New View EDU Bonus Episode: Designing Backward to Move Forward

Available January 18, 2022

Find New View EDU on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, and many other podcast apps.

What is the goal of modern education, and are we designing our schools and practices properly to help us meet that goal? That’s the central question of this episode with Jay McTighe, who provides a detailed road map to help educators navigate the answers. What should a school’s mission statement include? What is the most productive and meaningful structure for “professional development” days? And what are we missing when we focus on covering content instead of designing our classrooms for deeper learning?

Jay McTigheIn a constantly changing and rapidly evolving world, there’s no shortage of content to cover. Each year, it seems like there are more topics to teach and more concepts to add to curricula, with no more hours in the school day. But knowledge acquisition is only one piece of the big picture of learning, and as we look to prepare students for an uncertain future, their skills in the “soft” areas may be more important than their ability to recall facts. How we define our goals for student achievement matters more than ever. Are we designing education to facilitate students' ability to transfer knowledge and skills from one context to another, truly encouraging them to apply what they’ve learned and make meaning of the concepts long after that day’s lesson is done?

Jay McTighe, a veteran educator and accomplished author with more than 50 years’ experience in the field, joins hosts Tim Fish and Lisa Kay Solomon to delve into what he believes defines deeper learning in the 21st century. Starting from the premise that the ability to transfer knowledge across situations and disciplines is the goal, Jay walks through the process of planning and designing education to reach that goal. Advocating for less content, more thoughtfully approached, with assessments transformed from checking for knowledge to checking for understanding and transfer, Jay argues that the process of making meaning is the work of true learning. But, he cautions, to facilitate that kind of deeper learning, our schools and systems may need to undergo some radical shifts in priority and time management. From building an education system that prioritizes and supports summer work, to using professional development days for more meaningful and engaged work to assess student learning, Jay enumerates the challenges of adopting a culture focused on deeper learning and proposes solutions he’s gleaned from his experience working with schools and educators in 47 states. 

Key Questions

Some of the key questions Tim and Lisa explore in this interview include:
  • How can school leaders design backward for deeper learning in their schools, and what does deep learning really look like? How do we assess it and recognize it when we see it?
  • What are the challenges inherent in designing for deeper learning? What mindsets and practices might we need to change to allow for a cultural shift toward deeper learning in our schools?
  • What responsibilities do school leaders have to help shape a backward design process that includes all stakeholders—faculty, staff, parents, board members, and students? How does crafting the right school mission statement impact the way design functions in the planning process?
  • How can school leaders proactively communicate with teachers and parents to help bring everyone along on the journey of moving away from “more” learning to embrace “deeper” learning?
  • What does it look like to shift our understanding of teaching to a role that facilitates meaning-making among students, rather than primarily offering direct instruction in content?

Episode Highlights

  • “I've always thought of assessment as like a photo album. Assessment gives us evidence. So think of the pictures in the photo album as evidence, and some pictures give us evidence of student knowledge and memory. Some students give us evidence of their proficiency in very basic skills. But we also need photos that give us evidence of understanding and transfer.” (8:17)
  •  “You hear teachers say this a lot, ‘I've got too much content to cover.’ Or, ‘Those projects or those performance tasks take too much time.’ And my response, if I'm in a sarcastic mood, is, ‘Well, just talk faster in class. You'll get through it.’ There's a casualty to that, that we know, that would likely, if anything, produce superficial disconnected learning, and generally not relevant to students. So it's not about coverage. It's about learning.” (11:06)
  • “Let me use an analogy of a quilt. Individual teachers may be working on individual squares that might be units of study, and they might have five, six, seven little squares that they've created over the course of a year. But at the school level, we're looking at a patchwork quilt, right? Where all those individual squares need to cohere into an overall pattern. As school leaders, they ought to be working on the quilt pattern.” (17:05)
  • “The pandemic is a sobering reminder of the unpredictability of our world. This was on very few radar screens 21 months ago, and now we're in what? Phase four or five? It's a sobering reminder that we're not educating kids for a very predictable future where we know all the skill sets they're going to need and all the content knowledge they must acquire. On the contrary, we need to develop the capacity to continue to learn on your own and do it on your own. Self-directed learning. The ability to analyze problems and opportunities that aren't spoonfed to you, or don't succumb to formulaic responses.” (25:35)
  • “I have never heard a coach say to me, ‘Oh, Jay, I don't have time for those games. That could take all afternoon. How can I ever cover my playbook?’ I've never heard a coach say that. Because the coach understands that the game is their goal, and they work with the players they have to build the knowledge, skills, and strategies. Always with the game in mind. The playbook is a resource. It's not their goal. Covering is not their goal. But you have teachers mistakenly believe, ‘I got to cover the textbook, or I got to cover every standard in the standards list.’ It's not their goal.” (38:43)

Resource List

Full Transcript

About Our Guest

Jay McTighe is a veteran educator, having served as a teacher, resource specialist, program coordinator, director of a state program for gifted students, and administrator for innovative programs at the Maryland Department of Education. He is an accomplished author, having co-authored 18 books, including the award-winning and best-selling Understanding by Design series with Grant Wiggins. His books have been translated into 14 languages. Jay has also written more than 50 book chapters, articles, and blogs, and been published in leading journals, including Educational Leadership (ASCD), Edutopia, and Education Week. Jay has an extensive background in professional development and is a regular speaker at state, national, and international conferences. He has made presentations in 47 U.S. states, seven Canadian provinces, and internationally in 38 countries on six continents.