THIS is about mastery of knowledge, a subject, concept or learning outcome.
I have been thinking a lot about exams and testing in education recently… even more than normal! I suppose this is because we have recently seen A-level and GCSE results being handed out which has led to the annual discussion about whether the exams are robust and challenging enough for our young people. This blog is not about these debates directly but is designed to offer some thoughts about whether learners are truly mastering their knowledge, skills or competence through our educational system.
I am fully aware that many teachers will naturally teach to the test. Why not? That is what our education system has developed through a high stakes testing culture. I think all teachers would agree however that this is not really a positive way to learn. I think all teachers would also say that young people should develop a deep understanding of whatever it is that they are learning. This brings me around to the idea of ‘mastery of learning’.
It is my solid belief that if young people truly learn deeply and be able to use their learning within different contexts, then they will be able to gain the required grades when they take the exam. Is there the time (I have heard teachers ask)? Well yes, I think there is and we owe it to our young people to give them a fuller educational experience! Mastery of learning can be based around 3 stages of learning. Following a conversation with a colleague a few days ago we came up with these terms;
Practising – Learners are introduced to a piece of knowledge, skill or competence. They have a go at applying it themselves in a given learning situation.
Developing – Learners are then given the opportunity to use this again based on a different scenario or the application to a different set of circumstances which applies more challenge and deeper thinking to the learning.
Mastery – Learners are finally given the opportunity to apply this learning to a completely different scenario where they have to think outside the box and use the learning in a completely different way. This is where real challenge and critical thinking have to be adopted by the learner. It may even involve teaching and leading other learners.
Learners will therefore complete a piece of learning 3 times in increasingly challenging scenario’s to show that they have achieved mastery of their learning. In previous blogs I have discussed engaging learners by making the learning real to them and applied to the real world. The mastery of learning would be completed in the same way. I would personally link more and more to the real world throughout this process.
Mastery of learning is based around adding additional challenge for the young person at each stage and not a process of giving more of the same, which will ultimately become boring for the learner over time. This learning philosophy naturally lends itself to differentiation. You may wish to move some learners very quickly into the developmental phase based on previous knowledge or ability.
Here is a quick example from an Applied GCSE Business lesson that I have taught. Learners are introduced to Cash Flow Forecasting and the learner would have a go at completing some basic forecasts (Practising) based on a common business that they would know about. Learners would then be asked to apply this learning to a business that they are aware of, using some further costings that they would research themselves (Developing). Finally, possibly as a homework task, I would ask them to create a budget for owning their own home when working out income and outgoings using the principles of the technique of Cash Flow Forecasting (Mastery). This switches the learning into a completely different context. The mastery stage involves critical analysis of a given scenario, develops life and work skills and finally develops the knowledge learners need to achieve aspirational targets in an academic exam.
THIS is the learning that I want to see taking place in my department as a middle leader. I will support colleagues to develop their teaching and learning and develop mastery of learning for the young people within our care. This philosophy also meets the outstanding grade descriptors as identified by OFSTED (September 2015) for Teaching, Learning & Assessment. I have highlighted the relevant comments in this extract from the School Inspection Handbook.
I firmly believe that this would develop schools full of ‘Learning Jedi Knights’ who achieve aspirational academic grades using more than just ‘the force’ when learning basic content for an exam.
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