Mastery learning is a teaching practice that evidence says makes a difference. In this video, Sue Davis explains how she uses mastery learning in her maths lessons.
This video can also be used to facilitate a group session where teachers can reflect on their own practice
Hi, my name is Sue Davis. I'm a primary school teacher and tutor and I've been teaching for about 17 years.
I've recently enjoyed filming some lessons for OCHRE Education and AERO. I've been working in mastery learning in the maths classroom and I'm excited to share some of my reflections today as you too develop your thinking and practice in mastery learning.
As a maths teacher, a mastery learning approach is particularly useful because it allows identification of the source of errors or misconceptions at the point they occur rather than having to work backwards to identify at which point a student has not understood or has gaps in their knowledge.
In a recent lesson on place value, I used a mastery learning approach to step out a series of short tasks on rounding four-digit numbers to the nearest 10 and 100. To start with, I mapped out the first task, which was to make sure that students could identify multiples of 10. Once students can recognise the multiples, they are ready to begin the process of rounding and they see that too. Through this mastery learning approach, they realise, ‘oh, I couldn't do rounding before I know what multiples are’.
In this way, students start to engage with the building blocks of what they're learning. They start to understand the logic and order of the tasks they're doing, and it all starts to fall into place for them.
Sometimes, when I check for understanding during a lesson, I find that some of the students have not mastered the objective of the lesson. In this case, I take the time to re-teach that element either as a whole class when there's a large number of students who hold that misconception or in small groups while other students are working independently.
In addition, there are sometimes students who demonstrate early mastery of those concepts and require enrichment opportunities to apply their skills and knowledge. For example, for students who showed mastery of rounding four-digit numbers to the nearest 10 or 100 in this lesson, I asked them to start with given multiples then identify which numbers could have been rounded to that.
Working with a mastery learning approach, you need to think carefully about which tasks you'll get students to undertake and of course, in which order. The sequence of learning is extremely important in maths. In some areas, the mastery of one concept is highly dependent on the mastery of a previous concept. Therefore, I need to think about what skills and knowledge underpin the next stage in the learning.
In a recent unit on place value, I designed a series of short tasks using supports, such as place value charts and manipulatives to closely examine the structure of four-digit numbers, guiding students through each one. It can be helpful to look at your end objective then work backwards to your starting point. Working through the tasks can also identify gaps or steps where you are expecting too big a leap from students.
Checking for mastery is an important step but it doesn't need to be a really formal process. It also might not involve any marking as such but can be based on real time responses and observations. For example, in a unit on place value fluency and application, I would stop to check for mastery of partitioning of four-digit numbers by giving an example for students to partition. I might assess these by asking students to respond on mini whiteboards, explain their reasoning, or model processes with manipulatives.
One thing I'm still working on is ensuring that I approach the steps from the point of view of a novice learner, not an adult with existing knowledge of both the current learning objective and how it relates to future learning. I have found this focus on mastery learning has improved my practice as it ensures that I look closely at all steps to achieve the learning objective. In this way, my teaching is more robust and comprehensive, increasing student's abilities to make connections in their learning and apply concepts flexibly.
Keywords: practice implementation