The Case for Mastery Learning

We all have heard about students who are “passed through the system” without learning the skills necessary for college, employment or even adult daily tasks.  These unfortunate individuals struggle with daily use of reading, writing and math skills, and often become stranded on the lower rungs of financial status.  In other words, they are just not able to be as successful as their peers with better skills.

We all have a role to play in preventing this problem.  Most of these learners didn’t suddenly fail in high school.  They were struggling for years before finally getting so frustrated that they gave up on learning.  It’s up to us as teachers, parents, grandparents, care givers and leaders of children’s activities to spot the struggling learners before they become statistics.  With proper intervention, most people can overcome whatever learning hurdles are causing the problem.

Do you know a child who is having trouble mastering basic grade level skills?  Don’t let it slide.  Statistics show that kids will not “outgrow” the problem.  They are not lazy, uncaring or disobedient (at least not at first).  Learning problems can cause all of these negative outcomes, but students always telegraph signals of trouble long before kids give up and become problem students.  Sit up and take notice if your student is taking hours to do a thirty-minute assignment.  Don’t ignore a child who complains that school is too hard or that the teacher “doesn’t like” them.  Watch the grades-marks that slip from A’s and B’s to C’s and then to D’s and F’s.  That’s a sure sign that something is going wrong.  Take action to rescue the student before discouragement sets in.

What can be done to help a struggling student?  Perhaps the most important tool is insisting on mastery learning for basic concepts.  We’re all familiar with the grading system in place in most classrooms and even in home schools.  An “A” signals that the student was at least 93% successful on the task.  A “B” usually signifies an accuracy between 83 and 90%.  A “C” means a score in the 70′s and a “D” is often a score in the 60′s.  An accuracy score much below 65% is usually considered to be failing.

The problem is that students can achieve 66% accuracy and still “pass.”  They move on with the rest of the group to the next skill, even if they are only getting 2/3 of the tasks completed correctly.  That can signify a huge gap in proficiency!  Some of the correct answers might even be achieved by guessing and that actually lowers the amount of knowledge we can be sure the student has mastered.

There are many basic skills where a 2/3 rate of correct answers simply isn’t good enough.  Basic reading and basic math are among them.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to insist that students achieve a 100% on their responses to a skill before moving ahead to the next level?  Of course, this would demand that instruction be individualized for these skills, but that is often already being accomplished in special education classrooms.  I think all students deserve the same consideration, and we just might be able to stem the tide of unprepared graduates and students who drop out of high school.  It’s worth considering!

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BINGO for All Seasons and Reasons

Check your game closet for learning fun!

One of my all-time favorite learning games is BINGO.  It’s simple enough for the preschool crowd and entertaining enough for children in elementary school.  Even adults enjoy it!  Traditional BINGO games have a lot of educational value simply built into the recognition of numbers, number sequence (which letter contains which range of numbers) and similar skills.  You can even modify the game to get more math mileage by calling out math problems like O  96-38.

But wait!  There’s MORE!

You can create a modified form of BINGO that is great for identifying and matching all sorts of academic information.  Just make yourself a blank board, five squares wide and five squares tall.  I also use 3 x 3 boards for younger students or some of my developmentally challenged clients.  Duplicate a bunch of copies of your blank BINGO boards because you’re going to think of a ton of applications for them.

For the youngest kids, try coloring the squares and calling out color names to find and cover with a sticker.  You can also put in letters or numbers to identify or spots to count and cover when you call out the matching number.  The great thing about these blank BINGO boards is that you can have players color the squares instead of trying to keep track of all of those little markers.

When kids are beginning to read, use your alphabet BINGO board to practice beginning sounds and other phonics skills.  Use your numbers BINGO board to practice finding the answers to math problems.  Try putting sight words or rhyming words in the boxes for your emergent reader to find and color.

For older children, you can put in money amounts or times and use coins or clocks to call them out.  Try fractions where kids find the equivalent version on their boards or the answer to a simple fraction computation.

Like I said, the possibilities are nearly endless.  You’ll have a game you can use and reuse for years to come!

Don’t forget to leave me a question or a comment!  I’ll be happy to respond either by email or in a future posting.