Transferability…Evidence of Understanding

Wiggins & McTighe state:

Understanding is about transfer, in other words. To be truly able requires the ability to transfer what we have learned to new and sometimes confusing settings. The ability to transfer our knowledge and skill effectively involves the capacity to take what we know and use it creatively, flexibly, fluently, in different settings or problems, on our own (McTighe & Wiggins,p.40, 2004).

I took a chance this week. I wasn’t really sure how it would go, but I decided to try it. Fearful of causing misconceptions, I still tried. If it wouldn’t have worked well the first time I tried, I was prepared to make changes for the other classes. So here is what I did:

As an introduction to minerals, I wanted students to get in the mindset of how/why we classify things. We started out by having a small conversation on “how do we organize things,” with most students saying by similarities or by putting things in groups. I was able to connect their “groups” to classifying and asked them “why do we classify things?” Some responses included “so we can study it” and “it is just easier”. I then asked them to think back to the Democrat & Chronicle article called Keep Cow Manure out of New York’s water (mentioned in last week’s blog). I asked them why we don’t want cow manure in our waters. Most said it was because it was “dangerous, dirty, pollution, etc…” I then asked them “Well how do you know that? Explain.” I did get “because there are pathogens in manure.” Which was followed up with “How do we know it is a pathogen?”, and it was then that the class realized it was because a pathogen was classified as a pathogen. This is NOT where I took the risk. The risk was what followed.

After our small class discussion, I had 4 pictures of 4 different birds on the board; a toucan, a penguin, a blue bird, and a blue jay. I asked the class to write 5 characteristics that they would use to identify the birds from each other. So this is where I got nervous. Birds really have nothing to do with minerals, right? Would my students be able to make that transfer between identifying the different characteristics of the birds to using properties to classify minerals?

After they came up with their own characteristics, I had them share with a partner and prepare to share with the class. As a class they came up with some great distinguishing characteristics: size, shape, color, wing pattern, bird call, shape of beak based on the environment in which they are from, structure of wings, etc. I then asked them if they thought if any of the characteristics of the birds could be useful in identifying minerals. When called upon they were able to say shape and color. I then had a student in every class say something along the lines of “I’m sure the mineral tells us about the environment it is from, like the birds do”. Mind blown. A connection I didn’t even expect and maybe didn’t think about at first, but they did.

That is my “transfer” story for this week. Maybe the lesson is don’t be afraid to take some risk, but be ready to adapt and change if it isn’t working. Have a great weekend everyone!


Bryant, E. (2014). Keep cow manure out of New York’s water.

            Democrat & Chronicle.  Retrieved from

            /06/06  /dairy-cows- manure-owasco-lake/10102171/

McTighe,J.and Wiggins,G. (2004). Understanding by design.

Alexandria, VA:  Association for Supervision and Curriculum


2 thoughts on “Transferability…Evidence of Understanding”

  1. Awesome! Knowledge transfer is a skill that my current students have been really grappling with lately. Providing the scaffolds that you did seems to have really helped, especially pushing them to go beyond size, color, and shape. What a great idea, proves that taking risks can pay off huge!

  2. With the risk-taking aspect, Mort has always told me this and I am still working towards it: “whatever you don’t get to today you always have tomorrow.” If a risk works out, awesome; and if it does not work out, there’s always tomorrow.
    It is hard when we already feel nervous at times about our own skills, so I applaud you for taking that risk.

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