Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Mastery Learning at Sorenson's Ranch
At Sorenson’s Ranch School we use Mastery learning, which is a process where students are allowed to use a personalized process for learning. Students are encouraged to reflect on elements of the curriculum as they are exposed to them and then integrate these things, enhancing what they already know. Mastery learning tends to be a more effective option for moderate to lower functioning students who struggle to keep up in a traditional class setting. Students are allowed to complete assigned work over a period of time, while often having to maintain minimal benchmarks of completion. Mastery learning is also generally more versatile in a students’ ability to demonstrate mastery of a topic or concept. Instructional concepts as well as assessments are usually varied so that students can “display” their knowledge in a variety of ways. Portfolios, drawings, papers, posters and other projects are examples of alternative assessments. Master learning affords the student the ability to, often by requirement, rework assignments and assessments until they demonstrate satisfactory levels of comprehension and can therefore move on to additional concepts and/or material. Mastery learning is the preferred method of academic instruction in non-traditional, or special purpose schools. This type of instruction is more accommodating for institutions with an open-entry, open-exit type of enrollment. One of the challenges we face with the use of mastery learning is motivation. The concept and premise of mastery learning seems noble enough, but students are obviously more effective if they are motivated to take advantage of what can often be a slower process of learning. Students’ who are moderate to lower functioning academically, can quickly become lazy about learning and use the slower process as an excuse for why they “can’t learn”. This is usually due to the student putting off assignments that need to be completed until they do not have sufficient time, and/or desire to finish. It can come from the student lacking the necessary desire to complete the assigned work. It can stem from past academic failures or old habits that the student feels may get them out of some of the required work. It also however, can come from an honest inability to understand concepts or the ability to attach new learning to information that was previously learned. I think it is safe to say that that mastery learning could also be termed “patient learning” as it allows for a more personal process for learning. There are of course, both problems and benefits of this type of learning. When not properly utilized students can actually fall farther behind their peers in academic instruction with mastery learning in a given time period. When applied properly mastery learning provides a viable option for many students who find it hard to keep up with the normal academic flow or time table of a traditional school setting. Mastery learning can boost the confidence of some students who have historically demonstrated difficulties in learning, further motivating them to want to learn. At Sorenson’s Ranch School we have learned that Mastery learning is a good fit for the students we enroll in our program. We feel that this type of learning is adaptable by our teachers to meet the various academic needs of our diverse student body. We are most often able to help students catch up to appropriate grade level instruction and experience general academic success, which many of our students have not had in the past.