New View EDU Episode 52: Full Transcript

Read the full transcript of Episode 52 of the NAIS New View EDU podcast, which features renowned education thought leader Jay McTighe returning to the show. 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.

Tim Fish: You know, over the last few seasons, we’ve spent a lot of time together thinking about the what and the why of modern learning. What are our students going to need for their future? What’s the imperative to move? What are the trends that we need to be aware of? At a high level, what’s the “why” of school at this moment? There's no question we’ve come away with the conclusion that we need to be schools on the move. We need to be creating schools where students feel they matter and they also believe deeply that the work they’re doing also matters.

Well, today, friends, we’re going to focus more on the “how.” What are the most important next steps that we need to take to move from where we are at this moment to get to where we want to be? And to get at it, I am thrilled to welcome my friend, Jay McTighe, back to the studio.

Jay is a global thought leader. He is incredibly well known as an educational author and consultant. He co-authored the award winning and bestselling Education by Design series with Grant Wiggins, and has devoted his career to promoting more authentic and engaging learning. Let’s get at it with Jay McTighe.

Jay, welcome back to New View EDU. Thank you again for joining us.

Jay McTighe: Always a pleasure, Tim.

Tim Fish: I love our conversations, Jay. And I'll tell you, when I'm out and about, and I'm meeting with schools or talking about learning design for the future, and I mention your work, one of the things I talk about the most is this idea of sort of, and, and please correct me if I'm wrong, but I often talk about this idea of getting beyond just understanding, but the importance of designing for transfer and application, and how we think about designing our experiences for students. Can we just jump in, Jay, because today is a lot about the how. Today's a lot about, how do we get to where we're trying to go? So can we start with that simple concept, because it's one that I find so important to our work.

Jay McTighe
Of course, and by the way, Tim, I love that you are highlighting transfer because for me, and I think for you, it is an ultimate goal of a modern education.

We know that there are patterns and trends that are evident in the world today. Among them include the fact that knowledge continues to grow in many fields, and fields like science, technology, history, by definition, the quote, “content of knowledge” is growing daily, even as our time with students is essentially fixed. 

We also know that there are major changes that are increasingly disruptive to our world. The emergence of AI tools is one example. We know that there are large global factors, climate change, new migration patterns, that are impacting the lives of many on our planet.

We know that the world is unpredictable. The recent pandemic that the world suffered through was a case in point. There were people that had that on their radars, and yet it hit and it was totally disruptive. The point, to me, is straightforward therefore. 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.

Tim Fish: Yeah, so Jay, that gets at two ideas, also, to extend on that for me. And I totally agree with you. And I think it's something that's come up again and again in the podcast, is this idea about how a student applies that learning, how that student connects in a transdisciplinary way, not only a disciplinary way, how a student's work matters to that student. It's something that he or she is engaged with and cares deeply about. And as we start looking to moving in that direction, one of the things that I've been grappling with in my head is this whole notion of curriculum. Because curriculum, while important, we need to know what it is that we're trying to help students make progress on, the notion of curriculum has always been this. It's sort of, once I say the word, my mind starts going to this coverage mentality, to this what, and then I immediately start leading downstream into sort of traditional assessment, getting through the stuff. 

And as I walk in that direction, I start walking away from application, transfer, transdisciplinary, mattering, how the work, how I feel needed in the classroom. And so I'm curious about how you can help me and others think about the concept of curriculum in a modern learning environment.

Jay McTighe: Tim, it's a great and timely question. Some of your listeners may be familiar with the origin of the word curriculum, which is derived from Latin. And the translation is roughly, the curriculum is, quote, “the course to be run.” If you think of the curriculum as the course to be run, it raises an immediate question. Where is our curriculum running toward? Toward what is the destination?

