–Jon Bergmann and George Sparks–
Human knowledge at the beginning of the last century doubled every 100 years. By mid-century, knowledge was doubling every 25 years. Today, human knowledge doubles every 13 months. The access to much of this knowledge is almost instantaneous. Web search engines–Google, Yandex, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, Bing, Raidu, Ask, Google Scholar, and others–provide this access to just about anyone in the world.
So why do we need teachers when we can just go online and acquire knowledge. Obviously, there is something more to teaching.
Knowledge was abundant and broadly available in Benjamin Bloom’s day. At the age of 43, he published his well-known taxonomy, showing that learning had a hierarchical model that progressed from acquiring knowledge to finally using it to create a cycle of learning that generates a real-world application.
Bloom’s research then focused more on the problems of learning. Twelve years later in 1968, he published his “Learning for Mastery” study, an instructional feedback and a ‘just-in-time’ corrective strategy. This was published in book form in 1971, Mastery Learning: Theory and Practice, followed in 1976 with Human Characteristics and School Learning.
In his 1968 study, he cites the state of learning as:
“Each teacher begins a new term (or course) with the expectation that about a third of his[/her] students will adequately learn what he[/she] has to teach. He[/she] expects about a third of his[/her] students to fail or to just ‘get by’. Finally, he[/she] expects another third to learn a good deal of what he[/she] has to teach, but not enough to be regarded as ‘good students’. This set of expectations, supported by school policies and practices in grading, becomes transmitted to the students through the grading procedures and through the methods and materials of instruction. This system creates a self-fulfilling prophecy such that the final sorting of students through the grading process becomes approximately equivalent to the original expectations.”
The Blame Game
To the degree one agrees with Bloom, it’s human nature to look for whom to blame. Is it the administration, the home environment, political environment, lack of funding or some inherent flaw in student motivation? Somewhere there must be a responsible party, right?
Bloom adds more fuel to this fire continuing with:
“This set of expectations, which fixes the academic goals of teachers and students, is the most wasteful and destructive aspect of the present educational system. It reduces the aspirations of both teachers and students; and it systematically destroys the ego and self-concept of a sizable group of students who are legally required to attend school for 10 to 12 years under conditions which are frustrating and humiliating year after year. The cost of this system in reducing opportunities for further learning and in alienating youth from both school and society is so great that no society can tolerate it for long.”
Bloom lights this bonfire under our feet with one of his most well-known quotes regarding his research:
“Most students (perhaps over 90 percent) can master what we have to teach them, and it is the task of instruction to find the means which will enable our students to master the subject under consideration.”
Bloom moves us from feeling the heat to the indictment. Do we consider this the zeal of a well-known educational researcher or are we faced with proven research?
Bloom in his study also recognizes the administrative barriers:
“Having become ‘conditioned’ to the normal distribution [grading bell curve], we set grade policies in these terms and are horrified when some teacher attempts to recommend a very different distribution of grades. Administrators are constantly on the alert to control teachers who are ‘too easy’ or ‘too hard’ in their grading.”
And one more nail in the coffin of our present instructional culture:
“There is nothing sacred about the normal curve. It is the distribution most appropriate to chance and random activity. Education is a purposeful activity and we seek to have the students learn what we have to teach. If we are effective in our instruction, the distribution of achievement should be very different from the normal curve. In fact, we may even insist that our educational efforts have been unsuccessful to the extent in which our distribution of achievement approximates the normal distribution.”
James H. Block notes the current state of education also jeopardizes an individual’s psychological well-being: “The evidence indicates a strong, perhaps causal, link between a pupil’s history of school learning success or failure and his [/her] personality development.”
So is there any relief?
Block writes that “Mastery learning (Bloom 1968) offers a powerful new approach to student learning which can provide almost all students with the successful and rewarding learning experience now allowed to only a few.”
In 1984, Benjamin Bloom published an article in Educational Researcher entitled “The 2-Sigma Problem: Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring.” He cited studies which compared student achievement under “conventional teaching,” mastery learning, and one-to-one tutoring. The research indicates that one-to-one tutoring produces a two standard deviation improvement in student achievement (see his graph below).
