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.

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