Mastery Learning is one of the most powerful teaching strategies I ever learned and implemented in my classroom. However, I don't see much written about this method anymore. Lately, I'm hearing the same basic principles refered to as "formative assessment," but Mastery Learning goes far beyond formative assessment. It's a teaching model that Benjamin Bloom dreamed up in the 60's but it's still relevant today. This approach can be used with all age levels, and it's highly compatible with Common Core teaching strategies.
On this page I've given a brief overview of the Mastery Learning philosophy as well as some specific instructional ideas for mathematics. I also teach a workshop about how to implement Mastery Learning in math called The Mathematics Dynmaic Duo: Mastery Learning and Problem Solving.
Mastery Learning is an instructional philosophy based on the idea of giving students more than one chance to demonstrate mastery of content and skills. In a Mastery Learning classroom, as in a traditional classroom, students receive instruction on a topic and then take a test to determine their level of understanding.
But that's where the similarity ends. In a Mastery Learning classroom, the teacher scores that assessment and determines who has mastered the content and who needs more help. Students who have mastered the material are given "enrichment" opportunities, while those who have not mastered it receive additional instruction on the topic. The new instruction is presented in a different way, perhaps using manipulatives or other hands-on approaches. After a day or two, a retest is administered to the group who did not demonstrate mastery. In my experience, most of the students who didn't master it the first time are able to achieve mastery on the second test. There are many benefits of using his model, but the most important one is that all students can learn and grow, and no one is left behind. Every time you begin a new unit of instruction, you can feel confident that your students have mastered the concepts needed to embark on new learning.
Mastery Learning can be used in almost every subject, but I find it to be a perfect fit for math instruction. Math content builds upon itself, and teachers often experience frustration when they try to introduce a new unit to students who never mastered based concepts and skills. To see where Mastery Learning might fit into your math instruction, consider the chart below. Mastery Learning will help your students develop a solid foundation of mathematical understanding - a foundation that is critical in order to solve problems involving higher-level thinking and reasoning.
|Area of Instruction||Description||Suggested Instructional Methods|
|Number Sense||Basic understandings about whole numbers, decimals and fractions, ways numbers can be represented concretely and visually, one-to-one correspondence, part to whole relationships, etc.||Hands-on experiences with concrete objects & Mastery Learning|
|Content||Knowledge level - number facts, math terms, formulas, algorithms for computation, etc.||Mastery Learning|
|Skills||Application level - rounding numbers, comparing fractions, creating graphs, interpreting function tables, doubling a recipe, etc.||Mastery Learning|
|Problem Solving||Evaluation and synthesis - solving problems in which solutions are not readily apparent, solving brainteasers, drawing on a variety of strategies to tackle a complex problem, etc.||Daily Problem Solving|
Because I believe in this approach whole-heartedly, I often create two forms of every test that I include in a teaching resource. The items below not only provide two forms of each test, they also have a variety of teaching materials to meet the needs of different learners.
The book shown at right is Implementing Mastery Learning by Dr. Thomas Guskey. It was written in 1996 and is the definitive book on this topic. This comprehensive resource contains very detailed and specific information including the research basis for Mastery Learning.
Dr. Guskey has also written numerous articles on Mastery Learning, and the most current one I could find available on the Internet was a paper he presented in April 2005. For a great overview of this method, read "Formative Classroom Assessment and Benjamin S. Bloom: Theory, Research, and Implications."
Dynamic Duo Workshop - If you are a "hands-on" learner yourself, consider attending one of my Dynamic Duo math workshops. The term "Dynamic Duo" refers to Mastery Learning and Cooperative Problem Solving, and this workshop is a crash course in how to effectively use both methods. You'll experience loads of hands-on math strategies, and you'll also find out how to use math centers and stations to support the optimal mathematics learning environment.