New View EDU Bonus Episode: Full Transcript

Read the full transcript of the bonus episode of the NAIS New View EDU podcast, in which hosts Tim Fish and Lisa Kay Solomon delve into what he believes defines deeper learning in the 21st century. The guest is Jay McTighe, a veteran educator and accomplished author with more than 50 years’ experience in the field. 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.

Lisa Kay Solomon: Tim, it is so great to be in conversation with you again for New View EDU. It's been really rewarding to see the impact of Season 1, particularly the emails we get from school leaders that listen to an episode and that share it with their leadership team. It's wonderful to be able to do this bridge episode with you at the start of the new year, really feels like we're entering yet another year of flux and change. And I'm so grateful that we could start it off with some New View for the New Year.

Tim Fish: Lisa, it is so great to be together again. We are delighted to welcome Jay McTighe to New View EDU. Jay is a veteran educator, having served as a teacher, resource specialist, program coordinator and administrator for innovative programs at the Maryland department of education.

He's an accomplished author, having co-authored 18 books, which just blows my mind, including the award-winning "Understanding by Design" series with Grant Wiggins. His books have been translated into 14 languages. He's also written more than 50 chapters of books and articles and blogs, and has been published in leading journals.

He has an extensive background in professional development as well, and is a regular speaker at state, national, and international conferences. Believe it or not, Jay has presented in 47 states. Jay, you're going to need to get those last three knocked off at some point soon! And internationally, in 38 countries on six continents.

So Jay, welcome to New View EDU. 

Jay McTighe: Thanks, Tim and Lisa, I look forward to joining you. 

Lisa Kay Solomon: So Jay, I don't know the exact number, but I think the majority of your 18 books have the word "design" in it in some capacity: design as a, really, opportunity for thinking of intentional choices at every level, at the leadership level, school level, systems level. As someone that has been teaching design as a leadership practice and writing about it for nearly 20 years, you had me at hello, as they say.

And I wonder if we could just start this conversation by talking about how you think about design, and why design is so important for school leaders.

Jay McTighe: Well, I can reference the title of the main series of books that I've written or co-written with Grant Wiggins, Understanding by Design. The big ideas are in that title. You know, my contention has long been that a primary goal of a modern education should be preparing students, not just to remember information or to learn basic skills, but to be able to transfer their learning to new, and even unexpected situations.

But think about it, you can't transfer something that you don't understand. And so understanding by design really means, think about what we want students to be able to do with their learning, which is transfer; what understandings will enable them to transfer that learning; and then design kicks in, how do we design our curriculum, our assessment system, and even, in fact, the structures of schooling to help us enable or achieve those ends. So we've used the phrase, quote, "backward design," more specifically to suggest that any leaders at the district or school levels and any teachers who are leading learning should be clear about the ends toward which they are aiming, the long-term learning goals for students, and then quote, "design everything backward" from those goals.

So in essence, we refer to design as a planning process, designing with the end in mind, is the essence. 

Tim Fish: Jay, I love that. And it makes me think about, you know, one of the things I've uncovered in getting to know you and getting to know your work more, is this idea around deep learning, really designing for and teaching for deep learning.

It's the title of one of your books. And it is something that I think you've really done a lot of thinking about. I hear people speak about it a lot, but I don't always know that we know what we mean when we say deep learning. 

Jay McTighe: Yeah, that's a great question, Tim, near and dear to my heart. So the phrase deep learning or deeper learning is being used widely, these days. But in my experience, it does have different connotations. So one connotation has been promoted by heroes of mine, like Michael Fullan. Or the Deep Learning Network, launched through High-Tech High School, for example, and, you know, Fullan and deeper learning network folks often talk about deeper learning in terms of the goals or developing what I call transdisciplinary skills or competencies such as critical thinking, creativity, the ability to work with others in teams. Maybe global citizenship would be in the mix. And so they're, they're focusing on outcomes that typically go beyond traditional academic disciplines. And the method that they advocate is primarily through project-based learning. 

I'm a real fan of project-based learning. My daughter, Maria, actually taught at High-Tech High School for several years. And I'm also an advocate for the competencies that they highlight, the ones that cut across disciplines, because I think they are critical for the modern world. But I've adopted a slightly different definition of the term deeper learning, which I'll comment on in a moment. Now there's another connotation you sometimes hear, especially from folks in the university level and higher ed and sometimes high school teachers.

