A child’s call for the need of student-paced mastery learning


My 8 year old daughter was home today sick from school. She’s a very creative little girl and spends a large amount of her free time in her room playing teacher.

And this is no ordinary “little kid playing teacher”. She actually sets up stations and centers, has discipline management plans, has differentiated reading groups, creates assignments and a lot of other very advanced lesson planning goes on in her room. She’s so immersed in this concept if herself as a teacher that last year for Christmas she asked for an LCD projector, smart board and laptop (which she promised vehemently would only be used for playing teacher). I explained to her that the the additional uses of a laptop were not the barrier for her getting such things for Christmas but price point was…and then we went down the rabbit hole of discussions with children that always begins with “but Santa could make it and then it wouldn’t cost anything).

But back to the point of this blog post. I went into her room to check on her (and to reclaim my iPad she’d commandeered for her “classroom”) and saw she had three math problems on three separate whiteboards in front of her on the floor but facing away for her (so that the three students working with her at that center could see and work on them). I made a quick comment as I was headed out the door (with my found iPad) of “oh, cool, you’re doing math centers.”

And then the response came out of her mouth at stopped me dead in my tracks (I had been doing that parent-thing of half-heartedly making conversation with a child when you’re really thinking about something else and not really prepared to listen carefully to their answer and respond with meaningful conversation…at least I hope I’m not the only parent that does that from time to time).

She said “I gave different problems to each of the kids because some of them know things others don’t already and that way they’re each challenged and learn new things.”

In case you’re new to my blog and my work, I’m a huge proponent of student-paced mastery learning (I wrote a book about it, I present workshops about it, I blog about it, I tweet about it…you’re getting the point…). But what I don’t do is discuss it with my kids at home (they’re 8 and 10, both pretty much just knows that mommy’s job is working with teachers to teach science better and working with graduate science students to help them talk about science better with people). It’s not that I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss mastery learning with my own kids, it’s just that it hasn’t come up. Also, I keep my frustrations about their inability to learn that way in their own school to myself because I don’t want to “poison the well” of their attitudes towards school with my frustrations.

So you might think this comment, that she made so naturally yet stopped me so completely, was just a reflection of my own feelings about mastery learning, but I really don’t think that it is. I truly think that she, as an 8 year old child (yes she’s a bright one, but still let’s be realistic…she’s still only 8) “gets it” in a way that so many adults struggle with.

Children should be given whatever work is challenging, interesting and motivating to them – whatever they need to continue to learn and grow – without care for if other students are ready for it or not.

There are so many times in life where I think if we adults took a moment and really looked at things as children see them that we’d see that there’s better ways to be doing something. And I definitely think this is one of those moments!

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