And after 53 years in this profession, my decided opinion or position is, our curriculum should be running toward preparing students to transfer their learning, but you can't transfer something if you don't understand it. Right? If all you have is rote learning, you can only give back what was told to you in the way it was told. But if you really want students who can transfer and apply their learning to new things, they have to have a conceptual understanding, both of the key concepts, but also of the key processes that are involved so they can enact them effectively and apply them judiciously. So that implies that if we think of the curriculum as the course to be run, the implication for schools is that a school needs to be very clear about its, I'll call it its exit outcomes.

What are we trying to produce in students who graduate from our schools? Then we plan backward to ask the question, how do we prepare students for understanding and transfer? Clearly, knowledge matters. We're not suggesting we don't care about information anymore. And similarly, basic skills are foundational. But I like to think of foundational knowledge and basic skills as the floor, not the ceiling of a modern education.

Too often curriculum has been viewed as a series of content topics, skills. In English, it might be novels that we're going to read mapped out on a calendar, which inherently suggests a quote, “coverage mentality.” But because there's so much content in so many subjects, it can propel teachers to feel that their job is to rush through and try to cover everything. But that can lead to superficial learning that doesn't last.

We need to be able to focus the curriculum around the quote, “big ideas” that are most worth understanding and most necessary for transfer. And teach for understanding and transfer, not try to cover everything there is to cover.

Tim Fish: Yeah, Jay, I think about when I was working in a school and still many schools that I work with, spend an awful lot of time building and maintaining curriculum maps, these documents that show the “what” is being covered in what grade levels, et cetera. So you can make sure, like, where is everywhere we're dealing with the Civil War from kindergarten to 12th grade? Wow, we deal with it seven times over the course of this period of our education. Is that what we want, et cetera, et cetera. And what I find about those maps done differently at different places, but often, again, they keep us very focused on that idea of the what. Where are we, what are we covering in February in third grade, right? 

And I just think about my own teaching and I've been really honest about this. When I'm in that mindset, the idea of getting through the stuff, what am I doing this week? It puts it in what I call, in this article I wrote for Independent School called Strand Theory, this idea of what I call Strand One Design, where it's all about the teacher and it's all about what the teacher is covering. And what ends up happening is all of the students are essentially doing the same thing at the same time to reach those curricular goals. 

And so if we think about, just take something as simple as curriculum mapping. How could we reimagine curriculum mapping to be a more effective tool for our schools?

Jay McTighe: Another wonderful question. So let's go back to the root of curriculum, a course to be run. And if people can agree that one of the most important goals of a modern education is preparing students for transfer, then think about what that might mean for curriculum maps. You nailed it, Tim. Traditional curriculum maps basically map out inputs, i.e. what we as teachers or what the school is going to cover, and we lay it out in the calendar map.

Now, clearly there is a value in having some kind of scope and sequence. You don't want six Civil War units every other year. But I think a modern version of a curriculum map should shift. 

What if we mapped out our curriculum, not as content to be taught or novels to be read, but in terms of the performances we wanted students to be able to do with their learning? And these performance tasks would involve transfer, application, and would demonstrate the extent to which students really understand and can apply their learning.

Imagine that we had maps of tasks from simple versions for younger children, to increasingly complex, increasingly student-directed, increasingly interdisciplinary and authentic tasks as we went up the grades. So that our curriculum is literally planned backward from the course to be run, our transfer goals, and we have direct by design experiences for kids to get better at transfer because they're doing these tasks. And as a school, we have evidence of student growth in the important discipline and transdisciplinary competencies that we seek. That, to me, would shift teaching from teacher as coverer of content to more like what we see in athletics. And by the way, think about athletics for a moment. There are typically three roles that coaches play.

And I think the same applies to teaching. There's a role for direct instruction and modeling without apology, and the teacher is front and center. But the teacher then shifts, turning responsibility to the players. We're going to run this play, we're going to do a scrimmage. And the teacher then becomes more of a facilitator, setting up the game–  scrimmage, or in the case of teaching, setting up and preparing for authentic tasks. And the kids are doing the work. The team is running the plays. 

