Teacher journal archive (2008-2011)

Article Title

Mastery learning


There are certain things in education that are too silly to think about, but because they have often been 'done this way' for so long, they become accepted as the modus operandi. For example, competitive grading of student work. Most teachers believe it is their responsibility to grade and rank their students' work in some way. The gradings may be detailed and descriptive, or simply number or letter grades, but the outcome is the same: some students achieving highly, most in the middle and some left to trail dismally behind. Why do we do this? If the teacher sets a unit of work to be completed by students, why is it generally taken for granted that some students will complete this better than others and, moreover, why is it generally taken that this is acceptable? The concept of mastery learning has been around for as long as systems of education have been in place, but it hasn't always had a good press. This may have much to do with a very powerful, but fallacious, assumption that some students are smarter than others. Schools have assumed the de facto role of discerning just which students are 'smart' and 'not so smart.' It is time for this to change. Schools should be concerned with enabling all students to develop the competencies that are required. If a student's work needs re-working several times to get it up to standard, then the student should be given that opportunity. When teachers set tests for students, they should expect that all students will get the highest grades. Practice tests should be given until the students feel confident to undertake the 'real' test. In schools, the focus needs to change from being discerners of high-achieving and low-achieving students to being enablers of mastery for all. [Author abstract, ed]

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