– Jake Habegger –
I had a conversation with a student this week who didn’t understand why I wasn’t like other teachers she has had in the past. She told me that most teachers won’t let you redo assignments for a higher grade. “Why do you?”
This question led to a great conversation about my philosophy on what true learning looks like and why I do Mastery. With Mastery Learning (also known as competency-based learning), students are required to make a certain grade on every assignment to show mastery of the material. When students don’t make this grade, they go through remediation (a video, extra practice material, peer tutoring, small group intervention, 1:1 support, etc.). Teachers choose what their mastery level will be in their class, with 80 percent being a typical mastery level. For me, I found that I was not raising the bar for all learners this way. Only students who usually earn grades lower than these were challenged. I decided to make a tiered mastery system where students and their parents would sign a contract for a mastery level of 76 percent, 86 percent or 93 percent. This year, half of my students chose 86 percent and over a third chose 93 percent!
What does this mean for students? For my lower performing students, there is no room for sliding under the radar. With the flipped model, I have the time to engage in authentic 1:1 discussions about grades, motivations, study techniques, etc. to better help students thrive. For my higher performing students, they are able to self-select a high bar, allowing me to differentiate grading rubrics for responses and creative tasks based on mastery levels.
A strong explanation for parents/students is step number one. Just as with flipping, if you want buy-in from all invested parties, you better explain what it is and why people should be excited about it! Below are links to how I have introduced the concept to parents and students.
“Stranger Classrooms” Video for Students:
The Flipped Mastery Classroom for Parents:
The next step is having students and parents sign a contract. This agreement makes it clear to them exactly what is expected and that you are serious about it. The worst thing you can do is say the minimum accepted grade is 80 percent but then let students slide with a 76 percent. A link to my welcome letter and contract are below.
If you do several mastery levels in each class, I recommend coming up with a color-coded spreadsheet (see below). When I enter grades, I put in all the grades and then go back through quickly with this sheet to see if students made mastery. If not, I mark assignments as “missing,” showing they are not completed yet.
If you plan on using Mastery Learning, make sure you plan on students failing. This means a safety net is needed in place for how students will receive remediation (extra practice, peer tutoring, time in class for small group/1:1 instruction, etc.). You also need to make sure there is time to complete the extra attempts in class. You will find that this will take more time than you think at the beginning, while students are still learning how to operate in a mastery classroom. Just remember that this is a long-term investment- it will pay dividends down the road!
This may sound like a lot of work. True. To believe in something requiring this level of investment, I needed to see proof that it is really working and is best for kids. In the 2017-2018 school year, our 8th-grade history department was in the top 2 percent in the state of Tennessee for student growth. This year, out of 577 schools, we were ranked number 1. When students are given high standards to meet with the aid of motivation, encouragement, and guidance, they will always surprise you with what they are capable of achieving. I challenge you to find a way to push all of your students more.
“If you only plan for the ‘average’ student, you will get average results.”
If you plan for students on every level to be pushed, the results will amaze you!