Back
The District

A Q&A on Learning Recovery with Jay McTighe

The Newsela Team
Apr 13, 2021

As schools welcome back students to the classroom, the pandemic’s impacts on learning loss are coming into focus. The findings are troubling: A McKinsey study found that on average, students missed the equivalent of one and a half months of reading instruction and three months of math after last year’s school closings, with students of color falling even further behind. 

Now, school districts and educators have an opportunity not only to remedy the learning losses of 2020, but also to create a template for deeper, more meaningful learning even after the pandemic recedes into the past. To discuss how to fully leverage this inflection point, Newsela co-founder and Chief Academic Officer Dan Cogan-Drew hosted a Q&A with educational author and consultant Jay McTighe, an expert on instructional strategies, curriculum models, and assessment procedures. 

He answered a variety of audience questions on how to achieve deeper learning — that is, how to go beyond simply covering a lot of content as quickly as possible, and instead prepare learners to apply their learning in new situations.

New Curriculum Maps for a New Educational World

Even before the pandemic, McTighe was calling for a new, third-wave approach to curriculum mapping. He was asked where curriculum mapping started, where he proposes it go, and why that evolution is so important. 

McTighe has identified two past iterations of curriculum mapping, and he is currently proposing a third. The first dates back to Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ work on diary mapping, in which educators create calendar maps for when and how long they will teach topics, units, or skills. As uniform curriculum standards were widely implemented in the late 20th century, McTighe, Jacobs, and other education leaders shifted their focus to consensus mapping. 

Now, McTighe argues, there is a need for a third-wave approach that focuses on mapping performance tasks that students should be able to do with their learning. These could range from preparing an infographic on a complex topic, to mathematically modeling a real-world phenomenon. Rather than focus on covering large amounts of content in limited time, McTighe suggested that educators think like athletic coaches. They can instead focus on preparing students to give authentic performances that connect to tasks they might one day perform outside of school. “Why are we teaching this stuff, anyway?” he asked.  

He added that this approach to curriculum mapping is a perfect fit for learning recovery and shoring up gaps. “We’ve got to take players where they are,” he said. “Every coach knows that. If they don't have basic skills, if there are gaps, that's what we work on. But always with the game in mind, always authentic performance.” When authentic performance is at the core of a curriculum, it transforms every phase of the learning process: from organization and planning, to engaging students’ curiosity, to assessment and transfer of the knowledge to other contexts. 

Thinking Beyond Recovery

Kim Marshall, an advisor, instructional coach, and Boston Public Schools veteran, asked McTighe: “What will we do better in schools as a result of what we've learned during the pandemic?”

McTighe emphasized that preparing students to thrive in the 21st century means teaching for transfer, as well as self-direction. The pandemic has highlighted the need for greater independence among learners, with one of teachers’ most common complaints being the difficulty students face in managing their time and being productive during asynchronous learning. He shared the story of one school district that has recognized the importance of this. Rather than abandoning the challenges of asynchronous learning, it has stepped up to permanently keep one asynchronous day per week for students to work on longer-term projects and performance tasks, taking advantage of the freedom to pursue their curiosity within clear expectations and success criteria. 

Deepening Learning for All Students

Another attendee asked, “How can we mindfully encourage student engagement with deeper learning without furthering the divide for students who were already low performing… and were most impacted by the pandemic?” 

McTighe called on educators to ask a fundamental question: “What are the factors that would engage a learner irrespective of their skill or achievement level?” 

The same core factors that have always engaged students will remain essential as educators shift their focus to teaching for transfer and self-direction. Now as in the past, students need to see the purpose and relevance in what they’re being asked to learn, and a great way to establish that is to present them with more authentic tasks to frame that learning. 

Next, students need clear directions and an understanding of what is expected from them — and this is where well-designed success criteria, models, and examples are critical. 

Finally, students need to believe they have the ability to succeed at the task. McTighe explained that to imbue their students with the confidence that they deserve, educators need to offer tasks that are authentic to the “real world,” as well as all students’ interests, experiences, and cultures. To identify performance tasks that meet both of those requirements, educators can build student choice into the curriculum.

“That boosts engagement,” he said, “and success builds success. Even if you haven't been successful in school, if you are engaged by a project, you have voice and choice, and you've done well according to success criteria. You're going to be more inclined to want to do it again.”

To learn more about how to use performance-based learning to set off a cycle of success for all students, watch the full Q&A session here.

The Latest from @Newsela

Looking for a collaborative community of educators, project funding, or PD hours? Apply to become a Newsela Fellow! Get your application in by June 20th to be considered. https://t.co/tiflSzWqGc https://t.co/pGuP7QFLjC
June 10, 2021, 7:38 PM
Celebrate the stories of LGBTQIA+ trailblazers and activists throughout #Pride. This article shares the remarkable story of a gay Black American who stared down the Nazis in the name of love. Read more, here: https://t.co/16hJq22wHI https://t.co/5S4EaExZ7j
June 9, 2021, 10:00 PM
June 19th marks the day that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and the state’s residents learned that slavery had been abolished.
June 9, 2021, 2:30 PM
When evaluating instructional materials, we must ask: ➡️ Does the content resemble what students would read in the real-world? ➡️ Does it inspire curiosity and help students find purpose in what they’re learning? More here: https://t.co/aRvxoHeInX #LearningFound https://t.co/VD6EwCt9We
June 7, 2021, 5:21 PM
Explore 5 risks and fixes to help you develop plans that help you move forward to school, rather than looking backward on what was missed. Download our guide, "Forward to school: A reentry guide rooted in learning science." https://t.co/XXHZTk4jom #LearningFound https://t.co/FzOR2jaBkX
June 6, 2021, 3:00 PM
Interested in becoming a Newsela Fellow? 🤔 Submit your application by June 20th for a chance to be a part of this unique professional development opportunity. https://t.co/tiflSzWqGc https://t.co/tnuBmHidOP
June 5, 2021, 7:08 PM
Student voice is an essential component of meaningful learning experiences. ⁠ ⁠ We asked students to write about their beliefs on the limits of free speech in schools. ⁠ ⁠ Read entries from students across the country: https://t.co/gr5oqw1jyahttps://t.co/cKd9Oz9eRj
June 4, 2021, 7:00 PM
#pride is a time to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community and their invaluable contributions that have shaped the nation. LGBTQIA+ explorers, activists, inventors, politicians, artists, and others have helped define American culture and progress- even as they faced discrimination.
June 2, 2021, 9:07 PM

The best lessons start with the best content.

Ready to bring great instructional content to your students?

Contact Sales