Teaching to Mastery

by | May 4, 2018


­­­Bobby just got his first pair of tie shoes. Dad takes him home to learn how to tie them all on his own. “Ok Bobby,” he says as he models how to do it. “Cross the laces, loop, swoop and pull.” This repeated itself once or twice. “Great, now it’s your turn!” Bobby crosses the laces, loops and does his version of swooping and pulling which results in some loose, long-tailed knot.

If this was your child, insert a correction procedure, continue modeling, side-by-side instruction and tons of practice. Why? Because you certainly wouldn’t want Bobby walking around with poorly untied shoelaces all the time.

Why should we approach academics any different? Building a mediocre intellectual repertoire does not set students up for success.

Quality instruction requires:

  • Modeling/Demonstration
  • Instruction
  • Practice, Practice, Practice
  • Correction procedures when necessary
  • Testing and retesting

Student performance can be evaluated using a variety of measures, but is most frequently analyzed using assessments. When conducting formative and summative assessments, the typical rule of thumb is 80% mastery. This means 80% of students performing at 80% or higher. This is just a suggested starting point. Holding students to higher standards ensures higher levels of mastery. This may be 90% of students scoring 80% or higher or it may be 80% of students scoring 90% or higher. Creating a consistent measure of mastery is essential to ensure reliable measurements and evaluations.

The typical follow-up question is, “What happens if students do not meet mastery?”
The answer: Re-teach. Re-Test.

Moving on prior to ensuring mastery increases student error and decreases long-term retention. Students that do not master foundational skills struggle more and more as the difficulty level of instruction increases.

If you do not master basic addition, how will you be successful in multiplication? Furthermore, how will you be successful making change or managing bank accounts? 

It is important that teachers do not stop after re-teaching. By re-testing students, teachers have objective data to demonstrate current levels of performance. 

Time Commitment

One opposition to teaching to mastery is the time requirement. Some skills may require a considerable amount of practice. Consider that additional practice can help students build fluency. Building fluency across a variety of skills allows students to learn how to meet mastery. By ensuring mastery and building fluency, teachers are able to save time during future lessons by reducing the need for extensive review and the inevitable re-teaching that will accompany the lesson.

Systematically teaching to mastery allows teachers to identify instructional strategies that support student success and identify trends in content and/or strategies that students struggle with. Teaching to mastery is key to student success and can help teachers maintain instructional pace with minimal roadblocks.




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