By Jennifer Parker, GEMS American Academy – Abu Dhabi

Curriculum is full of catchphrases. Sometimes we get so hung up on those catchphrases that we lose sight of developing or implementing a curriculum that is catchy in itself.  “Understanding by Design” and “Transfer Goal” are just two of those catchphrases. Understanding by Design is far from new. If you are not following Understanding by Design as a framework to unit planning, you will have at least heard of it at some point:

  • What do we want our students to learn?
  • How will we know they have learned it?
  • What will we do to help them learn it?

Understanding by Design, A Review of Stage 1

While the first step of Understanding by Design starts with the standards, those standards need to be read, re-read, broken down, and “translated” into something user-friendly: transfer goals, enduring understandings, essential questions, content & skills. These are what motivate both the teacher and the students. Stage 1 drives thoughtful dialogue among students or provides the overarching connection from one lesson to the next and beyond.

Within this, transfer goals are a clear, concise way of communicating the what, when, and how students will apply their learning independently outside of school. Transfer goals provide an opportunity not only to chunk your standards into meaningful units of study but, more importantly, to connect with students and increase their interest in what they are learning.

‘Transfer’ in Transfer Goals

When I first started working with transfer goals it seemed easier to avoid reinventing the wheel and use ones already published in curriculum documents and the plethora of UbD articles. While useful for my planning, and especially in ensuring a logical scope and sequence, they fell short in engaging the students. Of course, students learn math so they can solve real-world problems on their own! I began questioning how I could reword these transfer goals to more accurately reflect what and why the students were learning.

Take a look at some examples of transfer goals from Jay McTighe:

  • “Carefully draft, write, edit, and polish one’s own writing to make it publishable.”
  • “Make economically sound and ethical financial decisions.”
  • “Apply the lessons of history when considering contemporary issues.”
  • “Evaluate scientific claims and analyze current issues involving science.”

Consider these examples. They are great for your unit plan. Now, reflect on them using your students’ perspective.

Transfer Goals and the Student Perspective

When crafted and presented appropriately, transfer goals become more than just a part of your unit plan or the guiding statement or objective on the board. With reflection and a bit of tailoring, transfer goals engage students in the lesson.

To do this, teachers need to get to know both the standards and students well. I needed to get to know my standards better. I sought a deeper understanding of my students’ interests and aspirations. I researched careers to appreciate what is and what isn’t often applied once students enter this “real-world”. It took time but it was worth it.

Let’s revisit those 4 good examples from your students’ perspective:

  • What might your students want to publish? A letter to the editor? A blog? Why? Could you rewrite this transfer goal to reflect that?
  • Why should your students care about financial decisions now?
  • Yes, history repeats itself. How can this goal be changed slightly to emphasize students’ roles in current issues?
  • And maybe this last one would spark enough discussion on its own already if students follow politics on Twitter…
Contributing Author:

Jennifer Parker has worked in international education for over 17 years in a variety of teaching and leadership roles including high school mathematics and sciences educator, upper elementary teacher, and Curriculum Coordinator. Her educational passions lie in place-based education, project-based learning, and her current action research in student-designed assessments. In the past, she has had the pleasure of presenting at conferences such as ECIS, ELMLE, and the International Symposium for Scientists and Science Teachers. “Home” is a state of mind for Jennifer but one could say she is a Canadian with honorary rights to being Spanish yet loves living in the desert by the sea.

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