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Transferring Our Learning




  1. the action of transferring something or the process of being transferred.

  2. "education involves the transference of knowledge"

I have spent the last eighteen years deeply invested in the teaching of reading. I began by learning curriculum. I then honed my practice around methods of delivering instruction. I expanded my understanding of administering and analyzing assessments. I engaged in the practice of deeply studying student work. Each year I am learning something new, or rediscovering the power of something I thought I understood (minilessons that stick? Yes, it’s possible.).

In the last year my biggest discovery has been around transference. I’ve spent years thinking about how to assess readers, how to norm with colleagues, how to create instructional plans that prioritize targeted skills without isolating the necessary work of orchestration and meaning-making while reading. I realized, as many of my schools requested more support with writing instruction this year that I had yet to transfer this process to how I support writers. And I cannot figure out how such an enormous gap existed for so long in my own learning and my staff development.

In trying to work through this process with some brave teachers in the Bronx, Albany, and across New Jersey, I kept making connections to the reading staff development we have been immersed in for so long. Those connections highlighted what was similar and what is different. I also began digging into my own learning around transfer.

In his article, “What is transfer?” Grant Wiggins writes,

Change the set-up so that students realize that a possible use of prior learning comes in many guises: The research on transfer stresses that students need to be given tasks to which the setting/format/context/mode/language is sufficiently varied over time that students learn they have to think more flexibly in tapping their knowledge.

Change ‘students’ to ‘teachers’ and Grant Wiggins has captured my journey this year. I’ve realized that saying, “Let’s set goals for writers as we do readers” won’t work. The disciplines are unique, the assessment systems different. The process, however, was remarkably transferable.

Teachers and I began with administering On Demands in their upcoming genre study. We sorted and scored student work against a rubric. We agreed on key qualities of writing to prioritize and assigned two goals per child- a primary goal of structure or development and a supporting goal of language conventions. We then crafted more precise goals and brainstormed potential strategies to support the goals.

Here is the planner we created to capture instructional goals:

Here is a strategy cheat sheet to support planning small groups:

And then… we taught.

Teachers were inspired by the process. Suddenly they had small groups formed for independent writing and stopped the ‘over-the-shoulder fixing’ version of conferring that is widespread in many writing workshops. Teachers were seeing not only more focus in their planning but quickly saw more evidence of growth in student work.

The overall process of teaching and learning shifted in many classrooms during writing instruction and I was able to cement a cycle of staff development that actually helped teachers to transfer their practice across the many parts of the literacy day.

It only took 18 years....

If you want to read more of Grant Wiggin’s article, head here:

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