Myth #1 of Mastery Learning – It’s self-taught


While running a mastery learning science classroom, I encountered a lot of myths – from students, parents, administrators and colleagues.  My book on mastery in the science classroom walks you through a lot of these and how to deal with them.  I’ll address some from time to time on this blog!

So the first one is that it’s “self-taught”!

That couldn’t be farther from the truth (unless of course you’re running a self-taught course, which do exist…but that’s not what I’m talking about!)

It’s a self-paced course

My classroom had each students working at their own pace – sometimes that meant they could work with other students that were on the same content as them, but sometimes they couldn’t because there wasn’t anybody at the exact same point, working on the same thing as them.

…but not self-taught

While it is true that they have access to materials that helped them learn independently, they are definitely not alone to learn the material.

They can watch narrated lectures/vodcasts to learn content, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t (and don’t!) stop the narrated lecture and call me over to ask me a question for clarification, to see if they understand it, or a random tangent question (just like students ask during whole-class lecture/discussions).

They can use reading guides to help them work through the textbook.  But I get asked questions, just like they did during the vodcasts.

I actually spend far, far more time interacting with students about the content, their understanding of it and answering their questions when running a self-paced mastery classroom than I ever did running a traditional classroom!

Think of it as a tutor-student relationship more than the traditional classroom teacher-class relationship!  And if you’re unfamiliar with the two-sigma problem, it shows that tutored students perform better by about two standard deviations than classroom-taught students.  If I can get my classroom setting closer to that tutor-setting and get those benefits, I’m all for it!

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