Monday, August 8, 2011

Mastery Learning

Here at Sorenson’s Ranch School, we have worked hard over the years apply curriculum and instruction techniques which have been demonstrated through research to be effective. Because we are a non-traditional school operating within a residential treatment facility, our challenges in providing an adequate education to our diverse student body with its inherent diverse needs are many. One of the ways we try to ensure that we meet the needs of our students is our focus on Mastery Learning.
Mastery Learning is defined as an instructional model which presumes that all children can learn so long as they are provided with a learning environment and accommodations that are commensurate with their learning needs. A foundation principle of Mastery Learning is that in order for a student to move on to more complex learning objectives, he or she must demonstrate ability to apply the current objective with eighty percent proficiency.
The nature of our facility and the diverse nature of our students require us to operate on an open enrollment basis. Our students come to us from almost every state at varying levels of educational accomplishment. Frequently they are more than one year behind schedule for graduation due to causes which include Reactive Attachment Disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, depression and anxiety, and poor family dynamics. All of these factors make it very desirable for us to be able to provide a way for our clientele to “catch up” in school. Mastery Learning is the mechanism that allows us to meet this need.
In a “regular” school setting, credit is earned in lock step with the other students in the class. Assignment due dates don’t change, no matter how far in advance a student completes the required work. Within a Mastery Learning environment, once the student demonstrates proficiency at the eighty percent level, he or she can move on to the next assignment. Mastery Learning does not guarantee that a student will earn credit at an accelerated rate, but it does provide that opportunity.
Another integral part of the student experience here at Sorenson’s Ranch School is the level system which rewards appropriate student behavior with increased privileges and opportunities for enrichment activities. The level system is organized according to a number system with level 1 at the bottom and level 5 at the top. No student is allowed to progress above level 2 unless he/she is on schedule for credit in all classes. This reinforcement of academic achievement through the level system provides extra incentive for students to stay current in school.
Not every student who attends our school will make up all of the credits that he/she is behind, but many do. It is almost always necessary to get a student’s behavioral issues under control before he/she will buy into the system and start to progress adequately in school. The real issue is that once the student experiences a change in behavior and begins to have success in the program, school progress at an accelerated rate, without the necessity of extra school days, becomes a possibility.

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