The third role is literally coach equals feedback giver. The teacher giving feedback to students as they're learning and trying to apply their learning toward authentic performance tasks that we've mapped out. That, to me, would be a more powerful system for a modern education, would promote a more aligned curriculum while still giving appropriate voice and choice for both teachers in terms of how they teach, and students, and I can say more about those pieces.

Tim Fish: I love it. It makes me almost, you know, I mean, like, look, in some ways, I must want to get rid of the word curriculum because I feel like it just carries so much with it. I also love, Jay, what you talked about relating to looking to coaching as a great model to the role of a teacher. 

And what I think, as I look back at my own classroom experience, I think the problem was we kind of just did a lot of direct modeling and a lot of practice and we didn't have a game enough. There was no game. When you look at my seventh grade math class, I don't know what the game was. Right? And so the student, it didn't matter, it was hard to make the quadratic equation matter, because they couldn't see how they were going to need to use it in the game of mathematics, right? Or even as you said, what's those transdisciplinary applications where I'm going to need things like algebra to be able to apply? 

You know, Jay, as we think about this idea of student-centered, moving to a more student-centered approach, moving away from that largely teacher-centered model, I'm curious about if you could click in a little bit more on this design work. It's something we talked about when we had Catlin Tucker on, this idea of teacher as architect, more than teacher as doing the construction work. And I'm wondering if you could just give us a little bit more about what is the role of a teacher in a modern education design, because I'm a believer we have never needed great teachers more than we need them right now, and the role is shifting from how it was when I started teaching in the 90s.

Jay McTighe: In a book that I recently co-authored with my longtime friend Harvey Silver called Teaching for Deeper Learning, our argument is straightforward, and I think it's borne out by research that students need to, what I like to say, earn understanding. Understanding must be earned by the student. It occurs in the mind of the student. Therefore, the teacher's role is to facilitate active meaning making by the learner. You can't just tell a student a quote, “big idea” and they're going to immediately comprehend it.

Tim Fish: Ah man, that's so good. They have to earn understanding.

Jay McTighe: Yeah, so the question then is how do they earn it and what's the teacher's role and what's the student's role? So, to earn understanding requires active meaning making by the learner, and this involves therefore pedagogy or instructional methods that are well known, such as Socratic seminar, where they're challenging students with interesting open questions They have to discuss, they have to debate. The teacher, for older kids at least, plays devil's advocate to push their thinking. 

We use techniques like concept attainment. Rather than telling the student the concept and then write it down, you give them examples and non-examples and say, figure these out. What does this have in common, differ from that? What are the big ideas here? We use and should employ, as I suggested with my curriculum mapping example, authentic tasks, which, like the game in athletics, have several virtues. One, they make it clear to the student that the job is not just remembering stuff. Your goal in six weeks is to do this task or this project. And what we're going to be working on in the interim is the skill set, the knowledge base, the strategies that will help you do it. 

The game is also, as you indicated earlier, is motivational. I've often wondered how many kids, let's say football players, would go out, work out in the weight room off season and punish themselves with a blocking play if they weren't trying to improve for the Saturday, Friday night, Saturday's game, or how many swimmers would endure grueling interval workouts if they weren't trying to improve their times. Too often, I think, teachers, as you noted, 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.

Tim Fish: Mm, mastery of the playbook, right? Exactly, because that, Jay, that gets me to this idea of earning understanding, right? So this leads me to this other concept that we've been talking about an awful lot, which is the idea of productive struggle, right? And how important that struggle is. And my experience has been that often when we talk about moving to a student centered model, we talk about higher engagement, high, unlocking greater agency, that often there's a perception that now rigor just left the building. That this experience will not be rigorous for students. That in fact, what we're really doing is just watering down a traditionally rigorous, excellent education.

