Oct. 4, 2022

An Update on Mastery-Based Learning - E103

An Update on Mastery-Based Learning - E103

This week, we are back with an update on how mastery-based learning is going in our classrooms. We'll chat about our successes and challenges with mastery-based learning and provide some helpful tips and tricks along the way!

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Featured Content
**For detailed show notes, please visit our website at https://edugals.com/103**

  • Mastery-based learning is a steep learning curve that is worth it!
  • Grading conversations are minimized and students are focused on learning
  • Getting to know students on a much deeper level this year
  • Mastery gives you a lot of information quickly about students strengths and areas of need
  • Routines need to be established early in the semester and this takes time! 
  • Seeing richer connections between students, especially between ELLs with different first languages
  • Setting these high expectations is motivating for students
  • Policies/procedures for reassessment of mastery checks - consider a verbal quiz before attempting version 3, for example
  • Digital vs Paper mastery checks:
    • Paper is better! Digital can create a bit of a tracking nightmare
    • Consider printing each lesson on different coloured paper
    • Paper adds a level of formality & seriousness, which builds accountability
    • Paper is tangible, quick to assess
  • Progress Trackers:
  • Building Resources:
    • Approach this with a team, if possible
    • This will get easier with time
  • Templates:
  • Overall, less focus on grades, more focus on learning
  • Shifting the classroom culture, with more ownership on the students
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[00:00:40] Rachel: In this episode, we are back with an update on how mastery based learning is going in our classrooms.

[00:00:47] Katie: We are a couple weeks into this semester. And so we thought it was a good time to share some of the things that are working, the challenges and how we've been changing our approach.

[00:00:57] Rachel: let's get started.

[00:01:05] Rachel: This week, Katie and I are chatting a bit about mastery based learning. So we haven't come back to this topic in a while. And now that the school year is underway and we've started engaging with mastery based learning with our students, we thought it was a great opportunity to have a conversation about how things are going.

[00:01:25] Katie: Yeah. So at this point we are two weeks in and so we've either started or we're working towards it. I know Rachel has started teaching ESL. We're almost there. We're just finishing up the diagnostics, but we've already started to implement some changes. So we thought it was worth kind of having this conversation because there's so many things that already we're learning and getting used to, and it's a steep learning curve.

[00:01:50] Rachel: It's a very steep learning curve, but I have to say like, I love mastery based learning. Like I love what I'm seeing in my classroom already, and we're only a couple weeks sort of into the swing of things and engaging, but wow. I'm not having those grading conversations with students.

And I think for me, that's the biggest sort of thing that I'm, I'm kind of going, wow. Like they haven't asked about their grades yet. So I'm finding that I'm really, really loving this because even the students are more focused on their learning and really engaging with their learning than they are about like, what grade did I get on something?


[00:02:31] Katie: of the things I've noticed, and this is, I think, more like teacher development and teacher focus. ESL, you know, there's different strands that we look at. So speaking and listening, reading, and writing, and they're broken down into steps. So steps to English proficiency. What we've been doing in the past is if we teach an ESL E class, we just do ESL E like we don't look at the kids individually in the different skills.

And already the three of us have like, We've broken down the steps. We've looked at their individual step levels. We're starting to have conversations about does this match cuz we don't think it does from their last, you know, assessment a and we're actually putting together groups and making changes to step levels to move them out along that continuum and, and changing where their skills are going to be focused and, and developing.

And so I feel like it's far more intentional, this. and it, it, it feels very productive cuz I'm like, oh my gosh, what have I been doing for so many years? Like this, this one size fits all approach. It, it doesn't work. And, and so I'm really loving even just the actual fact that we are focusing and concentrating on the individual student and where they're at.

[00:03:45] Rachel: I, I think that almost goes back to the conversations we've had in some past episodes where we've talked about not looking up students' past grades or not creating those biases right. Based on previous achievement in other courses. And I have not looked up any past grades whatsoever of my students, because to me it doesn't matter.

how they did in their course last year, how they did in grade 10 science, for example, I am getting so much information from mastery based learning about where my students are at what supports they need, what scaffolds they need and you're right. Like that individual information about every single student.

It, it just becomes so apparent with mastery based learning and. so, yeah, like I I'm seeing it as well in my classroom.

