Transfer of Learning

Recently, I have been working with a district on implementing instructional practices for Core (Tier 1) reading instruction. The district is adding the final layer to create coherence between assessment, instruction, and intervention. This will lead to transfer of learning with students as the same language is being spoken in each setting.

Transfer of learning is the ultimate goal for a teacher, yet the most difficult. Students will be excelling at a concept in one setting, but not yet able to apply it in another context. An example of this in daily life it with my two-year old and using her “inside voice” when we eat meals at the table. She has learned that conversation is polite when not talking loudly. Thus, the volume of dinner conversation has improved, however the same train of thought did not naturally happen in car conversations. We had to make the connection for her on the volume of the dialog. In hindsight, we did not teach her that proximity determines the volume of your voice in conversation (we just used the term “inside voice”). The same happens in a classroom, when learning a new concept or skill; students learn it but do not always transfer it to a new setting. Teachers consistently make those connections explicit to their students in order to promote transfer of learning. With the ever-changing world, not all settings can be anticipated thus the challenge of creating natural transfer of knowledge with students.

Instructional coherence is a way to accomplish transfer. The language and routines of instruction in one context must connect to another. The district I am working with has created it. The outcomes for students to produce in assessment are aligned with the academic language and expectations during instruction. Additionally, when students who need more time to learn a concept, the instructional language and routines of the intervention mirror those that occurred during initial instruction. Thus, a student is being exposed to repeated apples verses apples and oranges when learning.

Beyond language of instruction, the setting is important. There is time when learning occurs in whole group such as when introducing a new concept and the teacher modeling a concept. The whole group setting gives students a shared experience which can be referenced in future lessons for connections to be made. Beyond the whole group, students must have the opportunity for small group instruction as it provides the teacher the ability to coach students giving guidance as they learn. All students need to participate in small group instruction regardless if they are on, below, or above grade level as it fosters growth. Students also need time to work independently to apply concepts. However, the teacher should be conferring with students as they work verses the only feedback coming in a grade on an assignment.

Getting students to apply learning from one context to another is no easy task, yet one of the most important ones to solidify learning.

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