Sometimes those folks equate deeper learning with what I would call more learning. I.e., You've covered more content, therefore you're, you're learning more deeply. Personally, I don't subscribe to that particular connotation. The definition that I've used was actually one put forth by the National Research Council.

And in essence, they define deeper learning as evidenced when students are able to take what they've learned in one situation and apply it effectively and appropriately in another situation. In other words, they define deeper learning as I do, as enabling transfer and as evidenced by students' ability to transfer their learning.

And so, while it's compatible with the first connotation, you know, project-based learning oriented, I propose that deeper learning should be directed not only to the 21st century competencies and transdisciplinary kinds of skills, like critical thinking, but should also be clearly and appropriately targeting disciplinary knowledge.

In other words, whether it's science or English language arts or visual arts, I propose that we should be teaching for transfer. So how do we assess for deeper learning? Well, to me, if the connotation or the definition says that deeper learning is evident when students can transfer, it follows, therefore, that our assessments, when we want to see if students have learned deeply, have to go beyond the traditional testing for knowledge and basic skill kinds of assessments, you know, typically in the form of multiple choice, true/false, short answer.

Those are fine for certain outcomes, like seeing if kids know things and basic skills. But when transfer is among our goals, if deeper learning is our quest, then we need assessments that give us evidence that students can, in fact, apply their learning to new situations. 

If we want to see if students know something, objective test questions work fine. But a student can know something without understanding it or being able to apply it. And that's where a more performance-based approach to assessment is necessary. 

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.

And so there's no one best assessment method. Our assessments need to give us the right evidence, given our goals. But because we have different goal types, we should have different kinds of pictures in our photo album of evidence. 

Lisa Kay Solomon: What's your advice to educators that just feel like, "That's wonderful, but my everyday is about getting through and getting to the quantitative view of assessment as quickly as possible?" 

Jay McTighe: So let me approach it from a backward design point of view. From a backward design point of view, the first question is, what are our goals?

And what do we look for as evidence that, that we're achieving those goals and that students are attaining the learning goals we've set out? And then the third part of it is, what do we do to get there? And so let me start with the question of what are our goals. I suspect many of your listeners are familiar with Bob Marzano's now classic research finding about curriculum. Marzano concluded after a meta analysis of research, that the most significant factor that impacts learning and achievement at the school level—and by the way, that's an important qualifier, the school level, not the classroom —the most significant factor impacting learning and achievement at the school level is a quote "guaranteed and viable" curriculum delivered to all students.

Now, why do you suppose Marzano included the word viable in his research finding? Well, I know this, because I've known Bob for 25-plus years. He put the term viable in there because of his detailed analysis. When he and his colleague, John Kendall, did an exhaustive analysis of state standards that were out in the U.S. during the decade of the two thousands, Marzano and Kendall concluded, which should be no surprise, that there was way too much content jammed into standards, and not enough time to teach all that content well.

But that's no surprise to anyone who's been teaching for the last decade or more. We just know that. There's too much potential content and not enough time. And so even in independent schools that aren't formally adopting a state or a national set of standards, they often have textbooks or, or resources, and there's still too much content.

And so part of the question of time is what's most important. And how do we prioritize the content that we want to address? Grant Wiggins and I have long railed against the notion of coverage. You know, and 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. 

In fact, I like to say our goal is to uncover the content in the curriculum to highlight the big ideas that are most worth understanding and to prepare students to be able to apply those ideas and those skills to new situations. 

What does it take for students to learn something deeply? And my contention, which I think is completely aligned with research in cognitive psychology, as well as the neuroscience of learning, is that for students to come to understand something deeply, in order to be able to transfer it to new situations, I like to say deep learning must be earned. It must be earned by the learner. Deep learning or understanding is made in the mind of the learner. And it requires an active process of what I've called meaning making, to come to understand something. Quite frankly, I don't think a teacher can just give a student a quote, "big idea," and they will immediately comprehend it deeply.

Now here's a quick example. Correlation does not ensure causality. Okay, everybody got that? Write that down in your notebook. Okay. Now we'll move on. Not likely. That's a big abstract idea, that correlation does not ensure causality, and it takes time for students to uncover that, to figure out what that means, to know what the idea is, and to think about how it applies to various situations.

So this goes to the time question, if we want deep learning, not superficial learning, we need to have time for students to actively make meaning.

