A central theme from the readings this week was on teaching for transfer over simple recall and acquisition; developing general skills and “mental muscle.” My partner is different from me in that he is in the sciences–engineering–rather than the humanities, which is my undergraduate background, and he is pursuing a PhD rather than a Master’s. However, he is more interested in teaching than I am; though we’re far from retirement, his dream to is be a high school math teacher when he’s done with research. Thus I talk to him quite a bit about this class and about the readings, especially. We had a conversation recently about the idea of learning for transfer and developing that “mental muscle.” While many would disagree, he argued that even a doctoral degree is more an exercise in learning for transfer than it is in doing meaningful research: oftentimes the research PhD students do while in pursuit of their degree ends up being less significant than the work they do later in their career, which wouldn’t be possible without the skills they acquired in grad school (apologies if that came out convoluted!).
The Wiggins and McTighe article, “Putting Understanding First” (2008), discussed reforming high school curricula to address the problem of acquisition of content for its own sake and neglecting meaning and transfer. They assert that, instead, “we must recognize that the purposeful and effective use of content is the ever-present goal, and we must design all instruction with that goal in mind” (Wiggins and McTighe). I appreciated their succinct distillation in the first half of that sentence. I don’t know very much about the public school system or state requirements for curriculum, despite being a product of that system, but it seems that to achieve the latter goal, instructors would have to massively overhaul the system and take away the emphasis on test results and required coverage of certain material.
Another concept discussed in the readings, in How People Learn, is metacognition. Before this class I would have had a murkier understanding of it; now, as I mentioned in my previous post, I see that we’re assessing ourselves as learners and and monitoring and regulating our own understanding. I can see the connection between formative assessment and metacognition, and the ways that both help the learner develop “general skill” and the “mental muscle” to apply knowledge in any environment.
I’m looking forward to connecting all of these interesting concepts to libraries in class tomorrow evening. We’ve talked from the beginning of the semester about the importance of transfer; an example was attempting to make connections in our screencasts for viewers to transfer the skill somewhere else. I will continue to contemplate the other areas where we should be thinking about transfer!