Mastery-level learning is meant to challenge students, not teachers. Like many teachers, I have spent a lot of time planning out student goals and activities.
Every teacher can easily plan a mastery style course without all of the added struggles of coming up with the activities as well. We can use Bloom’s Taxonomy to decrease our planning time. That leaves more time for us to work with students and to coach them to mastery.
My Mastery Efforts
I spent this year focusing on mastery-level learning. I found out it is very difficult to plan out student learning well. I have come up with a 3 question template to help guide the creation of each unit.
- What is my student learning goal going to be?
- What are the essential topics we need to discuss for them to have mastery of this objective?
- How are students going to display mastery?
The first two questions are easy to answer because I have taught the same subject for years. The third is where I am constantly challenged. Coming up with learning objectives can be difficult enough. Once I have settled on what I want students to learn then I need to plan out each step.
Planning out each building block and each day’s lesson can be daunting. I have lost count the amount of times I have finished the unit only being one day ahead of the students in planning.
The Wrong Equation
There is one thing I have discovered about mastery level learning, it only brings out the best in every student. I no longer become to roadblock to their education. I long held to the principle that effort + worksheets = learning. I stopped believing in this strategy.
Too many students completed every bit of work. Some would go on to fail my final assessment. Others would not complete any of the previous work but pass the final test. Multiple times I have recognized how wrong this was. Either my assignments were broken, my tests were broken or both.
The unfortunate truth is that effort & worksheets do not equal learning. It equals boredom and disengagement. The equation I have started using is skill+effort=learning. I have moved away from grading students based upon their completion of work but upon their abilities. At the high school level, students have already been trained how to complete worksheets. It is safe to say that skill is mastered. But what about taking their abilities further?
Planning projects is not my strong suit. In fact, I would say it is one of my weakest. Trying to implement Project Based Learning this past year has been one of my greatest challenges of my entire teaching career. However, there are tools I have used to make the whole process easier. I use Bloom’s Taxonomy chart to help plan out my units.
Bloom’s Taxonomy Updated
Most teachers are familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy – a leveled list of student activities. These are ranked with the most simple at the bottom and the most advanced at the top. The original list had the following abilities (advanced at top):
These have been updated by Fractus Learning. The Taxonomy now includes:
You can see the full chart here:
I put more basic tasks at the start of the unit. So a task like vocabulary completion or reading questions might go to the start of a unit. This works for history well because it familiarizes students with the core knowledge first. Then I will build my unit step by step. The final step falls somewhere at the top of the Taxonomy.
This always challenges students to learn towards mastery. To help organize all of this I use Schoology and folder rules. It certainly is not a perfect system, but it is the model I am currently working with. That is the beauty of education. We are all just tinkering, right?
Question: What questions do you have when thinking about mastery-level learning?