| What is Mastery Learning?
If there's an educational flavour of the month then Mastery Learning is it (in England at least). Instead of laying out progressive curriculum experiences to a set timetable and hoping that most pupils will keep up, Mastery Learning challenges us to be patient and creative in our teaching so that ALL pupils master the content. Learning is pupil-paced not curriculum-paced and uses regular evaluation, rich and diverse teaching methods, and deep knowledge of pupils' learning to ensure that as many students as possible master the content before they move on. Sort of what we've always been doing/always wanted to be doing in spite of initiatives and inspections getting in the way.
How to do it
In 1982, Peters and Waterman, in a wonderful sleight of metaphorical hand, created “ready-fire-aim” from the traditional "ready-aim-fire". They used it to describe how high performing companies act first and evaluate later. Canadian educational mega-god Michael Fullan successfully applied the analogy to educational leadership and, keeping it fluid, suggested times when "fire-fire-fire" is what you do.
It's a great metaphor for the classroom if you can get past the war imagery.
Ready: Preparing to teach - planning - environment - learning behaviours - resources
Aim: Introducing the lesson - recap - new knowledge - outlining the task - success criteria
Fire: The learning activity
I put this flexible metaphor to James Gould, a Teach First participant with whom I've been working this year. He took it and ran:
As a Teach First student these are some of the challenges I've discovered in my first year in class:
1. How can I model effectively to the whole class without pitching wrong for a lot of them?
2. If some get it and I set them to work without teaching, they are not learning, are they?
3. How can I teach two (or three) differentiated groups in one lesson?
4. How can I know at the start of the lesson who will be ‘higher’ and who will be ‘lower’?
We decided to speed up the start of the lesson (Fire first) and then put the main input later (Aim) once we knew what the children could do. At the heart of it are Mastery Questions, to make sure that no one is just killing time, whilst also allowing for multiple shots of modelling in a lesson.
During the lesson the class is basically split into two groups. This is started with the first ‘fire’, a quick starter to see who can already do what towards the lesson objective. The ones that can are group 1, the ones that can’t are group 2. This is great assessment for learning.
Group 1 leave the carpet and do some pre-assigned Mastery Questions (see next month's article) that are suitable for the topic. The Mastery Questions are designed to deepen their understanding of the topic, so they become more connected with what they know.
While this is happening group 2 are on the carpet and they get the teaching, ‘aim’. Then they can get going with independent work – something they were unable to grasp at the first ‘fire’ but now they can have a shot (the second ‘fire’). If they finish they can do the Mastery Questions to embed that learning.
When group 2 are on task group 1 can have their teaching input, at the next level to the first group. Then when they go onto do their second ‘fire’ it will be something they were unable to do at the start of the lesson.
The lesson can then finish with a traditional plenary if it is appropriate: to see if they have got the shot, or to give them a heads up for what’s coming tomorrow.
Here's a diagram to show you what I mean. I'll talk some more about this in the next issue and show you the lesson plan we've devised.
Thanks James - nice job - more next month...
Peters, T., & Waterman, R. (1982). In search of excellence. New York: Harper Collins.
Fullan, M. (2011). Motion Leadership