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Mastery Learning: Philosophy

Philosophy

When considering making the switch to a mastery learning classroom, I found the hardest switch was the mental adjustment I needed to make.  It takes a deep commitment to make sure every student is accounted for and every student’s learning is tracked throughout the year.  Students are not allowed to be passive learners any more and the teacher isn’t a lecturer.

The biggest changes about a flipped classroom:

  • Students don’t receive zeros for missed work.  Any and every assignment given can be turned in for full credit.  No more skipping out on content because of missing work.
  • Students receive weekly grades instead of grades for each piece of work they complete.
  • Students direct their own learning…including taking “educational tangents” into areas of interest within each unit of study.
  • Students are not allowed to move on to the next unit of study until they demonstrate mastery of the current unit via some form of assessment.

Making a mastery switch means moving from a teacher-centered learning environment to a student-centered learning environment, and that can be a difficult adjustment for a teacher to make.  As I’ve continued to refine and adapt my class, I’ve learned some lessons:

  1. Kids are adaptive.  If you’re honest and up front with them, they’re more receptive to change.  Be sure to give them opportunities to provide feedback. If you make top-down changes instead of student-inspired, bottom-up changes, they’re bound to resist and cause tension in the room.
  2. Be willing to admit your mistakes.  I’ve made some good changes trying out new ways to check student understanding…but I’ve also made some horrible changes.  Apologize and move on.
  3. Allow students to make mistakes.  Many times, it is easy to hop in immediately and give students answers to move through the content…that isn’t learning.  That’s memorization and enabling students to flow through school without stretching their mind.  Answer questions with questions and let students be wrong.  Embrace the mistakes because they’ll turn into fantastic learning opportunities.
  4. Ask for help from other teachers. I’m not the first person to use mastery learning.  There have been a lot of people in front of me making mistakes and adapting from them.  Find a network like The Educator’s PLN or The Teacher Vodcasting Network and begin trolling the forums for ideas.  Then, begin writing to other educators about the things you’re interested in and get going.

Moving to mastery learning is a huge paradigm shift…but the learning that occurs under this method is deep and meaningful and absolutely worth stepping into.

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