Home‎ > ‎School News‎ > ‎

Letter from the Superintendent

posted May 15, 2017, 8:50 AM by Kari Osborne

Becoming a Profound Learner

Dear Princeton Community,

What is a school’s core purpose?  It is to develop students who are profound learners.  Being an average learner in the 21st Century is not enough.  Teaching students to be averse to average is an important life skill.  This requires teachers and administrators to challenge themselves and to incrementally teach our students, day by day, creating cognitively complex tasks to force students to think critically.

At our June 6 School Board meeting, teachers will be reporting about their cognitively complex tasks they created.  We are actively developing tasks to teach students experimental inquiry, investigating, problem-solving and decision making.  This is a whole new way of thinking.  In our district, we define this kind of non-average student as a student who can think at a knowledge utilization level in a self-directed way.  In other words, an autonomous critical thinker.

Knowledge utilization means we are creating more learning and assessment tasks that are reality based. It requires students to apply or use knowledge in specific situations.

Questions the teachers might ask would be:

  • What changes would you make to solve. . . ?

  • Can you predict the outcome if. . . . ?

  • What way would you design. . . ?

  • Can you think of an original way for the . . . ?

You may not know this:  our teachers actively design the questions they ask students, to help them become better thinkers.  We look at questions and tasks within a taxonomy.  There are many taxonomies, and the one we use is the Marzano’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.  

The lowest level of thinking is called retrieval, which includes helping students to recall information or execute a math problem. Retrieval involves recalling information from permanent memory. The next level is comprehension, where students begin to integrate their thinking by coming up with their own opinions or to symbolize their thoughts in some way, such as drawing or graphing or recording.  Comprehension requires identifying what is important and placing the information into categories.The third level is analysis, which requires matching, classifying, analyzing errors, generalizing, or making conclusions.  It involves reasoned extensions of knowledge and inferences to go beyond what was directly taught.

A common misconception is that younger students do more retrieval and older students more knowledge utilization thinking.  That is absolutely not true.  Younger students are just as capable, developmentally, of thinking at high levels.  

Why cognitively complex tasks, using knowledge utilization?  It may be best explained by Seth Godin, who invited leaders to think about this, “Our task, then, is to find people we can encourage and nurture until they’re as impatient with average as we are.”  If we want Princeton graduates to be successful in the world, they need to be discontent with average.  This is a shift in culture, and our educators are being challenged to be profound learners, as they develop cognitively complex tasks, to deepen student engagement.  We are becoming profound learners in order to develop our students into even more profound learners.


Julia Espe