[00:04:38] Katie: The other thing that I think has triggered this, you know, leaving behind whatever past, et cetera, is the fact that we're in a new student information system and you can't look up past grades, which is glorious. But also the way that the attendance is set up, because we have mixed level classes. it's more complex to figure out who's in what course code.

And so I approached it as, I don't know what class you're supposed to be in. So I'm just gonna get to know you and figure out where I think you are. And then that way I can gear each of the different strands towards where you're at individually. So while I may not like our new student information system very much right now I think it actually helped me to, it forced me to really change my focus.

[00:05:23] Rachel: I also have an ESL science course and yeah. So our student information system, like it's driving me nuts too, because I can't even see what step levels my students are at, but working with them and working through this mastery based learning.

I'm seeing where they're at. I'm seeing where their strengths are.

You know, some, some of my students have really strong oral skills, but then their writing skills are gonna need a lot of work. And so it it's almost like I, I. , I don't necessarily need to see all that information. I would love to see that information at some point, hopefully it, you know, gets fixed and stuff like that, but I'm really learning who my learners are and where their strengths are and where their areas of improvement need to be.

[00:06:09] Katie: Yeah. And it's, I'm not gonna lie. It's kind of exciting to have you join the ESL world this year.

[00:06:14] Rachel: it's, it's been really eye opening. Let's put it that way. It's been very eye opening. I thought it was really prepared for it. And , it's been, it's been a learning curve the, the first couple weeks, which is fine, you know, I, I created all this stuff. All these resources. I try to include as many scaffolds for all different things.

And then I'm realizing that, you know, some of it's still a bit too complicated in terms of the way I'm setting things up. 

So, you know, I've been tweaking as I'm going and kind of pairing things down or uh, changing some of the language, you know, based on the learners. I have, like, it's been a lot of tweaking on the spot really.

We're also still kind of getting into the routines of mastery based learning. So, you know, my students, some of my students don't necessarily know like, Hey, I need to do task number one, which is watch the video first and take the note first and then do the practice and then try the mastery check. So I have a lot that are actually just, oh, look, there's a, a mastery check.

It's a quiz. It's digital. I'm just gonna go and do that. Right because you know, the mindset on marks, I guess, is there uh, so it's like, we're, we're learning the routines and uh, it's definitely been a, a learning experience.

[00:07:38] Katie: Yeah, but I love that you're open to that and that you recognize, Hey, it's still a little too complex. Let's see how we can shift it. So that's, you're approaching it with the right mindset.

[00:07:49] Rachel: Yeah. I'm winging it basically at this point.

[00:07:53] Katie: uh, So another thing that I've really liked about kind of this shift in how we're programming I'm finding that there's richer connections among students and not just in first language groups and some of the stronger students I find. Are naturally kind of gravitating towards supporting those who are, you know, have a little less language and it's kind of fun to watch.

I'm really enjoying it.

[00:08:19] Rachel: it is, I'm seeing some of those natural sort of collaborations happening in my ESL science as well. And you're right. Like it's, it's not just students with the same first language

that are working together. I'm seeing it in all of my classes though, as well. And it's, it's really cool. Like I'm doing mastery based learning with my.

year one, HL chemistry. So that's an IB course and just the, the, the level of engagement, the level of collaboration. Outstanding. We've been doing nomenclature all week. And so, you know, like that's, it's hard, it's, it's essentially learning another language. It's like learning the language of how to speak chemistry 

and you can, you can hear them in little pockets and they're quizzing each other and they're testing each other and then they're coming and trying their mastery checks.

And you know, they're not all successful on the first time, but. It's okay. Right.

Because when they do experience that success, you can see their faces light up and, and they just get so excited and then they they're running to like go on to the next lesson. So I would say for me, the level of engagement is what I'm really seeing.

Like I am seeing students truly, truly engaged in what they're working. so much so that I had a student the other day, who, you know, is, is a little bit behind pace, which is okay, because we all learn at different paces and he didn't pass the mastery check in class. And he said to me, you know, he he's like Dr.

