluation of American greatness. This course examines the cause and effect of three distinct periods of national unrest: The Great Depression and New Deal, World War II, the1960’s, and the terrorist attack on 9/11. Further, we analyze the “collateral” implications and discuss its effect on the principles expressed in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights that have come to define the American nation, the American people and American history. The turbulence that came to define these distinctive epochs and the characterization of the people who bore the burdens of living through them have woven the rich fabric of American History. We investigate well below the surface and reveal not just the successes, but also the abuses and missteps that influenced the ebb and flow of public opinion. With an appraisal of the governmental, military, and political forces at play, we reveal a balanced, 360 degree perspective of the United States and its “Greatest Generations.”

Calculus 1 Mathematics Students learn the basic principles of calculus: limits, derivatives, and integrals. After mastering the mechanics, students explore each principle more deeply. What exactly are limits? How does a derivative relate to the graph? Can we tell the story of a function by finding its derivative? How can integration help us in real life? Students master procedural knowledge and gain an abstract understanding of the core concepts of calculus.


Calculus 2 Mathematics This course is a continuation of DLI Calculus I. The first trimester focuses on applications of limits, differentiation, and integration with tutorials serving as the primary mode of inquiry to investigate questions of optimization, rates of change, and determination of areas and volumes. Students discover multiple problem solving approaches, and learn to examine physical and abstract objects in multiple ways. The second and third trimesters focus on sequences and series. Upon completion of this course and DLI Calculus I, students have covered all topics in a two semester college level calculus class.

Discrete Math Mathematics This is an introductory course in discrete mathematics. The course teaches students to think logically and apply this thinking in problem solving. Students learn logic and proof, sets, function, algorithms, and mathematical reasoning. The topics involve relations, graphs, trees, and mathematical language. We apply these ideas to real life scenarios including voting, scheduling, map coloring, and coding. The techniques learned in this class can be applicable to many different fields of study and professional fields for students’ futures.

Statistics and Big Data Mathematics Statistics and Big Data teaches statistical literacy in a world that is increasingly data driven. The students learn descriptive statistics, probability, inferential statistics and data analysis so that they are ready to conduct their own serious research in the third trimester. Within the course we learn the foundations of statistical analysis through research and experimentation, and take opportunities to evaluate statistical claims presented by media, journals, and other credible sources. While finding common characteristics of good research and writing, the students spend the third trimester producing their own original research paper through the tutorial process with classmates.


Advanced Chemical Applications Science Advanced Chemical Applications is taught through three main units: Environmental Chemistry, Molecular Gastronomy and Forensics/Analytical Chemistry. In each unit, students study college level background theory and then engage in long term research projects to explore aspects of the topic that they are personally interested in. Students need strong algebraic skills and an ability to do independent research.

Advanced Physics Science This course introduces the fundamental ideas and methods of classical mechanics, electromagnetic theory, thermal and modern physics. The course follows a historical sequence focusing on the relationships between ideas and the advances in technology that have affected society. Because much material involves applications of calculus, students should be taking calculus concurrently. The course introduces basic applications of differential equations as needed. Computational, mechanical, electrical, and electromechanical projects support and advance our learning. Computational projects employ the Python programming language. No prior knowledge of Python is required.

Complexity and Life Science This course introduces foundations of biology in the areas of plant physiology and ecology, inheritance, the molecular basis of evolution, anatomy and homeostasis, and how each of these illustrates the principle that complexity characterizes and sustains life. Using the tutorial process, students carry out projects to further our understanding or apply it to a real life problem. Projects may include writing a scientific review paper or bioethical essay, creating a piece of persuasive media, or engineering a device. To conclude each trimester, during the tutorial discussion, students present their projects and critique those of their peers.


Spanish Culture and Film World Languages Students in the Spanish V -DLI course discuss their progress by referencing the proficiency guidelines established by ACTFL (the American Council on Teaching of Foreign Languages). Students in Spanish V are mainly at the intermediate-high and advanced-low levels, as evidenced by the inverted pyramid of language proficiency seen at the www.actfl.org website. Students at this advanced level express themselves in speaking and writing on both familiar and unfamiliar topics, ranging from family values to technology and social networks. Students are beginning to evidence characteristics of the advanced level, such as forming complete paragraphs, using cohesive devices, employing a variety of time frames and aspects, and distinguishing between the formal and informal registers. Students are committed to use the language consistently in and out of class, whenever possible.

Spanish V: Inter-American Immigration World Languages Students in this course learn about immigration from readings and guest speakers who present in the target language. With the acquired information students then discuss and present on their findings. Students improve research, reading and auditory comprehension, presentation, and conversational skills. Students are beginning to evidence characteristics of the advanced level, such as using cohesive devices, employing a full range of tenses, and distinguishing between the formal and informal registers. Students must be committed to use the language consistently in and out of class, whenever possible.


Wooster School is guided by our Purpose, Promise, and Beliefs,

which represent the natural evolution of the school’s mission since our founder, Reverend Aaron Coburn, charged us with preparing our students to be ‘’gentle, generous, truthful, kind, and brave.” These commitments remind us that as a school community we must learn from the past, embrace the present, and look to the future as we prepare our graduates for college and lives of purpose in a world of increasing complexity and change.

Wooster School ● 91 Miry Brook Road ● Danbury, CT 06810 woosterschool.org | 203-830-3900

Deep Learning Initiative  

At Wooster, one of our goals is to ensure that our Upper School students have the opportunity to apply the skills, dispositions, and knowled...

Deep Learning Initiative  

At Wooster, one of our goals is to ensure that our Upper School students have the opportunity to apply the skills, dispositions, and knowled...