Monday, April 6, 2015

Falling behind the curriculum with the mastery model

So here I am at the end of the third quarter and I figure I am 5-6 weeks behind where I was when I taught the same course 2 years ago.

I know it's crazy, but I just realized this yesterday, when I took a close look at my gradebooks and Moodle site.  I might have noticed earlier, but we switched around some topics in the curriculum, so it made it hard to compare years.

As I started scratching dates and topics into my Bullet Journal and it began to dawn on me just how far behind, I started to get anxious.

This is the course I've been experimenting with--the one I'm differentiating and using the mastery-based approach with.  This is the one with no zeros, no late penalties--the one of been trying to motivate with autonomy, mastery, and purpose (my mantra).

Maybe it's failed.

That's what I was thinking, anyway.

Then I got practical and came up with a plan for paring down the remaining content so I could cover the required breadth of material in the remaining 8 weeks of the year.

But still, today in class, I felt the need to pressure them: "OK. So you need to get done x, y, and z by tomorrow or you're going to end up with an incomplete on your report card."

...which is exactly what I don't want to resort to--the carrot and stick method, the cattle prod method, the authoritarian method, the "beatings will continue until morale improves" method .

Because Pink's "autonomy, mastery, and purpose" approach has evidence to back it up. It works better than external motivation. So though I'm open to being wrong, first I'll look for the problem elsewhere. I can think of a few places off the top of my head:

1) The curriculum is just too broad. And it turns out I added 3 new projects this year that I didn't use two years ago, including one on cancer prevention. These projects that took the place of faster, easier worksheets and other traditional activities I used to cover the same material two years ago.

2) It's been a rough 3rd quarter, with tons of snow days, multiple sophomore extend field trips, and a student teacher.

3) "What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity... What looks like laziness is often exhaustion...What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem." This quote from Chip & Dan Heath's book, Switch, is my other mantra.

4) I started using the mastery approach this year, which allows the students multiple attempts at every assignment. This has obvious potential implications for time.

5) I also implemented a "no zero" policy, which includes a "no late penalty" policy, which together with #2 tends to stretch out the time-line of projects a bit.

6) Though I've seen some success, I haven't mastered the art of motivation in this mastery-based approach.

Excuses? Maybe. But why should the traditional mile-wide curriculum/traditional instruction model be the default, anyway. Seems to me, the system is crying out for change. As long as there are failing students, it's failing them.


  1. I wouldn't consider it a list of excuses. Reframe it as a moment of reflection and self-evaluation to see what adjustments need to be made. They'll finish if you remain positive.

  2. Thanks, Dave. I think you're right about the positivity.