Transfer: Intentional Planning For Student Understanding

In high school, our basketball coach would routinely end practice by making the team run a series of line drills.  One day after a difficult practice, one of my teammates asked the question we were all thinking.  “Do we have to run line drills today?”  Coach Smith replied, “You don’t have to, you get to.”  We could have predicted the answer to the question.  Line drills were a way to increase speed, agility, and perseverance.  In other words, if the extra running paid off then it would transfer to our ability to perform in game situations.


How often do we design teaching and learning for transfer?   According to Grant Wiggins (2013), “Transfer is the bottom-line goal of all learning, not scripted behavior. Transfer means that a learner can draw upon and apply from all of what was learned, as the situation warrants, not just do one move at a time in response to a prompt.”  It is critical to design for transfer.  When educators focus on transfer they will design authentic tasks for students.


The goal of a pre-K – 12th grade experience is that students are able to transfer their skills and understanding.  A research study titled, The Forgotten Middle: Ensuring that All Students Are on Target for College and Career Readiness before High School (2008) determined, “If we want not merely to improve but to maximize the college and career readiness of U.S. students, we need to intervene not only during high school but also before high school, in the upper elementary grades and in middle school” (ACT, 2008, p. 2).  In other words, it is too late to measure transfer in high school.  


Teachers and administrators need to create transfer goals, utilize formative assessment, and measure student understanding through authentic tasks.  Transfer is not a result of homework, blended learning, group projects, 1:1 laptop initiatives, field trips, or benchmark exams.  A student can learn from group projects or blended learning, but the goal should be how the student can demonstrate transfer rather than completing the activity.  Traditional teaching and learning either focused on what the students would know and be able to do or how the teacher would instruct.  In order to teach for understanding and transfer, teachers must identify what transfer will look like.  Over the past twenty years, I have learned the following lessons about ‘Transfer.’


Teaching For Transfer:

1. Authentic tasks require students to demonstrate understanding.


2.Blended learning provides students with the opportunity to slow down or
accelerate and to demonstrate understanding.


3.Contribution is a key to student understanding.  How much time do students
spend consuming vs. contributing?


4.Determine the key skills and concepts students need to master by the end of
your course/grade level.  Then, write transfer goals for each unit of study.


5.Essential Questions require students to struggle with key skills and concepts.


6.Formative assessments support teaching and learning and provide students with
multiple opportunities to transfer their understanding.


7.Growth is measured over time and student understanding cannot be measured
on a single test.


8.How teachers plan for transfer effects whether or not transfer will occur.


Transfer should occur across content areas, grade levels, and time.  “Transfer happens only when we aggressively teach and test for understandings that are applied in situations” (Wiggins, 2010).  Have you identified the key skills and concepts for your grade level/course?  If the goal is transfer, then we must design curriculum, instruction, and assessment that leads to student understanding.  When I ran line drills in high school, I remember thinking that this activity has no transfer to speed or agility.  If the other team was fast, they still outran our team.  


As a professional educator, I have learned that the skill of perseverance and my coach’s words have led to lifelong learning.  Coach Smith’s words echo when I face challenges in life: “You don’t have to, you get to.”  Which skills and concepts will your students be able to transfer when they become adults?

Dr. Steven Weber is the Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Fayetteville Public Schools (Arkansas). Connect with Weber on the ASCD EDge social network, or on Twitter @curriculumblog.

Late Bloomers: Technology


I was a late bloomer.  I entered high school standing a mighty 4’11” tall.  Playing sports was difficult. Technically,  I was a very sound athlete.  But, my gifts in skills and vision were overshadowed by my inability to keep up athletically. I remember feeling helplessly left behind by circumstances that were out of my control.  Genetics and heredity were not on my side.  Technology today is the equivalent of a 6’2” 7th grade student who can house two Chipotle burritos in one sitting and understands the term ‘5 o’clock shadow’ from personal experience. Educators are charged with staying relevant and integrating technology into curriculum.  Students cannot afford for schools to be technological late bloomers.  We must avoid being left behind, considered irrelevant, and called archaic.  The good news is several silly myths about the use of technology in school, specifically smart phones, are simply untrue.  Below are the top 5 ways my paradigm has changed due to reflecting on feedback from students.  I call them my professional “Growth Spurts”!


