Mastery learning is one of those buzzword phrases in education that pedagogists often toss about in an effort to define and refine good teaching practices. The term goes back to a true icon in the field of education, Benjamin S. Bloom, who suggested that all students can learn and achieve at high levels; they might just require different strategies and time in order to achieve mastery.
Mastery is generally defined as “command or grasp of something”. In an educational sense, mastery learning is achieved by an intentional strategy in which teachers decide on specific learning goals, make formative assessments to determine where teaching and learning needs to occur, provide directed instruction, and continue formative assessments and correctives until all students have achieved a preset level of mastery for the learning goals1. The concept of learning mastery is simple and nearly any educator would agree is desirable. The rub comes in the implementation. Mastery learning is hard work. Fortunately, today’s Internet resources provide a plethora of resources to help make the goal more attainable.
Creating and sustaining school cultures that support the social and emotional needs of children is a topic of continual discussion in educational forums.
I have spent decades exploring how to best support students when we can only truly control the seven or eight hours a day they are in our care. How do we then find ways to make a positive impact that is self-sustaining, while keeping the learning rigorous and the programs relevant on campus?
Graphic organizers are powerful tools that support conceptual development, language development, and skills acquisition when used appropriately. In the mathematics classroom, they can serve as powerful vehicles that facilitate discussion, provide formative assessment data, and allow students to demonstrate their thinking in creative ways.
In order to achieve success with the use of graphic organizers, the teacher has to select the appropriate organizer, understand it, plan for how the organizer will be used to promote thinking, and develop appropriate questions and tasks.
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part blog discussing context and its use in interpreting assessment data. The first part of this blog was published here on Oct. 19.
In last week's blog, I wrote about the importance of context in situations from reading to deciphering vocabulary words to interpreting assessment data.
Although context has many applications for helping to understand unclear situations, it also can be an important guide for educators seeking to compare and evaluate student progress.
The Importance of Context when Interpreting Assessment Data, Part 1 of 2
Often, “context” is referred to in terms of reading texts or passages. Context is so important that we teach students how to use clues to understand new vocabulary words when reading. Context makes a difference when understanding ambiguous situations that might be easily misunderstood if you don’t understand what happened most recently in the passage or you don't have the culturally relevant information that helps us understand what we are reading.
Context is important in many situations, not just reading, and I am going to make the case for context being important when interpreting assessment data.
During a recent professional development training, I was talking with some teachers from neighboring schools, and the topic of our current contentious presidential race came up. One teacher said his school had decided to ban any sort of political campaigning or sign posting. He said the administration was concerned about inappropriate discussions and aggressive disagreements, so the decision was made to simply avoid the whole thing. I was flabbergasted. If we as educators can’t provide frameworks and processes for students to have intelligent and respectful conversations about the leadership of our country, where are our young people going to learn to be active citizens? In my mind, learning the art and practice of civil discourse is an integral responsibility of public education in the United States.
People who have read any of my work know I’m an expert at misappropriating titles, expressions, and other text. The title of this piece is a perfect example of a poorly executed mash up of talk the talk, walk the walk.
In this case, the point I’m making is that talking yourself through complex tasks (the walk) really works. We should be using this process when we teach and also encourage students to do it themselves when they are facing academic and other challenges.
When I was a third-year teacher, I was asked to mentor a new teacher in our building. I wasn’t exactly asked; it was more like I was informed of this new opportunity for which I would receive a $150 stipend.
This new teacher was brand new to the profession, and she taught in a totally different discipline. Her prep period was in the morning and mine was at the end of the day. She was upstairs, and I was downstairs. We met sporadically and commiserated a bit. I was nearly new myself and had no training for this responsibility. I did my best. I observed her classes and congratulated her on what went well. I often baked brownies for her when she was feeling particularly overwhelmed. Yet, even at the time, I realized what I offered did little to help her develop skills for teaching. The money would have been better spent buying her a few Post-it®notes and some very strong coffee. Recently, I was again offered the opportunity to mentor some new teachers, and this time, with a bit more experience and training, I hope to do a better job. Mentoring fellow teachers is important work and can be mutually rewarding, but a mentor has to be more than just a paid buddy.
How do we think? It depends.
As you undoubtedly know, thinking about some things is easier than others. Here’s an example based on two related questions.
Question 1: How many days are in a year?
Question 2: How many days are in 80 years?
To answer Question 1, you engage brain System 1. This is a relatively automatic set of responses that require little effort, at least for most people. Once you learn there are 365 days in a typical year, you can retrieve that information effortlessly.
To answer Question 2, you engage brain System 2. Using this system requires more effort and concentration. You might call it higher-level thinking, and it can get complicated.
Formative assessment is an important tool to take full advantage of, especially in this transitional era of implementing more rigorous standards.
When correctly incorporated into classroom practice, the formative assessment process provides information needed to adjust teaching and learning while they are happening. The process serves as practice for the student and a check for understanding during the learning process. The formative assessment process guides teachers in making decisions about future instruction.