Tim Fish: Yes. That's, that's what I want learning to look like. And in fact, I know, having been in schools, that when learning does look like that, there's also a lot of joy. There's also a lot of belonging. There's also a lot of awesome collaboration. There's a lot of unleashing of passion among students and teachers.

As we start to move from a model of education that's more based on too much content, that's more based on the teacher trying to give that content or give those big ideas, and have maybe a more heavy reliance on those more narrowly defined content-based assessments. As a school begins to move more toward let's call it a deeper learning approach. What are the things that they often struggle with the most, and what might be some ways that you've seen other schools creating a journey, creating a pathway to start helping teachers really move along that journey?

Jay McTighe: Well, another great question, Tim, and to me, it's a multifaceted question. So let me try to break it down in a couple of ways. Starting at the classroom level, at the teacher level. Why is this hard? What do teachers struggle with? Well, one is what I referenced earlier. If the stated or implied goals for teachers, or if they believe their job is to cover lots of content and march through all a set of state standards or, or march through a textbook from page one to page 326 by the end of the school year. In other words, if their view is, I've got a lot of content to cover, then it will be difficult for them to follow what I'm advocating, which is don't try to cover everything. Scale back, focus on larger ideas, have time for students to make meaning actively and shift from, if you do this already, a primary use of objective test questions that are easy to grade, to more performance-based authentic assessments that are gonna take more time. That's hard to do, but if you believe your job is to cover lots of content, then you're going to be hard pressed to even know why you should do anything differently.

Secondly, even if a teacher gets the idea that they want to teach for understanding and transfer, the elements of doing that are not always easy. For instance, my work with Grant Wiggins on Understanding by Design, we propose that teachers actually identify explicitly desired understandings, and frame those through what we've called essential questions. Coming up with good essential questions is not always easy. You got to know your subject area well, you'd have to know what the big ideas are, but you also have to create questions that are engaging and interesting for kids, and not leading to a single answer, but not so amorphous that they don't go anywhere. So, that's hard. So you can have the will, but not necessarily the skill.

The good news is it develops. Similarly with assessments, you might recognize that multiple choice, or kind of objective tests themselves, are incomplete. They're, they're good for assessing some things, but they're deficient in other outcomes. But you may not know how to craft a good performance-based assessment, or a more in depth long-term project.

So that again is a skillset that takes time, and it's hard. It's easier to just go back to the comfort zone of, you know, teaching stuff, having an objective test that's easy to grade, and moving on. But again, my contention is if you value deeper learning, if you recognize that transfer should be a primary goal of modern education, and you plan backward from those aims, it will open the door to changing some of the practices that might otherwise be in place.

That's at the classroom level. Now let's shift to the school level. And by the way, I distinguish between micro and macro. By micro, 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 5, 6, 7, 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.

And to me, the quilt pattern for a coherent guaranteed viable curriculum that aligns across the grades means that as school leaders, we need to start with our mission and be clear about the kind of learner we want to produce at the end of 12, 13 years in our independent school. And, and by the way, I define mission as transfer goals. Too often I see mission statements that are like apple pie and mother, you know, we believe all children can learn and we have a, you know, a rigorous, you know, a college prep program and we have horses in our stables. That's a good, you know, advertisement description, perhaps. But to me, a mission should define unequivocally what we are committed to developing in our students.

So to me, school leaders really need to focus the school mission on transfer. Again, I believe that's our most important product for a modern education. And so working with teams and, and I actually recommend vertical teams representing lower, middle and upper school, or elementary, middle, and high school staff to come together and look at and identify what I've called the long-term transfer goals for the various subject areas.

The second part of this macro plan is to think about assessment evidence. And while teachers think about assessments, when they're teaching units of study and planning assessments around their unit goals, we should, as a school, agree collectively on the evidence that are tied to our most important outcomes or competencies.

And I've used the phrase cornerstone assessments to get at this idea, that we're going to identify over time, or develop over time, a small number of really important assessments that give us evidence of student growth in the most important transfer goals that we've identified. It's one thing for a school to have a mission, or for a program area like science or art to have declared outcomes. It's another to ask the question, what evidence will show students' growth toward these learning outcomes, toward their ability to transfer across the grades? The school needs evidence, even as individual teachers need evidence in their classrooms. So that to me is the macro view. That's the patchwork quilt that the school leader is really responsible for orchestrating.