J, can I come during lunch? because I wanna try again before the weekend. I'm like, okay. Yeah, you can, you can come if you want. And he came during his lunch period. He's like, I'm gonna review for a bit in the hallway first and then. We had a conversation in the hallway after I've, I've decided one of my procedures or policies or whatnot is if you're attempting a mastery check for like a third time, or I think this was even his fourth time, cuz it was a really hard topic that I have to verbally quiz you first, before you can attempt it.

Cuz I wanna make sure you're ready for it. I don't want my students constantly failing. . And so I, I was verbally quizzing him out in the hallway and stuff, and so we decided he was ready to try it and he passed it and just his face lit up. Like, I don't know, like a Christmas tree. He was so excited.

[00:10:47] Katie: that is amazing, so you're mentioning mastery checks. Let's talk digital versus paper. What's working best for you.

[00:10:55] Rachel: Okay. Might be controversial, but I absolutely despise digital mastery checks. I have learned that in the first few weeks of school, I do not like 'em because one, my students are sometimes attempting them before even doing any of the other work and okay, fine. I could set it up in bright space so that they have to at least.

Do like watch the video or, or at least access the instructions and stuff like that before the quiz appears, but that's still not going to guarantee they're doing the work.

I feel like, like with the paper based mastery checks, it's a little bit more of a formal process. Like it's. It almost takes it up a level, a little notch.

Like there's a little bit of stress there, but it's not super high stress or super high stakes, but the students are coming to me, you know, sitting down at the lab, benches, sitting down with their mastery check, which I printed on all different color paper. And I think that is a fantastic tip, but just having that formality.

Really? I don't know. It, it gives it something extra.

[00:12:07] Katie: I could see that. I could see how it adds that like gravity to it to say, Hey, I have to put in the work. And then I have to show my teacher that I know 

I've learned it. 

I, I could see that.

[00:12:17] Rachel: Yeah. So we, we built a lot of digital mastery checks for our grade nine course for our first unit, because a lot of them are. kind of topics where it's just, we want, we wanna check in, but it's not super content kind of heavy. So, you know, it, it, we thought it made sense with a digital mastery check, but knowing this now and knowing how I feel about it, I'm definitely turning those ones into paper based the next semester that we run this course, cuz I, I think it's just, like I said, it, it adds that level.

It's also a tracking nightmare.

[00:12:52] Katie: I could see that. Cuz then you have to go back and navigate, you know, whatever folders cetera goes to and then go from there. Whereas paper it's tangible. It's in your hand, you can 

feel it. You can mark it quickly and move on.

[00:13:07] Rachel: And you know me, right. Like I love digital stuff. I'm I, I live in the digital world, but.

[00:13:13] Katie: I see the disappointed look on your 


right now.

[00:13:16] Rachel: I uh, I am, I am drawing a line in the sand. I do not like digital mastery checks. I I'll use them very, very sparingly.

I think I have, you know, maybe one for my next unit, for my grade 11 class, because it's, it's a multiple choice kind of thing.

So, but I, I do not like digital mastery check.

[00:13:37] Katie: that's good to know because as I continue to develop mine, I am going to just transfer them to paper. Cuz I, I struggle because. A lot of my lower level students. Like if they're lower on that continuum, they just translate the whole page on a computer. And then I'm like, well, you're not learning and it's harder to police.

And so I have this struggle in my head of how do I get them to understand they need to keep it in English. And then cuz we're an English class. I need to know your English skills. If you're doing a mastery.

[00:14:07] Rachel: And I'm noticing that my ESL science course too, they'll have the page, you know, the digital mastery check if it's a quiz in bright space, or if it's a Google form. Well, I think a Google format will translate. They can set it to translate for them. Right. But then with the bright space ones, they're taking pictures of it.

And then I don't know what app they're using, but essentially it's translating all the words for them, which is great. Like it's. It, it allows them to make some associations, but you said, we also want


uh, we want the English progression. Right. And so if they're constantly translating everything, I don't know.

I think there's a fine line, right? Like there's a, there's a good balance 

that you need to try and achieve there.

[00:14:53] Katie: yeah, like I think translators are okay sometimes,

but. when it comes down to it, we don't wanna create this dependence on it because then they don't know how to overcome the obstacle of language. Like they're not developing those skills. So it is a fine line. I think. You're right.

