Monday, March 2, 2015

Are we more concerned with assessing mastery or producing it?

Sometime in the last few years, I underwent a paradigm shift in my thinking about teaching and learning. I've been trying to put my finger on exactly what the difference in my thinking is, and I think I've finally boiled it down:

It was a shift from an emphasis on assessing mastery to producing mastery.

When presented the mastery-model and the concept of allow students multiple attempts at mastery, one of the primary objections is that this will not distinguish between the students who master it quickly and those who take a longer amount of time to master it. The emphasis here is on assessing or evaluating mastery, as if our job is about identifying the "strongest" or best students. But is it really?

Another objection that often comes up is that the mastery model will not teach them responsibility. But this objection assumes that punishing students with grade penalties teaches responsibility, which I doubt. As I've mentioned here before, all F's do, all zeros do is slam self-efficacy, further destroy confidence, squash any last glimmer of interest in learning, and send kids further down the doom spiral.

If you want to teach responsibility, then teach it. Don't imagine that simply slapping kids with poor grades will accomplish that.

So how can you teach it? How can we teach students to set goals, work hard to meet them, and produce quality work?

The mastery model. That's exactly what it is designed to do--teach grit and perseverance and attention to quality.

Providing students with multiple cycles of feedback and revisions until they master a skill or concept is not teaching them laziness and irresponsibility, it's teaching the opposite. If you want to teach kids to focus on just passing, or worse, if you want to crush their motivation altogether, keep slamming them with Fs, and let the beatings continue until morale improves.

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