Tim Fish: You know, Jay, it makes me think about how you were saying as we move away from the amount of content that both standards, textbooks, teachers have piled on ourselves over time that we had to move away from, one of the things that moving toward a deeper learning approach takes time. And one of the things that came through as you were just describing the work of teachers and the work of a school, and thinking about submission, thinking about departmental goals, thinking about transfer, is how much time it takes for the professionals as well.

It takes your – sort of real dialogue, real collaboration, and frankly, real vulnerability I've found, on the part of teachers, to sort of sit in that space, because it's an uncomfortable space. And so I think finding that, you know, the other piece for me that I'm interested in is parents. You know, I think as, as schools, one of the most consistent things I hear from parents and board members of schools who are parents, is that when you ask them, what do you want most from your school experience for your child? They say academic excellence. I want a school that is committed to excellence. And often what's connected to excellence is rigor. This idea that I want a rigorous, challenging, excellent experience for my child. And I find that as schools begin to think about a transitional approach, moving from what we might consider a more traditional approach to a more deeper learning centered approach, that often what appears is this notion that in the doing of that, moving to projects, that somehow we're losing rigor, we're losing excellence, we're losing challenge, and we're bringing in a whole bunch of fluff that isn't going to give students what they really need. I wonder if you've encountered that in your work, and what response you might have to how to talk to parents about this work, as a school is on its journey to a more of a deeper approach.

Jay McTighe: Yeah. Another great question, Tim. I have thought about it a lot and I've encountered similar experiences that you describe. Well, first of all, I think, the same issue that I recommend discussing with educators applies to parents, which is quite literally linked to the mission of school. What do we want as the outcomes of a modern education or education for a modern world?

You know, it's, it's sometimes the case, I won't generalize too much, but sometimes the case that parents think of their glory days in school and want that, they want to see that replicated. In other words, they know what worked for them in school. And sometimes I think parents consider rigor in the way that university people think of deeper learning. Oh, rigorous means more content, you know, larger textbooks, more lectures, more homework. Personally, I don't define rigor that way. I define rigor as deeper learning. In other words, the evidence of a rigorous program is that students can take what they learned and apply it effectively and appropriately to new situations.

And if you want to gauge a continuum of rigor, rather than more learning, or how many books did you read? What if we define rigor as along a continuum of transfer, from near transfer, you know, the elementary student who's been learning long division and they can do it with problems involving apples, but now we're going to use grapes or oranges.

That's a very near transfer, but if you understand long division, you don't get hung up by the fact that we didn't do grape problems, you know, they can do it. Whereas rigor becomes evident when students are able to take what they learned and apply it to more complex, but also contexts that are different from the ways it was learned. Even crossing disciplines, for example. The idea of correlation does not ensure causality can be applied in statistics, in mathematics, but in history. And in life. So that's part one of my answer is, I think it's worthwhile talking with parents about what we believe is the hallmark of a modern education.

And if we want to define rigor, let's define rigor as the ability of students to increasingly be able to transfer their learning to new and increasingly complex situations. Now, another advocacy point, and a lot of parents of independent school students should get this. Ask them, whether they are employers or they are employed, what are the skill sets most important to their industry or their company or their field? And, you know as well as I do, that there are studies of this, including two that I like to cite. One is from NACE, which is the National Association of Colleges and Employers. NACE does an annual survey where they ask this basic question of employers. What are the skillsets most important to you these days? And another source is the World Economic Forum. Go to the website and look at the skillsets that the World Economic Forum is calling for. And what do you find there? You don't find algebra two or the ability to, you know, recite the chemical table.

You find problem solving. Innovation. Ability to work well with teammates. Communication skills. Perseverance. These are the skill sets needed because we're in a world that – parents should understand– that is increasingly complex, interconnected, and in fact, unpredictable. 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 skillsets 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, to analyze problems and opportunities that aren't spoonfed to you, or don't succumb to formulaic responses. So that's a long way of saying I actually propose that we engage parents in these conversations about what is the mission of school. What are the most important skillsets these days? How is what you learned in school or your school experience maybe not the right model for today? 