[00:15:10] Rachel: yeah. It, it definitely is. So, yeah. So going forward all paper based. As I said previously, the other golden tip that I learned from modern classrooms project that I've started using is printing each lessons, mastery check on a different color paper. And that has been wonderful as well. So if a student's coming up to me and saying, yeah, I wanna do.

Lesson 1.4, I'm like, okay, that's the yellow paper. And so it's easy for me to find it's easy for me to sort at the end of class too. Like sometimes I'll get a flurry of them at the end of class and I'll be like, okay, I can't obviously assess them right now. I'm gonna assess them after class, but I can sort them all and then go through and assess them really, really quickly.

[00:16:00] Katie: And then I guess that makes it easy to track on a spreadsheet, cuz then you could do like that activity could be colored. That color, you know, that column. And then that way you can see who's done what and match it to whatever you have going.

[00:16:15] Rachel: I hadn't thought about that, but let's talk trackers because that's the other thing that I have discovered. I have very strong feelings about

[00:16:22] Katie: And I'm lost on trackers because I'm trying to navigate too much all at once. So 

I'd love to hear what you're thinking.

[00:16:28] Rachel: Last year when I was doing all of my coaching work I worked with a, a few different teachers who we sort of developed this tracker, where students go in and they're tracking themselves.

So we would have each of the tasks within a lesson, and then they could go and say, they're working on it. They're revising it. Or they finished. and so I'm like, okay, great. This tracker had a lot of success. It's less work on me. So I set it up for my classes, started using it for the first couple weeks, actually the first week.

And then I realized what I was ending, ending up doing was creating my own sort of little spreadsheet tracker because I wanted to know where the students were and they weren't. And I know we could go through the routines right. Of. Updating the pacing tracker every day and stuff like that, but I still wanted a place for myself to track it.

And so I sort of had this realization of why do I have two of them then? so I went to modern classrooms. I got their auto updating pacing tracker and I love it. Like it is, it has a million different formulas built into it in spreadsheets. If it breaks, sometimes it's, it's hard to figure out where it breaks.

So that's kind of one caveat, right? If you were going to use that one, but it is so good because you can put in all the kids' names. you put in each of your lessons, the classifications, and then you have one sheet where you're just marking off an X for mastered and R if they're revising or an O if it's optional, like they could skip it kind of deal.

and then it auto populates a bunch of other tabs. So it has one where it's just, you know, it's got the lessons across the top and then the kids' names underneath. And then it has one, that's a bit more detailed in terms of having the kids, what they should be working on, whether you know, where their pace is and then a whole bunch of columns.

But It's great. So I take the, the simpler kind of tracker. I publish that, just that sheet to the web. And then I paste and, and link that into my bright space. And I'm finding that just by putting up that public tracker at the beginning of class is um, I don't know, kicking, kicking some of my kids into action because they're like, oh no, miss I did that.

You know, that lesson 1.2, I did it. So move me ahead on the tracker. Right? Like they get really motivated just by seeing this tracker up there. And so, you know, I can have those conversations with them and stuff like that.

[00:19:06] Katie: nice.

[00:19:07] Rachel: So I have strong feelings as well about trackers.

[00:19:11] Katie: Yeah. And um, I struggle because we're kind of, co-teaching in some areas and I'm like, do we have one tracker for all students? Or do we divide them into just like how they are on attendance? I think we do how they are on attendance, but I don't know because then if we have to update and I need to see how the others are doing with reading, for example, then I need access to all.

[00:19:33] Rachel: Yeah, that that's tricky. Cuz how many students do you have?

[00:19:37] Katie: I think we're at about 50 right now.

[00:19:41] Rachel: Yeah. So 50 is not nice to see on a pacing tracker, especially if you're like, cuz it would be hard for the kids to find their names in within 50. But I could see you setting up that auto pacing tracker and you could have. Four different pacing, trackers one for each of your strands. And that I think would work really nicely.

And then you could have all the lessons across the top

[00:20:04] Katie: Yeah.

[00:20:04] Rachel: But I still might divide it up by attendance, just so that the number of students you have on there 

makes it a little bit easier for them to find themselves.

[00:20:13] Katie: Yeah. And then just teachers have access to it all. And then we show it at the beginning. So each of the kids sees where they're at and then if we're mixing classes and cohorts, they still know what they need to do.

