Mastery Leaning versus Resource Constraints

Not to harp on a point, but there is another aspect of this conversation that I’d like to open for discussion. It is all well and good to talk of mastery learning, as I do, or Vygotsky’s ‘Zone of Proximal Development’, as you do. I passionately believe that the philosophy and practice implied by both concepts is powerful, foundational and essential for elementary school education.

The issue I’d like to raise here is resources. I spent two days a week in kindergarten last year. The developmental differences were all too clear. Even with three adults in a room with twenty students, the requirements of meeting the individual needs of all these students was overwhelming. Best efforts were made to bring all of the students along, but the tempo of the curriculum also required moving on after a time.

I wonder how one balances the need to tailor education to each student and their developmental readiness with the scarcity of teaching resources (i.e. time and teacher attention)? This may not be the place for this discussion, but I am concerned by the gap between the my heartfelt philosophical committment to bringing each child along and the imposed demands of standards and reaching a certain aggregate (i.e. class-wide) level of learning over the course of the year.

There are a few logical responses. One would be requiring extra learning time with lagging students, either during free time or after school. Another strategy would be tiering workgroups by ability so as to concentrate attention on groups with similar learning needs and developmental readiness. I am curious what thoughts or experiences anybody might have as regards this challenge.

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