Thursday, February 12, 2015

Which Skills Should Be "Mastered?"

For mastery learning to work, students must have a clear understanding of what skills they actually need to "master."
What skills do students need to master?

In other words, teachers must consider: which skills must students demonstrate proficiency in to earn credit for my course?  What content standards (if any) should be included in this framework? How many performance standards should be included each semester?...

Although the need to map this out ahead of time may sound painfully obvious, it is something that we continue to grapple with.  I'm sure that many of you are in a similar situation.  The problem is not that we lack standards to use, quite the opposite.  Teachers are often provided multiple sets of standards to work off of. The elephant in the room is that we are often unsure of which specific standards to use, when to use them, and how to effectively weave them into our curriculum. 

You may be thinking that this is a relatively universal issue that is not specific to mastery learning. And you are right.  However, mastery learning helps bring this issue to the forefront of our attention.  Since it will not work without established standards mapped out in a clear progression, it forces us to take a closer look at the very nature of our course.  Although it can be difficult and frustrating at times, it is absolutely worth doing and, frankly, is in the best interest of our students.  

That said, here are the three sets of standards that I'm working with.

3.  PHS 21st Century Learning Expectations

Although my course framework is far from perfect, I have clearly mapped out this semester for the students. Included in the document linked below (and in screenshot) are each performance standard, the summative assessment(s) tied to each standard, and a "checkpoint" date to let students know if they are on pace. 

Screenshot of the first 8 performance standards for World History Semester 2 (24 Total)

I purposely do not include a list of all the resources and formative assessments in this document (I will share out that "teacher version" in a future post).  Instead, I wanted students to focus specifically on the big picture.  In this case, the skills needed and the assessments that would determine their proficiency in those skills. 

Although I still have many questions regarding standard selection and student progression, we are certainly heading in the right direction with this as a class, a department, and as a school.  Moving towards mastery has helped us hone in on our curriculum in a broad sense to determine what it actually is that we want our students to know and be able to do.  

Next week I will reflect upon our department's journey to High School in the Community (New Haven, CT) and discuss the innovative school-wide approach to mastery learning that they have implemented and continue to improve each day.