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Mastery learning

The school of the future

Friday, April 1st I attended a dialog conference at a local school. In groups we discussed the school for the future, what will it look like, what do we need to change to meet future requirements? The half day was divided between two short lectures and two group discussions   The first lecture was by  head of the committee engaged by the government to work on Pupil`s learning in the School for the Future, and the second was by Director general of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), Kristin Skogen Lund. The topic she covered was, what skills do students need to be prepared for the future? The task we were given is complex and who can predict how the future will be anyway, right? It is especially frustrating when we discuss this topic that we tend to model the school we know and end up discussing minor changes, in most cases, more of what is not working today. Kristin Skogen Lund mentioned the reluctance to change in the Health services, even if we all know that people live longer today and that we will need a lot more health workers to provide the proper care for our senior citizens now and in the near future. Technology can help us there if we are smart. Technology is changing areas like the car industry, taxi services, hotel services, music, press, television, the list is long. How will it change school? Most discussions about the schools for the future hardly touch the topic of using technology at all. Why?

What is not working today?

Let’s start with what we know to be true. In Norway, less than 60 % of the students graduated after 3 years of high school in 2004. In 2009, the numbers were pretty much the same. With 5 years of high school, the numbers were just over 70 %. In our county Akershus, the numbers are better, in 2014-15 84,4 % graduated. The numbers for vocational schools are lower.  In 2014-15, the average absentee number for students in Akershus was 7.8 % per year, wich is just below the 10 % absentee limit to be evaluated in your class in Norway next year.  This has been decided by the Norwegian Department of Education. There is every reason to be worried about this since the number increases in the last years of high school meaning if this trend continues a higher number of our senior students will not graduate next year.  The number of students with a minority background who graduate is as low as 75.1 % in Akershus. I’m guessing this is the same for the whole country. Another discussion is how much the students have learned when they graduate. In a grading system where 1 is failing and 6 is the highest possible grade, this result after 2 years in high school as illustrated in the graph here, shows how little some students know in math.

Mastery learning

What if technology could help us differentiate? What if technology could give us more time to guide all our students, not only the ones who are struggling, not only those who need to be challenged but everyone? What if each student had time to master the material and move on when they were ready? What if we lived in the 21 century and this was what schools looked like?

Mastery learning is used in order to advance an individual’s potential for learning. Compared to traditional learning models, sufficient time, attention, and help are afforded to each student. The majority of us are very familiar with the traditional flow of classes, where we learn material and study for the upcoming test. Then, regardless of our grade, we move on to the next set of chapters, until we are tested on those. We go on to learn more and take the next test and so on until we are done with the class. Maybe we really learned what we were taught, or maybe we only learned a portion, or maybe we barely understood most of the material, and it’s reflected in our ending grade. But what if we had to master what we were taught? What if we couldn’t move forward in a class until we had fully grasped what we were tested on? Source: Mastery Learning Model

Another expression used here is CBE, competency-based education. In this article, The five key lesson for Mastery Learning Startup, I would like to point to the following:

  1. Understand the key shifts.
  2. Define mastery, then build your policies around it.

In contrast to traditional schools, in which “time is the constant, and learning is the variable,” in competency-based learning models, “learning is the constant, and time is the variable.” Look at the points in the illustration for the key shifts that are necessary.

Flipped classroom and mastery learning

Have you every found yourself pretty far along in teaching a course only to realize that many students are struggling with a new topic because they really didn’t get the foundational material that came before it (maybe I should ask, “who hasn’t”)? You’re not alone. So many subjects – math, music, foreign languages, science, English … and the list goes on, require students to understand topic 1 before they can properly grasp topic 2. Source: Flipping Awesome!

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