And, and that in fact, I believe that designed well, the way you're talking about it, the notion of rigor, the notion of earning understanding, the notion of application, struggling to, to produce high quality work that matters quite a bit to me as a learner, that context actually creates that, that powerful necessary ingredient of productive struggle, where I'm building my understanding and my application and through that I develop transfer. 

So what's the role of struggle and how do we create that context for struggle to happen? And how do we get out of the way during it effectively?

Jay McTighe: Yeah, well said. So the earlier part of your question referenced rigor and excellence and the concern that if we have students doing too much on their own or giving them too much choice, we've watered down things. Now, arguably, intelligent people can have different definitions or conceptions of rigor. But I'll tell you mine, which has been well considered, even though everyone may not agree.

Traditionally, or in some cases, rigor has been thought of as more stuff. You know, a rigorous course has more content.

Tim Fish: Mm-hmm. Just go faster, right.

Jay McTighe: Or it goes faster. 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. Therefore, if we think of the curriculum not as a content coverage scheme, but as a progression of performances on worthy authentic tasks, 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.

And so if you map the curriculum as the way I've suggested, you already have the infrastructure to be able to gauge excellence and rigor, because you have a series of tasks that are well-constructed, that go from simpler to more sophisticated across the grades, that you have well-developed rubrics to use in gauging them. And then let me add one more component that I think is especially important in independent schools, that you have opportunities, periodic at least, for teachers to come together in grade level and department teams, and in some cases cross-disciplinary teams, to look at student work on these performance tasks and projects. And as a team, answer the question, how well are students doing? Are they meeting what we consider to be our rigorous expectations? What are the weak areas and what can we collectively do to improve those weak areas?

Too often I’ve seen, and please forgive me on this, that in independent schools, teachers value their independence. And there's a place for teacher autonomy for sure, but a river needs banks to flow. And for me, the banks of a curriculum river are agreed upon goals, and you've heard me articulate long-term transfer goals, and agreed upon evidence, which are the form of those performance tasks and projects with rubrics.

Between those banks, there's a lot of freedom and flow, but without those banks, we have a floodplain. Even very good teachers doing their own thing in their own rooms does not equate to a coherent educational experience for kids. And you're not going to reach your long-term school-wide goals if everyone's doing their own thing. So we need the banks of the river. And part of the banks, if you will, are coming together periodically by teacher teams to look at student work, and to not only judge it, but to talk about what's working and what can we do to get better. 

By the way, last part of the coaching analogy, coaches that I know on team sports regularly get together to watch game film, analyze what the team has done, and plan next week's practices to address the weak areas. That's a coaching PLC, and we need schools to set that up as a regular part of our operational structure.

Tim Fish: Yeah, Jay, I love it. Because I think you're right. It's this notion I've often talked about when I talk about agency, this notion of what I call structured agency, right? That in order to give the freedom for that creative expression, and I need to have some element of structure, the banks of the river that you're talking about, is the essential agreed upon structure that then allows the teacher to work within that to go in the direction that he or she wants to go. Right?

Jay McTighe: Absolutely.

Tim Fish: And I think what we've ended up doing, though, if you read a lot of curriculum maps, if you read a lot of curriculum documents that are more focused on the what, the more focused on the coverage, we're all going to teach this topic at this time. And we don't have those clear goals. And we don't have agreed upon definitions of what the evidence will be. Then we end up in this kind of, I do, would say, constraining structure, right? We all have to teach this thing at this time. And that in fact, that what, the content, the topics, while not irrelevant, is actually less important in this case than the goals and the evidence. If we stay focused on the goals and the evidence, right? We can, we can really fill in the middle with kind of whatever we want in some ways, right? 

And so I'm curious, Jay, about this notion of, let's jump into the last topic that I'm interested in, is if you create those banks of the river, then where does assessment fit in? Because that's the one for me, as you talk about in backward design, that understanding of what evidence are we looking for is really the key to the conversation. And I find that in my own teaching, when I was doing what I would refer to now as not my best work, it was the assessments that I was going after that I think were getting in the way. They were too, you know, multiple choice test, if you will, focused at the end of the chapter.