Regarding learning, I'm a fan of using essential questions with both staff, colleagues and parents. And board members, for that matter. So here's some questions to engage parents in thinking about learning. Start with themselves. Ask parents, what were your deepest learning experiences in school, where you really were engaged? You worked hard, but you really learned something that endured? And describe the situation, both the content, the process, the assessments, the resources, and the role of the teacher. Have them tell their stories with very specific examples. And then look to generalize. Related question: when are your students, when are your own children, most excited by school? What do they want to show you? What do they want to talk about at dinner? What do they want to show grandparents? And identify the characteristics of those particular things. Between those two questions and their answers, you've got all you need to let parents know what meaningful, deep, engaged learning looks like.

And contrast that with the other question. What did you “learn” in high school that you forgot, then never used? In other words, you can really parse out the fact that not all content is of equal importance and there are learning experiences, including performance-based assessments, project-based learning, that are in fact, most engaging, and result in most enduring learning.

Lisa Kay Solomon: Jay, throughout this conversation, I keep coming back to one of my favorite quotes about the future, which comes from Bob Johansen, who used to run the Institute for the Future and has written a lot around futures, leadership skills, and capabilities. And he says “The future will reward clarity, but will punish certainty.”

You know, throughout all of your answers, whether it's talking with parents and having the clarity of what does rigor really mean in the context of modern learning, or the importance of school leaders to have clarity about their mission, and not just because they're creating glowing statements that make you feel good on the brochure, but that they cascade congruently throughout the school environment.

I wonder if you could talk a little bit around what school leaders really need to hold tight to as we think about, as they think about creating environments that allow teachers to say, step away from the coverage and into more of this rigor that you're talking about, focused on transfer. Or the parents and the kind of communication and clarity they need to hear from the school leader that says, this is what happens in our environment.

Jay McTighe: Well, another great question, Lisa, and to me, it's a backward design answer. In backward design, everything starts with goal clarity and priority. If you don't have clarity and priority in that regard, it's going to be hard to agree on much of anything else. People are going to be happy doing their own thing and justifying it for various reasons. But clarity about the mission, and planning backward from that, is necessary. 

Another part of this goes back to a question Tim mentioned earlier about the challenge of time. Unquestionably, the things that I've written about and that I'm recommending here, particularly at the school level for school leaders, take time. If you don't have, already, an outcome-based transfer oriented mission for your school, I think you ought to have one, but it's going to take time to convene various representatives, including parents and board members, to formulate that.

And even if you have a clear mission, it's going to take time to build the kind of curriculum that cuts across the grades and cuts across the divisions, built around what I call understandings, essential questions, and cornerstone kinds of assessment tasks. That's hard work, and it doesn't lend itself to an after-school meeting once a month or a PD day, twice a year.

This is not, maybe not going to be easy for people to hear, but my experience is that the typical school schedule for staff does not allow for the kind of in-depth collaborative cross-divisional conversations and design thinking needed.

So what do you do about that? Well, I'm an advocate for summer work, whether it's summer curriculum work or designing for project-based learning, or more authentic assessments. Because what I call the heavy lifting of curriculum and assessment design is just too hard to do in the middle of the school year with occasional meetings here or a substitute day there. By the way, the implication should be straightforward, especially in schools that don't have a history of summer work. We need to build that capacity. We need to agree on what we need to work on. We need to invite the right people to come work on it. We need to set the dates well in advance so people can plan their summers accordingly, and we need to budget for it. We need to pay people for work outside of the teaching day.

But my contention after 50 years in this profession is pretty clear. You're not going to get to some of the macro, you know, patchwork quilt, whole-school change initiatives by just doing it on the occasional time that you can bite off during the intensity of the school day in the school year. So I think there needs to be extra time. 

My daughter, as I mentioned, taught at High-Tech High School in San Diego, California. It's a project-based learning high school. Kids work on long-term projects, in teams, present to adult audiences. It's high, authentic assessment there. Now it is a public charter school, but it's much, much more like an independent school than most public schools. So I'll use it as an example. And I remember, my first visit to High-Tech High before my daughter even was going to be a teacher. And I remember, I had, they had a visitor's day and I was in San Diego doing some workshops so I had the day, I had a couple of days free, and I was staying with my daughter, but I also wanted to visit High-Tech High.

So I showed up at the school on what I thought was a visitor day. And it seemed unusual cause there was no, I didn't see students anywhere. The parking lot was only a third full. And I walked in and the secretary greeted me and I said, “I'm here for the visiting day.” And  then she looked at me like I was crazy.And she said, “Well, that's tomorrow.” And I realized that I had inadvertently put the wrong date in my calendar. 

