Master Learning in the Science Classroom: Success for Every Student, by Kelly Morgan, is a quick read. But that doesn't mean it's not worth reading. We hear a lot these days about standards-based grading and teaching to mastery, but there aren't very clear guidelines on how to do these things except what some brave teachers have blogged about. This short book gives a quick guide on the whys and hows of mastery learning.
What I liked the most about this book was the chapter that used research to back up the teacher's experience. I realize that such information is often dead boring, but when you're challenged by a colleague or a parent about the choices you've made, it's nice to be able to point to research outside your own records. I really feel that teachers should have easy access to research, and this book makes it very convenient to have that information right at your fingertips.
One of my cooperating teachers has decided to go with a mastery model for one of her classes this winter. She admits that it's a huge amount of work. But she now has students who used to be failing not only passing, but really understanding the material. She's also looking forward to next year when she won't have to do the same level of prep work because it's already done. She's chosen to try this on a small class during a time when she has resource teachers available. She's not sure if she'd try it with a larger class or not. When I stopped by the class this week, I was amazed at the transformation. Instead of a class full of clowns trying to derail the lesson, everyone was working hard at their own pace and getting the support they needed to be successful. If I get any more news about the teacher's thoughts, I'll pass that along.
My only concern about this is the current trend toward district-wide scope and sequence plans. With mastery learning, students go at their own pace. That pace might not meet the district pace. I agree with the notion that it's more important for students to understand what they've supposedly learned than for teachers to be able to say they've covered the material (whether the students actually learned it or not), but I'm not sure how that plays out with requirements for each semester or quarter. I also agree with a list of requirements for courses. I find that some pacing guides are useful and others are not. I suppose the building administration will make a difference in the level of mastery learning that can take place in a classroom.