New View EDU Episode 52: Designing Education for Transfer

Available March 19, 2024

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We know we need to redesign our schools to reflect the future our students will inhabit. Issues of mental health, well-being, mattering, and social-emotional growth are emerging as vitally important challenges to solve—to say nothing of the continued need to provide a high-quality, rigorous, and academically sound education environment. But while we may understand why an overhaul of our practices is essential to success, the big question remains: How?

Jay McTigheRenowned education thought leader Jay McTighe returns to New View EDU to help provide some of the answers. Jay and host Tim Fish engage in a deep, tactical, and logical conversation about how school leaders can identify the goals they’re pursuing and utilize a design process that provides clear outcomes. Offering the premise that “rote learning of factual information is an insufficient preparation” for an ever-changing, unpredictable future, Jay encourages educators to instead focus on providing a framework that will help students apply concepts and skills to unknown challenges.

Elaborating on this concept, which he refers to as “designing for transfer,” Jay reminds listeners that the root of the word “curriculum” is Latin for “a course to be run.” What course are schools attempting to run, and what is the desired destination? He argues that the traditional idea of curriculum as a series of content pieces to convey and memorize is no longer providing a means to the desired end. Instead, he proposes, schools should think of curriculum as a series of transferable skills that build upon one another—not ignoring content, but using it to illustrate the biggest ideas students will need to help them build their toolbox for the future.

Ideally, Jay and Tim agree, the role of a teacher in a school designed for transfer must shift. They engage in a discussion of teaching as coaching. Jay gives the example of coaches teaching a core skill, then turn over the responsibility to players to engage in a scrimmage where that skill can be practiced. Then, the coach provides feedback to help better prepare players for the upcoming game. Tim reflects that his experience with teaching was more aligned with direct instruction and modeling, and less with turning over the responsibility to the students to use their learning in meaningful ways.

Engaging students in applying their learning, Jay says, is part of “earning understanding,” which he believes is a crucial piece of providing an appropriate modern education. He gives several examples of how teachers can shift their practices, including grading and assessment, to help students earn that understanding of the content and skills, and their own learning and progress. Rigor, he says, is the extent to which students are able to transfer what they’ve learned to developmentally appropriate tasks that demonstrate their growth. Through careful design of those tasks, as well as the assessment protocols and opportunities for self-assessment and examination, schools can provide a rigorous education that aligns not with what we should teach, but where our students are going.

Key Questions

Some of the key questions Tim and Jay explore in this episode include:

  • How can we understand the concept of curriculum in a changing world where information is always at our fingertips?
  • What is the role of the teacher in modern education? How has it shifted to become more important, yet less central?
  • What does rigor look like when content is de-emphasized? How do concepts like agency and interdependence weave into a rigorous education designed for transfer?
  • How do we set up assessments that truly help us understand whether students are able to “transfer” their knowledge and skills?
  • What do artifacts and storytelling contribute to assessment? What kind of rubrics help us better understand transfer and the demonstration of 21st-century skills?

Episode Highlights

  • “We need to be preparing today's students to be able to navigate a world in which knowledge continues to expand, lifelong learning will be a requirement for success. We have to be able to deal with change, including unpredictable changes, and rote learning of factual information is an insufficient preparation. To summarize, a modern education should prepare students to be able to apply their learning effectively and appropriately, not only to the known, but to the unknown.” (3:50)
  • “I've often wondered how many kids, let's say football players, would go out, work out in the weight room in the offseason and punish themselves with a blocking play if they weren't trying to improve for the game, or how many swimmers would endure grueling interval workouts if they weren't trying to improve their times. Too often, I think, teachers, and often students, don't know what the game is. And teachers, to be a little harsh, sometimes act as if their job is to cover the playbook play-by-play, as opposed to preparing players for the game.” (16:11)
  • “Here's my simple definition of rigor. Rigor can be determined by the extent to which students are able to apply their learning effectively to authentic tasks that are developmentally appropriate. … We can engage rigor by looking at how well students are performing with their knowledge on worthy authentic tasks, judged against well-developed rubrics. And that excellence is, like we see it in music or the arts or athletics, it's increasing performance in authentic ways.” (19:04)
  • “Those skills of self-assessment, reflection, and goal-setting, are to me underpinning skills of self-directed learners. But if the student is the passive recipient waiting for the teacher to tell them how they did or what they need to do, you're never developing self-directedness. It has to be done by design, and it can be.” (36:21)

Resource List

Full Transcript

  • Read the full transcript here.

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About Our Guest

Jay McTighe brings a wealth of experience developed during a rich and varied career in education. He served as director of the Maryland Assessment Consortium, a state collaboration of school districts working together to develop and share formative performance assessments. Prior to that, Jay was involved with school improvement projects at the Maryland State Department of Education where he helped lead Maryland’s standards-based reforms, including the development of performance-based statewide assessments. He also directed the development of the Instructional Framework, a multimedia database on teaching. Known for his work with thinking skills, Jay has coordinated statewide efforts to develop instructional strategies, curriculum models, and assessment procedures for improving the quality of student thinking. In addition to his work at the state level, Jay has experience at the district level in Prince George’s County, Maryland, as a classroom teacher, resource specialist, and program coordinator. He also directed a state residential enrichment program for gifted and talented students.

Jay is an accomplished author, having co-authored 18 books, including the award-winning and bestselling Understanding by Design series with Grant Wiggins. Jay has also written more than 50 articles and book chapters, and been published in leading journals, including Educational Leadership (ASCD) and Education Week

Jay has an extensive background in professional development and is a regular speaker at national, state, and district conferences and workshops. He has conducted workshops in 47 states within the United States, in seven Canadian provinces, and internationally to educators in 35 countries on six continents.

Jay received his undergraduate degree from the College of William and Mary, earned his master’s degree from the University of Maryland, and completed post-graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University. He was selected to participate in the Educational Policy Fellowship Program through the Institute for Educational Leadership in Washington, D.C., and served as a member of the National Assessment Forum, a coalition of education and civil rights organizations advocating reforms in national, state, and local assessment policies and practices.

Since education is a “learning” profession, Jay set a learning goal when he was 57 years of age to be surfing by 60. He did it!