Friday, January 4, 2013

Moving Forward: Part 4

This blog post is part of a four-part series in response to the recent report by the National Academies Press entitled Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century. The purpose of these posts is to summarize the most salient points of the research and provide context for your personal journey with instructional design. The entire research report can be downloaded here at no charge.

Yesterday we looked at several research-based strategies to increase the amount of transfer that occurs in your classroom. In today's final post, we'll explore specific ways to move forward now that you're armed with this cutting-edge research.

Given that the research cited in the report probably requires sweeping changes to the structure of your curricula, it's unreasonable to attempt all of the changes at once. I offer five "bite-sized" ways to get started this year.

1. Define your locus of control. 
What is within your immediate control that you can change? Given that Marzano reminds us that the teacher is the number one factor affecting student achievement, there is probably more in control that you realize! (That's great news, of course!) Once you've identified the things that you can do immediately, you're ready to tackle the next four steps.

2. Become familiar with the disciplinary practices of the new standards. 
Be sure to review the math practice standards, the domains within the ELA standards, and the thematic elements of the new science standards. Don't teach math or ELA or science? Well, check out the practice standards anyway. It's really critical to identify where you can embed these ideas subject areas within and outside of their respective subject areas. 

3. Organize learning experiences around competencies, not content. 
Ok, this might look different depending on your specific situation. If you're an elementary teacher, you may have greater flexibility in this area. What if you rename reading and writing "Crafting Good Arguments" when you're working on that competency? What if you rename science "Finding Good Questions" when you begin an inquiry-based unit on the rock cycle? If you teach in a departmentalized classroom, this can be a little bit trickier but it's not impossible. Consider the competency that you wish to emphasize within each unit you teach. If possible collaborate with your colleagues to emphasize similar competencies as similar times. (This helps students to explicitly see the connections between different academic disciplines.)  What if you morph "linear equations" into "analyzing and using trends?" What if you change the study of the Civil War into "investigating empathy?" Making the competencies within your learning experiences explicit will help both you and them.

4. Write formative and summative assessments that focus on authentic problem solving. 
It is well within your locus of control to give kids really stimulating, challenging assessments. For example, I recently revised a simple paper and pencil test on natural disasters. Instead of choosing the correct answer, students revised Fugate's method for identifying areas suffering extensive damage with a more refined protocol. Each "Hurricane Strategic Planning Department" read their orders and presented their plan to FEMA within 72 hours. Not only were student more engaged in the task, but they also spent the time that was previously wasted "cramming" doing active research, evaluation, and synthesis. While you may not be able to change every assessment in your classroom, see if you can make one change during the next semester. 

5. Check (and then check again!) to make sure that your goals are aligned to the standards, your assessments, and the learning activities you select. 
If you value competency, then you must constantly ask yourself if "the way you do business" in your classroom reflects your values. It's easy to get swept away with what you've always done, so be careful. Think about each learning activity or structure. Does it promote active problem solving? Does it emphasize empathy and choice? While you can't redesign everything immediately, an awareness of your goals will ensure you move closer and closer towards them!

That concludes the four-part series on the role of competency and transfer in education. If you are interested in learning more, be sure to check out the entire report here. As I plan to embark in a major curriculum design project this year, I hope to use this research about competencies and transfer to guide my choices. I'll be sure to share my learning here! Happy New Year!


  1. This article series was enlightening, thanks for posting this. My mind is reeling with all the possibilities. I'm also looking into inquiry based learning this year, I'm glad I came across your article.

  2. Thanks so much for reading. Good luck with inquiry based learning- it's an adjustment but well worth it!



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