The paper is essentially a challenge to teachers to find a teaching method that is as effective as one-to-one tutoring. He further states:
“If the research on the 2-sigma problem yields practical methods (methods that the average teacher or school faculty can learn in a brief period of time and use with little more cost or time than conventional instruction), it would be an educational contribution of the greatest magnitude. It would change popular notions about human potential and would have significant effects on what the schools can and should do with the educational years each society requires of its young people.”
It’s as if he was challenging us to find the educational holy grail. In the intervening 30+ years, nobody has found the grail — or have we?
“Can researchers and teachers devise teaching-learning conditions that will enable the majority of students under group instruction to attain levels of achievement that can at present be reached only under good tutoring conditions?” – Benjamin Bloom
Earlier in the article, Bloom states:
“I believe an important task of research and instruction is to seek ways of accomplishing this under more practical and realistic conditions than the one-on-one tutoring, which is too costly for most societies to bear on a large scale. This is the 2-sigma problem. Can researchers and teachers devise teaching-learning conditions that will enable the majority of students under group instruction to attain levels of achievement that can at present be reached only under good tutoring conditions?”
Many of us might say, “I aspire to this level of teaching, but I don’t have the time and resources.” An appropriate response as educators must spend most of their time focused on information delivery, and with insufficient support outside the classroom, have little time to implement Bloom’s higher orders of learning.
“Mastery has been around for years; this concept was introduced in the 1930s and 1940s. But what is different is now we have the technology, we have the flipped classroom where the students have the videos, the resources and all the things they need to learn the curriculum at their own pace, and it is because of the flipped classroom that mastery is possible.”
The Holy Grail?
Dr. Cara Johnson, a biology/anatomy/physiology high school teacher, a presidential award winner, in her book Flipped Mastery Learning, describes her experience in mastery learning, explaining the cycle with this graphic.
When asked in an interview, where does she get the time to implement mastery learning, she replies: “Mastery has been around for years; this concept was introduced in the 1930s and 1940s. But what is different is now we have the technology, we have the flipped classroom where the students have the videos, the resources and all the things they need to learn the curriculum at their own pace, and it is because of the flipped classroom that mastery is possible.”
Thomas Guskey (PhD, Department Chair Ed., U. of Kentucky), who edited a collection of “Bloom stories” (Benjamin S. Bloom, Portraits of an Educator), stated that “Bloom’s most notable contribution to teaching and learning was his work in developing the theory and practice of mastery learning.” Bloom had concluded that any method that would provide the teacher time to implement mastery would be “educational achievement of the greatest magnitude.” Flipped does provide the time for individual student engagement where all levels of differentiation can be implemented.
Hiding In Plain Sight
Sometimes a simple answer stares us in the face, and it takes a while to recognize it. The Flipped classroom has proven to be that answer, a method, a strategy, that opens up the classroom to mastery teaching creating a near equivalent to one-on-one tutoring effectiveness.
In 2007, Aaron Sams and Jon Bergman began pioneering the Flipped Class model of instruction. In their first year, they saw a one-sigma effect. But they were unsatisfied: “We wanted our students to learn more. We knew there had to be an even better method. That is when we began to incorporate elements of Mastery Learning. We eventually found the work of Benjamin Bloom, but only his early work. We then evolved the Flipped Mastery model and implemented it with our students. In the Flipped Mastery model, students must master content before they move on. Students work at a flexible pace and one of the primary features of a Flipped Mastery class is the amount of one-to-one tutoring that happens every day. Since the teacher no longer does whole group instruction, time is freed up for not only one-to-one tutoring but for many other active learning strategies.”
Dr. Bloom died in 1999 at the age of 86. His wife, Sophia Bloom, stated in Dr. Guskey’s book, “A proper end to this forward is Ben’s quote about the central purpose of his research: ‘These are operations to enable teachers to realize the seductive dream which drew them into education—the fullest development of the students.’”
We believe that dream is today fully within our grasp. The 2 Sigma Problem is now our 2 Sigma Opportunity!
Some may disagree but we believe Bloom would be “flipping” in his grave as the way forward to achieving this “educational achievement of the greatest magnitude” is now clear. Flipped Mastery enables “the majority of students under group instruction to attain levels of achievement that can at present be reached only under good tutoring conditions.” Quite a claim for us to make. However, thousands of teachers around the world have observed it, we have experienced it, and we say today that you can too.
So, if you want to join in implementing an “educational achievement of the greatest magnitude,” I encourage you to start using the Flipped Mastery method.
See related article by Steve Griffiths: