Practices & Strategies for Mastery Learning

As teachers across the country implement MasteryTrack in their classrooms they are developing approaches for using the system to improve learning for their students. We have asked them to share successful practices and insights so we can make them available to teachers all across America.

Promising practices for mastery-based assessment

Change instruction immediately using real-time data in a station-rotation model

The teacher has her class set up in a 3-station rotation: one group of students is working in teams on projects, one group is learning using computers, and students in the third group are working individually with the teacher. When the teacher believes a student is ready to demonstrate mastery of an objective, she assigns it to the student in MasteryTrack and tells him that when he goes to work at the computer station he should take the assessment. Then when the student comes to the teacher for individual work, she pulls up the MasteryTrack dashboard and checks the result of the assessment the student just took. If the student mastered the learning objective, the teacher starts teaching the next objective. If the student did not master it, the teacher reviews the assessment to diagnose the challenge the student is having and provides targeted instruction. Then the student can retake the assessment when the teacher thinks he is ready, or the teacher can mark the student “sufficient” if she thinks he now understands the concept.

Conduct a pre-assessment of learning before the first day of instruction to help design the pedagogical approach

Before beginning the first day of instruction for a new concept, the teacher assigns the first few objectives of the new concept to every student and has them all take the assessment in MasteryTrack. The teacher then reviews the results to assess the learning status of the students and uses this information to design her instructional approach. For example, one math teacher assigned assessments for the first two objectives of “decimals” to her entire class before the first day of instruction, and found that five students already knew the content, several were just missing one specific concept, and the rest did not know anything about decimals (which was fine, since she had not taught the content yet). She was able to use this information to group the students and completely change her approach on the first day of instruction, and she did not spend a single minute grading.

Establish a baseline of learning to check for gaps and prepare for instruction

At the beginning of the year the teacher assigns every objective for a topic (addition, for example) to every student in his class. Since he has students of very diverse backgrounds and skill levels in his class, he is not sure what the students know and what gaps they might have in their learning. He often finds that many students quickly demonstrate mastery of all objectives, but several struggle with basic concepts. He also identifies a few targeted gaps where students know most of the content but have not mastered a specific skill. He uses this information to personalize learning for the students, enabling the more advanced students to move forward while providing targeted support to those who need it.

Educator insights about mastery learning for students

“My students know so much more than I thought they did!”

We hear this often from teachers as they use MasteryTrack to determine the learning status of their students. Teachers are constantly amazed to find that some of their students are much more advanced than the educators had previously thought. Though counter-intuitive at first, this actually makes sense: when a student does well on a traditional assessment, we don’t know what the actual limit of their knowledge is (we just know they have mastered the content we presented to them). MasteryTrack enables teachers to determine the upper limit of every student’s knowledge, and then adapt instruction accordingly.

“My students really like getting the immediate feedback--they want to keep going!”

Teachers often tell us their students are excited to take the assessments and immediately see how they did. Since students usually only take assessments in MasteryTrack when they are ready to demonstrate mastery, they are often successful. The assessments are brief since they focus on specific learning objectives, so the assessment process itself is not burdensome for students. They are excited when they get a green dot...and determined to turn their purple dots green. Some students are disappointed when they have reached the point that they do not have any assessments ready to take - they are impatient to learn more and demonstrate their mastery.