So I said, “Well, I'm just curious. I don't see any students around. What's going on today?” She goes, “Oh, this is a teacher workday.” I think she said professional day. And I said, “Oh, well, what are the teachers doing?” Assuming they were in a workshop somewhere. And she looked at me again, like I was crazy. And she said, “Well, they're in teams, looking at student work.” Kind of like, what else would they be doing? But it was one of those ahas and it reminded me of form follows function, because they're a project-based learning school focused on so-called 21st century skill outcomes.

They're not using multiple choice tests. They're not using traditional textbooks. Kids are working on authentic projects, producing authentic products and performances. So. They needed time for teachers to look at student work in teams against well-developed rubrics, to be able to give feedback to the students as they're progressing. And you're not going to get that at an after-school meeting at 3 45. So they have professional days, several times a semester, primarily focused on teachers looking at student work as formative assessment and feedback. The benefits are extraordinary. And the people at the school could, could cite them. And I saw them in my daughter's personal life and her work.

But unless you bite the bullet and say, we're going to have our few remaining days that we devote to professional learning for something like that, rather than bringing in a speaker, and everybody is herded into the auditorium for a rah-rah day. You're not going to get the benefits. 

Lisa Kay Solomon: What I hear you saying in many ways is we have to slow down to go fast. If we believe that the future is actually speeding up, which not only the pandemic has certainly given us just a reality check about how much is coming at us that we didn't see, that we didn't plan for, certainly technology accelerating among other external factors suggest that the future is going to speed up.

And so for you saying school leaders actually need to slow down, create time to really think deeply, not in, as you said, a one day professional development offsite, or a single workshop, but really what I would say—and Tim knows I've been designing strategic conversations for the majority of my career—to really allow for the time to steep in what it means to actually put meaning to the words, and to redefine in an aligned way that everyone within the school environment can understand. Because it's that discontinuity that I think leads to not only confusion, but really a lack of trust. And I just want to say, Jay, that one of the things that I really appreciate about your work is how concrete you are with helping people take the first step.

So you did not pay me to be your PR person, but I will say that particularly in this last book that I was reading that you co-authored, Leading Modern Learning, I was so struck by how detail oriented you were around how to facilitate these deeper conversations. Because in my experience of change, what often shows up as resistance is really just confusion or fear or worry.

So I just really want to thank you for the amount of rigor that you put behind to help school leaders and educators take that first step, because I think it is very novel in how we think about supporting classrooms toward outcome-oriented expectations and hopes and practice. 

Tim Fish: Yeah, I totally agree, Lisa. This has been an incredible conversation to really bring those ideas together. And I've got one—I've got one more for ya. One closing question. I'm going to ask you to go a bit meta for a moment. You've been in school for, as you said over 50 years, doing this work.

You know, one of the questions that got us thinking about this podcast in the beginning is what's the evolving purpose of school? What do you see now as the purpose of school? Why do we have school? Why do young people get on yellow buses anymore and travel to school? What's it all about? What should it be in the future, do you think? 

Jay McTighe: I believe a modern education, i.e. the purpose of schooling, is to prepare students to be able to use their learning through transfer, to be able to apply their learning to rich and meaningful and even unexpected circumstances. Because let's face it, we're preparing today's students for a world with unexpected, unpredictable opportunities, as well as challenges.

So think about the sponsors of extracurricular activities and coaches of athletic teams in schools, because I think they have the right mental model. So whether it's soccer, football, lacrosse, hockey, basketball, water polo, the coach of team sports and the players—that's important, and the players—have crystal clear knowledge of the goal, right? It's good game play. That's what we practice for, playing the game. And think about the game as an authentic performance where you have to put everything you've learned in practice on the field or on the court or in the pool.

Now what's needed to prepare players for the game? Well, clearly there's knowledge. If the players don't know the rules or don't know the position, they're not going to be able to play well. So you got to build a knowledge base. There are skills, very important skills, both individual skills for every sport, and team skills, how you work together as a team.

So much of practice, right, is working on those skills. But there are also understandings needed for the game, otherwise known as game strategy. And the best coaches are developing all three of those things concurrently. Knowledge, skills, and strategy. Now, every coach knows that every season, or depending on the age of the student or the player, they're going to need different coaching.

And so the coaches are always coaching with the game in mind, but with the players they have. And so it's not one size fits all curriculum for coaching, except the end is the same. The goal is the game. 