Jay McTighe: You can't talk about assessment without first clarifying your goals. And to be a little finer grain about goals, Grant Wiggins and I have described categorically speaking, three types of goals for education. Any grade level, any subject, including university. There's what we call acquisition goals, namely knowledge, particularly factual knowledge and basic skills that should be acquired. We call them objectives.

What should you do, and they’re foundational knowledge and skills. There are understanding goals, which are about understanding larger ideas, concepts, principles, LES, but also understanding processes. Design thinking is a process. You have to understand it to be able to enact it. And then we have transfer. Ultimately, as I've described, the goal that I think we should be working toward, the ability of students, preparing students to be able to apply their learning effectively to new things. 

So if we have those three goal types out there, the assessments, as backward design suggests, are derived from our goals. There's nothing wrong, absolutely nothing wrong with multiple choice tests as a format, because those are efficient and effective to see if students know things, and you can use them to check, to some extent, for basic skills.

So we use those types of assessments because they give us evidence of this goal type. But I think, and I hope listeners would recognize and agree, that if you really want to see if a student understands something deeply and can transfer it, in general, multiple choice formats are inadequate sources of evidence. That's where we need more performance-based or observational assessments, where students are asked to actually apply their learning to a new situation and explain what they've done. 

So it's not either or. We have varied goal types that suggest different sources of evidence. But to wrap this up, if understanding and transfer are among our most important goals of a modern education, we should have more authentic performance-based measures as the source of evidence. They answer the question, by what students do on these performance tasks and projects, what can we infer about their understanding and their ability to effectively apply their learning?

Tim Fish: Yeah, you know, I love it. And you talk, Jay in the book, Leading Modern Learning, which is actually just one of my favorites. And I would, I just think everyone should have a copy because I think it, what it does is it shows the structure from high level vision and mission all the way down to sort of how do you design these assessments you're talking about. And one of the things you talk about in the book is the use of artifacts and the power of storytelling.

And I'm curious, can you talk a little bit about what you mean by artifacts and why they can be so powerful in helping a school or a teacher give real evidence and example to what they're talking about? Because sometimes we start talking about this notion of transfer skills and acquisition and transdisciplinary skills. People who are not educators go, what are you talking about? Like, I don't understand this. How can artifacts and storytelling help us advance the work of showing the value in this kind of thinking?

Jay McTighe: I'll answer it in two dimensions, or two tracks if you will. The first is from an evidence point of view. People often talk about a test or a performance assessment as being valid or not, but that's not quite right. Validity in assessment refers to the capacity to make sound inferences from evidence.

In other words, assessment is an inferential process. And so the question is not, is this test valid or is this task valid for the goal? The question is, from what students do on the test or on the task, can we make valid inferences about what they know, understand, and can do? So it's an inferential proposition.

So that's part one. Artifacts, in this sense, are the tangible sources of evidence that enable inference, whether it's an essay a student writes to see if they are able to develop, support an argument, for instance, if it's argumentation or persuasive writing, or if they're able to use design thinking to come up with an innovative solution to a problem.

The artifacts are the products and/or the performances that the student makes or does, that we examine and we make inferences about, well, when we look at this, this argument is really sound and this student really anticipated and rebutted objections. Or this design is elegant. It's simple, but it solves this problem. So the artifacts in this case are the products or performances that serve as evidence of the extent to which students have achieved our goals. That's track one of my answer. 

Track two of my answer is now much more at the classroom level. I have long argued that when we're creating or finding online rich performance tasks, there need to be three elements to them. Think of a three-legged stool. One element is the task itself. What are we asking students to do? And is it authentic or reflective of authentic application? The second leg is the rubric. By what criteria will we and will students look at their work? 

