Daniel Pink says,
"Mastery is an asymptote. You can approach it. You can home in on it. You can get really, really close to it. But… you can never touch it. Mastery is impossible to realize fully."
Can a person really get to the point of mastery? That is up for debate, but I think we can get really close as shown above. Shouldn't this be our goal for our students and more importantly for ourselves?
Mastery learning isn't a new concept. The idea has been around for a long time. The problem is that we are often in curriculum overload and we feel the need to cover the entire textbook. Students get confused and don't see the connection of what they previously learned to what they are learning now. No fault to the teacher we are just trying to do the best we can. How often do your students fail to remember an essential concept taught in a previous unit? Students need to see a connection and know that the material is essential in moving forward. I was listening to a conversation a few weeks ago where a student questioned why he needed to remember a concept that was previously covered? The student felt that once it was taught and learned that he/she didn't need to retain that knowledge.
Catlin Tucker says,
"For students to want to master something, they must, first of all desire to get better. They must also feel that what they're learning or doing matters."
Marge Scherer discusses the idea of mastery learning and provides some guidance below.
Set clear objectives; are we referencing our powerstandard and why this activity is important to what students should know and be able to do in the unit? What are the essential questions of the activity?
Provide students with opportunities for practice; how is your grading system setup? Do we grade them on the practice that is needed to meet mastery of that powerstandard? Doesn't grading the practice hinder a students performance towards mastery? A student becomes more reluctant to do well on practice if grades are involved and they haven't full grasped the concept.
Checking for understanding; what are our methods to check for understanding? Do we use formative assessment to check their understanding in real time? Reminder formative assessment is like a physical and summative assessment is like an autopsy. Hopefully we have checked for understanding at some point prior to the summative assessment.
Reteaching in different and new ways if needed; once you have checked for understanding and find that a few clearly don't understand. What are your next steps? To me this is the piece that often gets bypassed because we have too many things to cover, and we simply move on due to issues with time. Students are able to get by with a low level of understanding and move on to the next concept without approaching mastery.
Finally, giving students more than one chance to demonstrate the attainment of the goal; again this can be difficult to attain due to the shear amount of items to cover. Does it really matter if it takes a student longer to understand and grasp the concept to the point of mastery? Or is it more important if the student grasps the material on a specific date?