By the way, speaking of coverage, 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. ‘Cause 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. 

Mortimer Adler, I believe—was one of my heroeswho described three different teaching roles. And I think this is a useful consideration with a coaching analogy, but it applies to virtually every teacher. There's a role for direct instruction and modeling. Right. And you see it in coaches, even professional coaches will go back to modeling plays or modeling how to execute a particular skill.

There's a place for the teacher as direct instructor and modeler. There's also a place for what Mortimer calls facilitative teaching, where the teacher kind of steps back and leads with questions. Right? Socratic seminar is a facilitative teaching move. As is using techniques like concept attainment. And other inductive teaching strategies where understanding must be earned by the student. So the student is doing the meaning-making and the teacher is facilitating that. 

And finally, there's a role of coaching, and Adler defines coaching pretty much like athletic coaches, giving kids opportunity to perform and giving them feedback. Right? The best coaches are formative assessors in practice, which is the preparation needed for the game.

So I mention this to diffuse the notion that any of the so-called progressive ideas that I and others might be advocating is not saying to a traditional teacher, oh, you should never do a lecture, or put away your PowerPoint. Just let the kids go do stuff. Of course not. There's a role for direct instruction and modeling, but there's also a role for the facilitative teaching.

And ultimately if transfer is our goal, for the teacher to step back and let the students increasingly try to perform, try to apply their learning. And the coach is a feedback giver because that's how we achieve, gain performance, and transfer outcomes. 

Lisa Kay Solomon: Jay, what a great place to end. And I think that really encapsulates an opportunity for all school leaders, listening to this as we kick off a new year, to ask themselves, how could I be more of a coach and how can I support my teachers thinking of themselves as coaches focused on gaining transfer, as you say, and really development, versus memorizing the playbook. Nobody says, I think, what I gather is, "Wow, great job today. You really memorized that playbook fantastically."

So I just want to conclude, Jay, by thanking you so much for your time today, your insights, the wide range of your work, and really your commitment to really helping all learners, it sounds like not just prepare for what the future holds, but to really shape what the future could be because of the practice they've done throughout school.

So this has just been tremendous and we're so grateful to have you on New View EDU. 

Jay McTighe: Well, it's been my pleasure and thank you, Tim and Lisa, for the opportunity. 

Tim Fish: Thank you, Jay. What a great conversation. 

Lisa Kay Solomon: Tim, our conversation with Jay felt like a master class in modern learning and modern education at every level, from pedagogy, to assessment, to the learning environment, to the aligned leadership required, including school heads and even parents. Also, the idea of goal clarity and understanding feels like an essential foundational step, and I appreciated how much he emphasized that it takes time to develop and communicate that, that it’s not a single workshop or professional development day.

Tim Fish: Yeah, you know, for me also Lisa, it brought it back to the purpose of school – this guiding question that’s been on our minds and has been in the conversation for every episode of New View EDU. I love the way Jay was able to synthesize that down, and talk about, you know, our purpose of education is to figure out what outcomes do we want of a modern education for our students? He talks about again that idea of: we want to prepare students to use their learning and to transfer it and apply it in new ways, right? That idea of transfer I thought was fascinating, the way it came through. 

It reminded me also of some new thinking I’ve been doing on this topic and it brought me back to one of my favorite books, Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly. In that book he talks about the idea of investing deeply in something we love, and how time and space changes when we’re in that state of flow. And it makes me wonder, how can we design schools to be more about flow for students, and really getting to that?  So for me, this whole conversation tied also to the idea of mission and this idea of: how do our mission statements really get at this idea of the learning we want to see for our students? I love the way Jay was able to give us a blueprint into that design. As I go back and listen to this episode again and again, I’m going to be hearing this idea of the structural elements that a school can think about as they really move forward with designing for deeper learning for their students

Lisa Kay Solomon: I really can’t imagine a more important message as we kick off a new year. I know we’re in the middle of an academic year, but what a great moment to make sure as you said, and certainly as Jay kept saying, that we’re designing with the end in mind. Tim, it makes me so excited for our next season. We have some wonderful guests, and we’re going to be covering topics of applied imagination, how we think about wellbeing and civic engagement in new ways, and how we think about the importance of play as an integrated part of every day. It’s going to be fabulous, and I can’t wait to get into it with you. 

Tim Fish: I hear you, Lisa. I cannot wait for this new season to release. See you next time, everybody, on New View EDU.