Breadth vs. Depth

Try It

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?

Discuss 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).

Go Deeper

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.