1. Any Technology Use Makes My Class Relevant

Silly Myth: If I’m not using technology in my classroom I will be considered irrelevant.

Student Voice: Sometimes the focus is so much on technology that I forget what class I’m in.

Growth Spurt: Pump the breaks! Best practice is best practice.  Using technology just to use technology might be more detrimental to the learning process than avoiding it all together.  Using technology is not the end game.  If technology doesn’t serve its purpose to simplify and streamline the road to deeper understanding, don’t use it.


2. The Cost of Implementing Technology

Silly Myth: The cost makes integrating technology impossible.

Student Voice: 99.9% of us have smartphones and the ability to download apps.  

Growth Spurt: Did you know many of our turbo-thumbed students would prefer to type an essay on their phone before type it on a computer or write it out by hand?  It’s true. If our students are willing to engage in lessons using their phones, why are we unwilling to meet them where they are?

Here is a list of apps students use in my classroom: Schoology, Voxer, Flipboard, Instagram, Twitter, Periscope, Remind 101, Typorama, Google Drive (Docs, Sheets, Forms), Socrative, Kahoot, and Quizle.


zppatronize3. Smart-Phones in the Classroom

Silly Myth: Phones are a hindrance to learning in the classroom.

Student Voice: Phones are an extension of my person. Take my phone and lose my trust forever.

Growth Spurt: It is our job to teach students to appropriately and respectfully carry their phones.  We need to stop taking their phones away.  We definitely need to stop using “phone jails” and “cubbies”.  It’s patronizing.  I allow my students to have their phone on their desk.  However, I ask them to keep it face down when we are not using them.  I try to create an atmosphere that will transfer to their adult life.  It’s been challenging, but I try to pretend my students are my colleagues.  When they use their phone inappropriately, I engage in a conversation and explain why I feel disrespected.  The process includes repetitive conversations but the return trust and respect provides unlimited credibility.  


4. The Device as an Interpersonal Vice

Silly Myth: Students today generally do not possess interpersonal speaking skills because they are addicted to their phones.

Student Voice: When I use my phone to communicate, I rarely say things I don’t mean.  I have time to think and say exactly what I want to say.

Growth Spurt: Smart phones provide a voice for students.  I have yet to find research that supports a correlation between phone usage and social awareness.  However, if that perception is true, it is our job to create space to bridge that gap.  In my classroom I always use technology to start a conversation.  There is no “ice to break” when we type our ideas first.  Then, when we put our phones away for face to face interactions, students can’t wait to articulate their ideas vocally.zpstudentvoice


5. Resilience vs. Resilience

Silly Myth: Students today lack grit and work ethic unless it’s technology. Students can figure out anything when it comes to technology. They are so tenacious when it comes to troubleshooting.

Student Voice: Adults are hard-working problem solvers unless its technology.  Then, they freak out and give up.

Growth Spurt: Maybe we can learn from each other.  Through which lens do you view your students?  Are they your subjects who need to absorb provided information?  Or, are they partners who offer us as many opportunities to learn as we offer them?  I’ve learned from my students that troubleshooting technology and successfully familiarizing oneself with a new interface comes down to resilience.  Be more stubborn than the tech.  


Application and Challenge:

The technology growth spurt is a fingernail on the timeline of education reform.  It’s not the first time innovation has brought monumental change to our field and it most certainly will not be the last.  Our business, to prepare students for tomorrow, should always be transient in nature.  Here’s the kicker; unlike human growth, we control our own professional growth spurts.  In what ways are you pursuing your own professional growth spurts?  In what ways are you engaging the professional growth spurts of your colleagues?  In what ways are your professional growth spurts impacting student learning?

Zach Peterson is a connected high school spanish teacher and coach in Columbus, OH. For more by Zach follow his reflections at