Uncommon Learning: Schools That Work For Kids

“Those schools that have focused on increasing student achievement through the positive integration of digital tools have made a broad pedagogical shift: they have focused on enhancing essential skill sets—communication, collaboration, creativity, media literacy, global connectedness, critical thinking, and problem solving—by putting real-world tools into the hands of students.” Eric C. Sheninger

In his new book, UnCommon Learning: Creating Schools That Work for Kids, Eric Sheninger continues to make a strong case for tech integration as an effective vehicle to facilitate the cultural changes that will transform learning. The author offers an authentic perspective – that of a genuine practitioner. His thoughtful perspective is perhaps best summed up as follows:

  • In many instances, still, students are being prepared for a world that no longer exists.
  • Schools that focus on compliance, tend to concentrate on what can be measured.
  • Educators must model the same expectations that they have of others.
  • There needs to be less of a focus on control and more on a culture of empowerment.
  • Technology can create substantial gains in learning for all students, used thoughtfully.

If we are to create schools that work for young people, we need to engage in approaches and methodologies that are authentic, engaging and meaningful. Uncommon learning materializes, “when students are given flexibility as to how they can demonstrate what they know and have learned.” Another thing that may be uncommon about these approaches to learning is the notion of student agency or personal learning: the Dewey philosophy of teaching those things that students express a desire to learn more about. The digital landscape finally makes this possible and, here, I am not referring to canned approaches to learning and data mining rather than the capacity for learners to connect globally, pursue passions, make a difference, and contribute to a growing body of knowledge and engagement.

The “it’s not about the technology” argument has become increasingly redundant in recent years, yet it persists. Of course, learning outcomes are the priority, but if it is not about the technology, then why the need to highlight this most intrinsic aspect of contemporary learning as unique? “It’s not about the critical thinking, creativity, communication, or collaboration.” Who says that? It’s about the learning and, while we embrace more open, student-centred approaches, it may feel uncommon.

Sheninger’s book is an important one for anyone involved in the complex work of school leadership and for teachers who would like to follow a clearly outlined path to deeper learning. The book offers a number of recommendations for applications and tools that teachers can use in the classroom with pragmatic insights about implementation. Here is just a selection of some of the tools highlighted:

Digital Tools That Support Uncommon Learning

      Tools for Critical Thinking & Media Literacy

Tools for Communication & Creativity

Tools for Feedback & Engagement


Storybird Poll Everywhere




Tiki-Toki Paperlet


Many writers and commentators speak about how schools should change. Sheninger is among a relatively small group of these who can truly speak with the authority of experience. The broad pedagogical shift he depicts will, one suspects, become less uncommon in the years ahead.

Eric C. Sheninger. UnCommon Learning: Creating Schools That Work for Kids
Image credit @bryanMMathers via Visual Thinkery.