Mastery Learning and Assessment

I believe that each child has the right and capability to learn the course material. My instincts are to incorporate principles of mastery learning into the classroom. Mastery learning says each student doesn’t move forward until they’ve demonstrated mastery of the current material. Since much of the curriculum is additive (dependent on prior learning), this has the added advantage of making sure the student is adequately prepared for each section of curriculum as it arrives.

Mastery learning requires frequent assessment. But in mastery learning, the relationship between teacher and pupil is subtly different. Because the goal is mastery, the student (and teacher) must commit to truly learning a body of knowledge, not simply being present while it is taught. To the extent that this is true, assessment changes from an onerous task to a useful measure of progress towards a goal. Teacher and student are eager to understand how complete comprehension and retention have been.

In addition to protecting the student’s right to learn, frequent assessment is efficient. All too often, teachers move forward in the mistake belief that as subject has been taught. This confusion between presenting the subject and it being absorbed leads to much surprise and frustration. But not so with frequent assessment. Likewise, assessment is a kind of teaching, a kind of drilling. Like flash cards, frequent assessment develops the habit of learn, test, repeat. This drives the knowledge home at the same time as it assures that comprehensive comprehension is achieved.

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