[00:20:24] Rachel: yeah, you can have it all linked to your Brightspace page and it it's easy access that 

way. Yeah. So pacing, trackers.

[00:20:33] Katie: mm-hmm let's talk. Okay. So my steep learning curve right now is the amount of time it's taking me to create the slide deck because I'm using like animations and lots of images and all the rest and is overwhelming.

[00:20:49] Rachel: It is overwhelming. I agree. And I think you're, at least you're lucky you're working with your team, right? So everyone's working on different videos and you're building the resources together. I feel like that's like the way to survive the first year of implementing a model like this at all.

[00:21:10] Katie: I could not imagine doing this on my own.

It is so much.

[00:21:13] Rachel: now I am building say like my chemistry course, I'm building that on my own, but the caveat there is that I've been flipping that classroom. And, and I taught it online for so many years that I have all the videos or most of the videos. So I'm recording one here or there to kind of fill in gaps of places where maybe I didn't have a video for that topic.

so that's really nice. And I'm even able to take some of the videos I recorded before. So I would do like bigger kind of longer lessons in some of them throw 'em into ed puzzle and then just like chop out the bits I want. Which is really nice, so I don't have to even rerecord stuff. So that's been really helpful.

And then for grade nine science, we're doing the same as a team. We're all kind of building a few lessons each and then building the slide decks and each recording our own video. So if for example, we don't have time. To recording our own version of that. We can use the other persons who's recorded it.

And I think that's fine for this year.

[00:22:19] Katie: Yeah, no, I think that works. And then, I mean, you're just tweak as you go. It's just like, I think this initial year is going to be tough because we're planning a whole year program versus just one semester. So I think this year will be a bit tough, but then I think it'll get easier for future.

[00:22:37] Rachel: It'll definitely get easier for future years. Cuz you'll have that bank of resources. Like my chemistry course is pretty easy to put together because I have all the resources it's just kind of like laying it out, setting it up and essentially I'm spending most of my time creating mastery checks. and even then I'm taking questions from old quizzes and old tests and, and pulling those in to create my mastery check.


it's really reorganizing things and 

that's about it. 

[00:23:07] Katie: And I do have materials where I have had activities and I'm like, I'm gonna make that shorter and use this part for a mastery, cuz I think that works well. So there is something to be said about, you know, using what you have and just tweaking it.

[00:23:20] Rachel: I think another thing that's, that's kind of come up, which I heard on another podcast episode, and I can't remember which podcast I listened to. So I apologize for not giving credit to this, but I created a template slide deck. , that I'm using for my set of instructions. And so building those instructions for each lesson, kind of like a hyper doc, but it is a template.

So I can just copy that and then pop in all the information for that particular lesson. So I have a main slide with like the lesson title and the learning goals. for my grade nines, especially I have a second slide. That's lesson vocabulary. So I list out all the words that they may or may not know that are sort of like science specific and related to that particular lesson so that they can go through and like look them all up before they actually watch the video.

And then um, I have just a bunch of slides set up for ones that are. Here's a video to watch. I have ones that are set up for practice. I have ones that are set up for collaboration, activities. I have a slide for a whole group activity. I have slides for mastery checks and, and I've color coded them all.

So. anything of my must. Dos is in red. Anything of my should dos is in yellow. Anything of my aspire todos is green, so constantly color coding things. So my students know what to kind of look for. And I think having those templates and , and the point I'm trying to make here is that that's reducing the amount of thinking I have to do to put together a lesson, cuz I don't have to think about, well.

Slide template. Do I wanna use, how do I wanna make it look, how am I going to lay this out? Because I'm constantly using the same one and over again.

[00:25:10] Katie: nice. Yeah, I like that. We, we also contemplated using like those notebook style slides and individually populating them for like, if I have a step one to one will put in the links for 

individual for that student and then each student will have their own kind of notebook to work through.

With all the links kind of built 

[00:25:31] Rachel: I'm happy to share it with all of our listeners. So I'll stick a link in our show notes for you. If you wanna take a look at my lesson template, if you wanna use it, go ahead. I don't know if it'll be helpful, but yeah. Happy to share.

[00:25:43] