Berger discusses student engagement and lifelong learning


MJ Martinez

Depth over breadth-- Chief Academic Officer at EL Education Ron Berger spoke to the entire Farmington faculty at a half-day professional development day on May 17. Berger, along with master teacher Jenna Gampel, spoke to faculty about the importance of authentic, in-depth work where students can take charge of their learning.

Bella Podgorski, Managing Editor

As part of a professional development day, Ron Berger spoke to Farmington Public School teachers on May 17 in the high school auditorium. Berger spoke of the importance of depth over breadth and the necessity of authentic learning.

Berger is the Chief Academic Officer at EL Education and has worked in education for over 40 years. According to their website, EL Education believes “when students and teachers are engaged in work that is challenging, adventurous and meaningful, learning and achievement flourish.” They provide free resources to teachers and go to schools in order to help in promoting success. His visit to Farmington was different than the types of schools he visits.

“Farmington is already great…one of the best I’ve ever seen,” Berger said.

Berger and EL Education believe achievement is measured in three dimensions: mastery of skills and content, high-quality work and character. In referring to his own students, Berger hopes they will develop life skills.

“It matters to me that they do well on more than test scores,” Berger said.

Farmington teachers have been reading Leaders of Their Own Learning, one of Berger’s books, as part of professional learning over the past two years. The book educates teachers on how to engage students in curricula that puts them in charge. Included are chapters on learning targets and celebrations of work.

“The idea of students as leaders of their own learning has inspired us to examine what we do as educators, to commit to continuous improvement in our teaching and learning, and to put students first in deciding about our curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Ron Berger’s work provides a framework for improving teaching and learning by promoting the role of the student in shaping her own educational program and progress–his goal and our goal is that all students are truly leaders of their own learning,” Principal Bill Silva said.

Noah Wallace Principal Kelly Sanders is friends with Berger. Berger even completed carpentry work for her family to supplement his teaching salary.

“I have known Ron for about 45 years. He is a family friend who taught with my mother in a small regional school in the hills near Amherst, Massachusetts. My family spent years socializing with his family, and I’ve had many opportunities to visit his classroom and see him present at conferences,” Sanders said.

Berger was accompanied by master teacher Jenna Gampel who teaches at the Conservatory Laboratory Charter School in Boston, Massachusetts. Her students completed a unit about snakes around the world. Throughout the process, the students were involved an in-depth study that involved peer and teacher feedback. The students were told to “be kind, be specific and be helpful,” according to Gampel.

“My lack of engagement as a student motivated me as a teacher to do things differently,” Gampel said.

According to Gampel, through meaningful work that was in-depth instead of brief, her students were able to score successfully on state tests without formal test preparation.

“We live in a culture where instant gratification is the norm. But does faster always mean better?” Gampel asked.

Berger echoed this sentiment by comparing the work teachers are asked to do to as being on a “fast-moving train” because teachers have “so much to cover.” However, he urged that it is through authentic, in-depth work that students have transferable results.

Sanders hopes to carry out this mission.

“I hope we can think about how to make learning and tasks more purposeful and authentic for our students, providing them with opportunities to become experts in different areas and make contributions to the community and the world,” Sanders said.