Friday, January 30, 2015

Mastery Learning: A New Start

This semester, I have decided (along with colleague Brian Germain) to take a fresh look at our approach to mastery learning here at PHS.  Although we have spent the past couple years attempting to up the engagement through "gamification," many students were still struggling in this type of learning environment.  Yes, many students were excelling, but frankly, too many were not.  I therefore believe that I must think beyond "engagement" and focus more on some of the structural (and instructional) components of the system.  A new approach is needed to truly make this work for all of our students.

After getting some excellent new ideas during a conversation with Brian Gervase (an incredible educator in CA), we developed a new mastery learning framework and presented it to our administration.  We are grateful that they decided to support us in our new approach, particularly since it is considerably different from a traditional approach to instruction, assessments, and grading.

Although there are several changes on the horizon, here is the most fundamental of them all:

Proficiency-Based Credit

In other words, we are no longer trying to fit a mastery learning approach into a traditional grading system. To earn credit for the course, students must demonstrate proficiency in all of the course's standards.  How long this takes simply depends upon the students' pace.

For example, if a student demonstrates proficiency in all of the World History Semester 2 standards by May, they then start Brian's US history class.  The student earns full credit for my course, and gets a jump start on Brian's.  On the other hand, if a student does not complete the course by mid-June, they will have an incomplete and not receive credit until they do.  This may be done over the summer or next fall.  

We will surely face many obstacles and setbacks along the way, but I truly believe that this is the way students should be LEARNING in school.  To borrow a quote from New Haven's High School in the Community:

"Time is the Variable.  Learning is the Constant."

My goal is to contribute a post each week reflecting upon our new approach here at PHS.  I will be sharing our strategies, resources, failures and successes.  If you ever have questions or comments about our experiences, or could offer some advice and suggestions, please post them in the comments section below.  Also feel free to reach out to me directly, I always look forward to connecting and learning with fellow teachers who share my passion for education!