Mastery Learning: Management
After deciding to make the move to mastery learning, there are some management changes that should be implemented to help both you and your students begin thinking differently about education.
The Grade Book
The purpose of the all-powerful grade book makes a major transition under mastery learning. Instead of being an iron-clad, written-in-stone record of student achievement, it changes into a record of how far a student has come in their learning. The grade book is never written in stone (more on this later) and is used to motivate, not discourage.
With the advent of electronic grade books, students and parents have more access to current records than ever before. For my mastery class, I have 4 categories that make up student grades:
- Participation: This is purely their progress through a unit. Students have discrete learning objectives that get checked off as they learn the material. This is the first 10% of their grade. Any assignment can be made up for full credit at any time.
- Homework: Each week, students have a list of assignments (ex. 7.1-7.5) to complete in a given week. This is purely a percentage. So, if they complete objectives 1-4 to my satisfaction, but number 5 is a little wishy-washy, they get an 80% for the week. This grade is final. The following week, I add assignments 6-10. They are still responsible for 1-5 in addition to 6-10. So, if they do 6-10 without ever fixing number 5, they get a 90% for their week 2 grade. This is essentially a built-in late policy. This is 30% of their total grade.
- Quizzes: Any work in the unit that is inquiry based or task-oriented (labs, investigations, papers, projects, etc) counts as a quiz grade. This puts emphasis on the importance of supplemental work, but also provides an opportunity to raise their overall grade fairly easily. These projects are graded on pre-designed rubrics and usually wind up somewhere on my blog. This is 20% of their total grade.
- Exams: The final 40% of their grade is in the unit exams. Students still need to learn how to take tests. I use online testing because of the variability online testing allows for (random questions, links to videos, etc). Students do not move on to new material until they reach a 75% on the exam. This is purely a percentage I set for my class…some are higher, some are lower. It all depends on your classes. Exams do not have to be written. I’ve had students do reports, labs, or other self-designed and approved assignments as summative assessments.
Managing the Class
Because instruction is individualized (see Flipping the Class), students work at their own pace. Accelerated students can work ahead and other students can get more individualized help. You have to know your content because it will all be called on at one point or another in any given class.
Mastery learning is not an excuse to stop teaching, either. Instead of teaching a corporate body of students, you are not teaching one-on-one, answering specific questions and correcting misconceptions as they arise. You will be busier than ever, but student achievement improves because they can all get personal attention in class when they need it.