Mastery-based progressions are an approach to education whereby students work at their own level and progress at their own pace on the path to proficiency. While many students are forced to follow curricula mandated at the state level, mastery-based classrooms allow a flexible, varied approach to learning where students can demonstrate their understanding at different times and often in different ways.
The Common Core provides a common, cohesive set of content standards that have been broken down by grade level. Mastery-based progressions use these standards as an end goal, but the process and the timing for each student to get to that goal varies from student to student. In a mastery-based progression, students work towards learning goals along phases of mastery that represent intermediate stages in skill development. As they progress, students participate in instructional activities that are appropriate given their current understanding and progress along the learning progression. Students receive data-based interventions and support along all steps of the learning progression to address any difficulty they may be having. Finally, they reflect on their own progression to mastery and use that reflection to inform their own future learning.
An increasing number of school districts are making personalized teaching and learning the foundation of their educational philosophy. However, implementation of mastery-based practices does not have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor; mastery-based learning can be adopted in one specific realm of the classroom such as a self-paced workshop or differentiated, student-selected stations.
Why it's important
In traditional classrooms, students follow a set, predetermined 13-year instructional plan from kindergarten through high school graduation, in which all students are expected to fit a common learning mold and demonstrate their competency in the same manner and at the same time as their peers. In this model, students are the receivers of knowledge rather than the seekers of understanding, and the pace of their progression is controlled by their teacher and the demands of a specific set of standards for a given grade level.
To thrive in today's world, students need to be flexible, critical thinkers, able to understand what is being asked of them and use the tools available to them to solve problems both independently and collaboratively. In a mastery-based progression learning model, teachers become the facilitators of student learning, allowing students to develop the necessary skills, habits, and learning practices to ensure success both in the classroom and beyond.
What success looks like
Whether a teacher uses the mastery-based progression in all elements of their teaching or only for specific elements of class, successful mastery-based progressions will allow the following to be true in the classroom:
Students can explain not only what they need to master but also what mastery looks like.
Students participate in instructional activities that are appropriate given their current understanding and progress towards mastery of the learning goal.
Teachers use formative assessments to determine where each student is in their progress toward mastery, and they use that knowledge to help determine the best next steps and instructional decisions to move the student towards the learning goal.
Students are able to articulate their learning goals, explain the steps they will take to reach those goals, and reflect on their own progression to inform their future learning.
Teachers use student performance data to provide data-based interventions and supports, and to help students find resources to guide their learning, but students have choice in how and when they learn.
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