– Steve Griffiths –
I was recently marking Grade 9 biology papers and was concerned to see that some of my students retained a misconception about osmosis that significantly impeded their performance in the assessment. Naturally, I was disappointed and reflected on where I went wrong. The answer was simple. I had neglected to implement Mastery Learning in this unit. If I had implemented mastery, I would have definitely identified and addressed the misconception much sooner. Now, these students are progressing to the next unit of work and will continue to carry these misconceptions into next year. The reason I neglected a key component of my usual “in-class Flipped Mastery” pedagogy is that mastery takes time and effort to implement effectively. However, whilst there is a time investment, the benefits definitely outweigh any disadvantages. This article will explore what Mastery Learning is and how can we implement mastery in Flipped Learning.
Mastery Learning and the 2 sigma problem
In 1984, Benjamin Bloom wrote an academic paper that reported on research comparing student achievement under conventional instruction, mastery instruction and one-on-one tutoring. Students who received mastery instruction achieved final achievement scores one standard deviation above those that received conventional instruction. Students who received one-on-one tutoring achieved final scores that were two standard deviations above the conventional instruction students (figure 1). Bloom went on to describe a quest to identify group instruction methods that could be as effective as one-to-one tutoring. Bloom found that Mastery Learning could be combined with changes in teaching practices to achieve additional improvements in student performance.
Bloom proposed that student performance is improved with one-to-one tutoring because the students continually receive feedback, reinforcement, and encouragement, and the tutee/student is actively involved in the learning process. Bloom recommended that instructors employ a mastery approach to instruction as well as implement teaching practices that promote students to actively engage in the learning and provide frequent feedback and clarification to students.
Combining Flipped Learning with mastery may be a method that can achieve student improvement that approaches the improvements achieved by one-to-one tutoring. To help explain why this might be possible, we must first define mastery and explain in-class Flipped Mastery.
Mastery Learning is a teaching and learning strategy where students are required to achieve a defined level of proficiency. Students learn the material at their own pace and demonstrate mastery through periodic formative assessments. In mastery, classroom assessment is a teaching tool, not just an evaluation tool. Mastery has traditionally been hard to implement in a conventional classroom. However, the flipped classroom makes mastery possible and very effective.
In-class Flipped Mastery
The in-class flip involves students progressing through the study material at their own pace by watching teacher-made videos (in-class) and then practicing and deepening their knowledge through activities and problems, again at their own pace. The learner-centered nature of the in-class flip frees up the teacher to interact with every student. The in-class flip allows the teacher to reach every student, in every class, every day, and this may be why student achievement can approach that of one-on-one tutoring. The teacher checks student answers, monitors their progress, asks them questions and clarifies misconceptions. The interactions are frequent and individualized.
The daily interactions with each student in the in-class flipped classroom augment the formal mastery checks that characterize Mastery Learning. The teacher is continually assessing mastery with every interaction with the student. Not only does the teacher assess mastery of the content and skills but also the student’s mindset, their grit and their agency. The teacher can then tailor their intervention specifically to each student. This includes enrichment and extension activities for the students who master the content quickly.
A key aspect of mastery is that learning is individualized for each student. Based on student performance on mastery checks, each student is prescribed an individualized program of correctives to master the content or skills or to extend students that have already achieved mastery. Perhaps the student still pursuing mastery needs to go back and re-watch the video, or do some more practice problems, or they may need the concepts presented in other ways.
It is little wonder that Mastery Learning is practically impossible to implement effectively in a traditional classroom where all students progress through the unit in a lock-step fashion. True differentiation is truly difficult to achieve, however, it is a worthwhile goal to aspire.
Implementing Flipped Mastery
This will vary depending on context; however, students are generally ready to take the mastery checks approximately every one to two weeks. My mastery checks involve pen and paper assessments and students do the mastery checks sitting by themselves with no access to their notes or any assistance. My students need to demonstrate at least 80 percent mastery to be able to move on. If they have not achieved mastery, they go back and do more work before resitting for another mastery check. It is very important to have a clear vision of the level of mastery you require. In art, for example, we are not expecting the mastery of the grand-master artists like Monet and Van Gough. I use the achievement standards set out in the curriculum to determine the concepts and skills that need to be mastered and the level of mastery required.
I have also found pre-testing to be very beneficial. The diagnostic pre-test measures student understanding of concepts that are prerequisite knowledge for the new unit. Whilst the pre-test may slow progress at the beginning of the unit, ensuring prerequisite knowledge means that we can then build on a more stable base.
A popular quote from Benjamin Bloom is “creativity follows mastery, so mastery of skills is the first priority for young talent.” Bloom recognized that creativity is an important skill and attribute in students, and he believed that creativity is built on a solid foundation of mastery of knowledge and skills. In the 21st century, creativity to generate new ideas and adaptability to change are important attributes that are sought after by employers. According to Bloom, these attributes are nurtured by first developing mastery.
In Bloom’s quest for group instruction that is as effective as one-to-one tutoring, he recommended Mastery Learning with teaching practices that promote active learning and regular feedback and clarification. Flipped Mastery ticks all these boxes and is a powerful tool that can potentially transform the way that students learn. Flipped Mastery can be hard work to implement effectively but can be very effective and worth the extra effort. And doing so may not only improve our students’ learning in our classroom, and the next year’s, but it may also set them up for the creativity and adaptability they need for life-long success.
Want to know more?
Jon Bergmann and George Sparks wrote an excellent article on Flipped Mastery in a previous FLR edition (Bloom, B.S. 1984).