I read this post from Meghan Everette a few days ago on class size that made me think of a study by Sir Paul Black and Professor Dylan Wiliam. They found that assessment for learning had a bigger impact than class size on student achievement. Assessment for learning relies heavily on pre-assessments, clear communication with students on goals and objectives, and formative assessment with feedback. Basically, this is mastery based learning.
I lead a professional development session on mastery last week. It was mostly exposure and ended up highlighting some of the hesitation teachers have in adopting a standards-based approach in lieu of traditional grading practices. Research tells us that grades actually demotivate students and result in inaccurate perceptions of student learning for both students and parents. I taught in a mastery based system and I actually find it easier than traditional grading. But, I understand the trepidation teachers have, especially with logistics.
Here are a few of my favorite strategies for implementing mastery in the classroom.
- Pre-assessments: How can we know what our kids need to master if we don’t know what they already know? This includes misconceptions too. Those misconceptions have the power to guide our instruction. Yes, we can use observational pre-assessments, but I think it is much more powerful to use written or mini-performance tasks. That way when students are done with a unit of study, they can compare their work and so can the teacher.
- Goal setting and tracking: Students need a clear understanding of what they are working to master so they can set goals and track their progress. This can be done even with young students. Technology makes this process easy. Today there are tons of digital portfolio options and apps to help students monitor their progress. Tracking can also be done with a simple spreadsheet or Google Sheets.
- Rubrics: A well worded rubric can make all the difference in getting to mastery. Before beginning any performance assessment a student needs to know what the goal of the assessment is and how they can demonstrate mastery. The most successful rubrics I have ever written were done with a team. Lean on your colleagues to keep you objective and focused on the benchmarks and indicators your students to need to master.
- Allow do-overs and retakes and replace old evidence with new evidence: We can’t penalize students because they haven’t learned on our time frame. As adults we have lots of opportunities to get our work right. Test retakes are ok! Just make sure students understand that they can’t retake just because. Students need to show you they have worked to correct their misunderstanding in some way before the retake.