Tim Fish: Mmm. Love that. Yeah.

Jay McTighe: But here's the third leg that gets to the artifact point. Over time, I strongly encourage individual teachers, and especially PLC teams, to collect samples of student work that are pegged or linked to the rubric.

So imagine a four-point scale rubric where we have, just generally speaking, excellent, good, fair, poor. Over time, we collect examples of student work that are illustrative of what we consider to be excellent. Here are examples of what we think are good. Here are some samples that have some weaknesses, and here are some really poor ones, and maybe we create those rather than use a student sample. But the idea is that, in this case, the artifacts are tangible examples of the level of the rubric. 

Why are these so valuable? One, if we're working in PLC teams to look at student work and we have an agreed upon rubric, over time, anchoring that rubric to the samples increases the reliability of teacher judgment. Imagine a new teacher coming into an English department or middle school ELA group and saying, OK, I've assigned this expository essay, but I don't know how good is good enough. I don't know. 

Tim Fish: What does excellence look like? Right?

Jay McTighe: Yeah, and so you already have a system that is, here's our prompt. Here is our well-developed rubric for expository writing. And here were samples of sixth grade writing, excellent, good, fair, and poor that we've collected over time and we've linked to the rubric. Now the first year teacher can literally see, I see the difference between the fours and the threes or the threes and the twos. 

The second benefit is then the teacher can bring those into his or her teaching. You take the names off. It's not about who did this, it's about, OK guys, students, we're going to work on argumentation now and I'm going to give you eight samples from previous year's students and in your small group, you look at these and you rank order them. Which do you think are the best arguments and why? You don't give them the rubric, you give them the samples.

That's when they're earning understanding, because they're having to discuss and debate on, well, this one, look, this student not only made his or her case, but anticipated and rebutted others. None of the other papers did that. That's stronger than this one that only made its case but didn't rebut. Now the teacher could have said, here are the five stages of argumentation, right? But these kids earn it, they're going to understand it. And when they do their own argumentation writing, they're going to remember those samples. So the artifacts in this case become hugely important teaching tools for performance. They're embedding rigor into the instructional model. So it's not just in the teacher's head what excellence looks like. The kids get to see it and aspire to it.

Tim Fish: Ah, Jay, I'll tell you, the first time I heard your colleague Grant Wiggins speak years ago, I think it must have been 1993 was the first time I was in a room and got to hear Grant Wiggins speak. I was working in Fairfax County Schools, and he talked about this welding teacher that had these bins, where the students were being evaluated on the quality of a weld on multiple pieces of metal. 

And there was a bin called A that had a bunch of welds in it, B, C, D, and F. And when the student would come up to the welding teacher, as often happened in my fourth grade class and often happened in my seventh grade classes, they would ask me, is this good enough? That was always a question that I loved to entertain with my students.

And what this welding teacher would do, or when students said they were finished, he would say, just go put it in the appropriate bin, right. And sign it and put it in the appropriate bin. And they would walk, students would walk over to the A bin and they would look at the A welds and they would look at their own welds, they would look at the B, they would look at the C, and they would decide, Oh yeah, this looks a lot like a C weld. And then they would have to make a decision. Do I want to put it in the C bin? Or do I want to go back and redo it and try to get better, to make it more like the A?

What I've always loved about that story was that the artifacts also provide, uh, provided objectivity, right? It would, that's an A weld, it doesn't mean I don't like you. It doesn't mean you didn't work hard. It doesn't mean you're not a good person, right? The teacher didn't have to get in that game. The artifact provided that objective look at where do you want to put your stuff, right? And that's the piece I think is interesting. The other part that's interesting is that the teacher didn't have to spend, you know, his entire weekend dragging all those welds home and sitting on the floor and evaluating them all. The student was able to do it themselves. It created a context where the teacher could in fact get out of the way a little bit more.

