Breadth vs. Depth
Much of our education agenda has been defined by committees who love to pile on topics that just have to be covered. Use this video as a conversation starter for meetings (department, PLC, or your entire faculty) to discuss the trade-offs between breadth and depth. Sure, there are essentials we want every student to master — but what if that ‘check list’ has sprawled beyond the breaking point? We assume content covered is content retained. But is it?
- What strikes you as noteworthy about this video?
- How do we currently balance breadth versus depth? How should we?
- If you were designing AP U.S. History, what changes would you make?
- How much of the content of AP U.S. History do you think students retain — even those with high scores? Do we know? Should the College Board (awash in excess cash) research this?
- How concerned should we be that 2/3rds of adults in America can’t name the three branches of government?
- For your students, which ideas might merit a month of investigation? A semester? What keeps you from doing this?
- What micro-innovations could you try to gain experience in going into more depth?
- In your history classes, are you teaching kids to think like a historian? Or just covering content? Ditto for other disciplines (e.g., the scientific method, versus science definitions and formulas).
What do we take from this short clip of college students? Consider a serious evaluation of whether student learning at your school is deep and retained, or disappears shortly after the exam. Perhaps through lagged ‘pop quizzes’ or selective re-administration of some final exams. And consider retention differences between academic classes and the hands-on learning in clubs, sports, the arts, and out-of-school avocations.