Student Mastery: How Will I Know When They Get It?
You’ve seen it all through the Math-U-See curriculum: “Make sure your student has demonstrated mastery before moving on.”
How Do You Know if Your Student Has Achieved Mastery?
How do you know if he’s really grasped the concepts of the lesson? There are many ways to monitor a student’s progress to determine whether mastery has been achieved. Strategies such as informal conversations, observations, projects, and real-life experiences elicit evidence of how well a student has mastered a particular concept or skill. A key component to any of these methods is to recognize that assessing mastery is an ongoing process, as opposed to just a final test or evaluation (Tweet this).
As parents and instructors, we continuously collect information about how a student is learning and interpreting information. Simultaneously, a student is constantly informing us through his questions, explanations, and written assignments. His body language and behavior tell us about his curiosity, enthusiasm, dislike, or confusion regarding his level of comfort with a particular subject or skill. These informal observations provide opportunities for instruction to be adjusted according to a student’s needs. It also gives the student the ability to admit what he didn’t understand and openly seek help. When he is shown an alternate method, is given more time to practice, allowed a break, or simply offered the time to ask more questions, he will strengthen his understanding and progress toward mastery.
The conversations we have with students are also powerful tools for assessing mastery (Tweet this). When we listen to a student explain or “teach back” an idea or skill, we can gain a better sense of his progress. Through these conversations, we can provide descriptive and constructive feedback to help him improve his work and understanding. These conversations should avoid comparisons with other students and be specific, timely, and encouraging to help clarify any misunderstandings of the topic or skill. Asking questions that are focused on the task, rather than the student, can help foster confidence and reassurance. For example, questions such as, “Can you tell me more about that?”, “How would you set up this word problem?”, or “How did you arrive at your answer?” all invite a student to share and extend his thinking by requiring him to provide a clear explanation. In these moments we have the unique opportunity to reteach, refine, and help a student improve his understanding toward mastery. The role of proficiency is also an important consideration in the mastery process. A student who has demonstrated a conceptual understanding but has not yet become proficient (in terms of automaticity) will eventually begin to struggle as he moves forward. For example, the inefficiency of a student who understands the concept of multiplication but has not committed basic facts to memory will impact future learning.
Long-term projects and real-life applications can encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning and successfully progress toward mastery. As we are directing our child’s education, we should take care that we have a good understanding of what concepts are needed for the project so that unrealistic expectations do not result in frustration on the part of the student. Projects such as making a kite, creating a board game, cooking, woodworking, caring for animals, or raising a garden can provide deeper understanding of already-learned concepts and can serve to introduce new concepts. In these instances, valuing and monitoring the steps and processes that are taken toward developing the final product are essential for a student to move toward mastery. While engaged in the project or task, a student may seek suggestions to improve or clarify information or skills. For example, a student who is working to create a sled kite may ask for support or validation of his methods when he is realizes he has to divide the width into equal fourths and the height into equal thirds. These moments of inquiry can be used to modify the activity or guide instruction to help the student achieve mastery.
It is important to keep in mind that all students are unique and, therefore, mastery may take a few days or a few months. Keep the focus on how a student learns best. Listen, observe, and provide meaningful feedback to help the student improve at his own pace. It is important to monitor and adjust instruction through observations and conversations at each stage of the learning process. Mastery requires practice, re-teaching, encouragement, and patience. When a student can enjoy and benefit from the journey of practice, he will learn to persevere during the learning process and achieve mastery.