And that's another piece for me that seems really important in this model, is this idea that in my journey to earn my own understanding, sometimes I don't need the teacher to do all the work. In fact, I need to evaluate my own things together or with peers.

Jay McTighe: I have one other point to make on this.

Arguably, one of the goals of a modern education is developing so-called self-directed learners. In a world in which knowledge is continuing to grow and things are changing rapidly, the ability to keep learning on one's own, I think, is a fundamental basic skill. What that story illustrates, and more generally the practice that it calls for, is to have students increasingly become able to self-assess.

But they can't self-assess if they don't know what quality is or excellence looks like. That's where not only the rubric, but the samples, the artifacts or the anchors, are necessary. Imagine a school where in every grade level, starting in pre-K and K, students were expected to do three things following assignments or assessment tasks. 

They were able to self-assess against well-established criteria, with anchor examples. Two, set goals for future learning based on how they did and how they, both they and the teacher, assessed them. And thirdly and relatedly, reflect on what they learned through what they experienced so they don't have to repeat it again. 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.

Tim Fish: Jay, what I'm so fascinated by right now is how the game has changed in some ways with the introduction of tools like ChatGPT, right? That are now completely embedded into Microsoft Word. They're completely embedded into Google Docs, right? This, this notion of AI as a partner to our learning, I think is incredibly powerful. And it is fundamentally making us think about how do we do the kinds of things we've done? I'm curious, I know you've thought a lot about this, I’ve played with it and I'm in it all the time, playing with ChatGPT to help me understand my own learning from everything, from tasks I'm trying to do at home to financial stuff I'm curious about, to tax structure. It's amazing how much it has helped me when I'm in a curiosity disposition. I'm curious about what you think the impact might be of these tools as they advance over the next few years.

Jay McTighe: Another great question, timely also. As you know, ChatGPT 3.0 and 3.5 was released just a little over a year ago, but it's had extraordinary impact already, and the tools continue to become more sophisticated. Initially, I was chagrined to learn that some schools and some school districts were seeking to ban the use of these tools by students. That to me is a fool's errand, right? The horse is out of the barn, these are here to stay. 

So to me, I have two thoughts. The first is, what are the skill sets needed by students to work within an AI infused world? To me, there are three. None of them are new, but they need increasing emphasis. The first is developing the skill of what people are calling prompt engineering. And there are actually fields now where people are getting good. Because what we've learned is the precision by which you prompt or query will influence the content of the answer that you get back. Just like in graduate school, people going through a master's or even doctoral thesis, too often tried to pick a research question that was just way too big and they had to learn to tailor it, to make it manageable. Similarly, prompt engineering is a skill to be taught. 

Secondly, critical thinking. We know that there are this concept of hallucinations where  ChatGPT can sometimes make up answers. And so we need to teach students to recognize this possibility and to be critical consumers, not just accepting blankly anything that a chat bot gives them. And thirdly, of course, is ethical use. Teaching an ethical curriculum, if you will, about the importance of honesty, not plagiarizing, citing sources, et cetera. Those to me are the basic skills that are taught in conjunction with the use of AI tools. 

Now, you said this nicely. To me, from the educator point of view, think of these as a wonderful teaching assistant or supporter. And just a few things that I've been able to do, and I know you've been experimenting too, as have many teachers, just a few things that it can do. ChatGPT can help us identify the quote, “big ideas” of a topic, especially useful for beginning teachers or a teacher teaching a new course. It can create essential questions that can stimulate student thinking and facilitate understanding. It can help design authentic tasks.

Not only that, it can diversify or differentiate the tasks. And permit me to give you a quick example. I asked ChatGPT to give me examples of performance tasks that I could use as a fifth or sixth grade teacher, to see if students really understood, understand the concept of ratio and could apply it in mathematics. It gave me 12 really good ideas. 

Tim Fish: And they were good. That's amazing, Jay, because you more than anyone know what a good performance task actually looks like.

Jay McTighe: But then here's the next start. Then I said, this is my prompt engineering, give me examples of performance tests for assessing ratio for a student that likes race cars. And it gave me a dozen race car specific examples. Virtually every one was usable. I wouldn't do them all, but I could. 

Tim Fish: Right, right, but they weren't garbage.

Jay McTighe: Then I said, give me examples of performance tests for ratio for a student that likes fashion, gave me great ideas. Things that I didn't know about fashion, but when I saw it, I go, oh, I could see. So we can use it for differentiation. We can use it for rubric creation, which is a tough thing to do. 

Tim Fish: It is a hard thing to do. That's right.

Jay McTighe: We can use it for explanation. Another quick example. I said, help give me ideas for explaining the concept of vectors, an abstract concept in physics, for a physics student. And it gave me a wonderful definition, examples, and real world uses of the concept of vectors. Then I said, explain vectors for a fifth grader. It gave me a simplified but very clear explanation that I could use. I could go on and on, but you get the point.

Tim Fish: I totally get the point, because Jay, I'll tell you, I used to do summer workshops when I was teaching. And I've done a lot of this work since I've left being in a school, around this idea, like you said, of building rubrics, and it can be hard to build a good rubric. These, this is, this is not easy work. And what I'm hearing you say is let ChatGPT, for example, give you a first shot at it. 

And then what I often do with what ChatGPT gives back, is I hone it to be written more in my voice, to, I won't take all the ideas, like you said, I'll pick the best ones. It'll give me a place to start, right? And I think that is the thing, right? That what these tools can do is they can be a partner for us when we're stuck, you know? I'll often take writing that I do, 1500 words, take it, paste it into ChatGPT and say, edit this, or revise this to make it flow better.

And you know what, I might take four or five of the suggestions that it makes, the way it reorients sentences, moves structure around. I won't take everything. I rarely ever just copy and paste what ChatGPT gives me, but what it does is it gets me unstuck. It keeps me moving forward. It can help me with some of the heavy lifting. And I'm wondering, that's the same way that maybe we also use it with students, that we help them see it as a partner in their learning, as a tool to help them move forward, as opposed to something that is taking away sort of that necessity to learn core content. 

Jay, I'm curious, what are your, to end this amazing conversation, what are your hopes? And what are some of the highlights of what you're seeing out there that gets you really excited?

Jay McTighe: Well, I've articulated my hopes a bit in this conversation, Tim. One is, it's been a longstanding professional journey for me of how do we make education for learners engaging, and not just activity-oriented or fun, but rigorous, but interestingly and authentically engaging. And my experience is, again, just like in athletics or extracurriculars, if students see purpose in what they're being asked to learn. If they think they can do it, which has implications for how we support them along the way, and they see it as personally relevant, they're going to put forth effort and they don't have to be driven by threats of grading or some kind of marking system. There's an inherent motivation that you see in extracurricular and athletics, and the elements are well known of what causes students to be engaged authentically in those pursuits. And we can emulate many of those in our teaching. 

And then the second part of that vision is doing it by design, which involves developing curriculum and assessment systems for the school of the sort I've outlined in the book, Leading Modern Learning. That it's not going to happen on its own. We do it by design, and we can improve the quality of teaching, learning, and I think, the richness of schools for both learners and staff accordingly.

Tim Fish: I love it. Jay, thank you. Thank you again for spending time with us. Thank you again for breaking down these ideas for our listeners. Because as we've said, this isn't really easy work. And it's so worth it because of what we know our students are going to be facing and their futures, and how it can be so much more engaging for us. We don't have to cut all the wood. We don't have to do all the work. In fact, we are best served when students are earning their own understanding, as you said earlier in the conversation. It's really something, Jay, we're going to have to get you back another time because we could talk every day about this topic.

Jay McTighe: Well, it's always a pleasure working with you and NAIS. And so thanks for the opportunity.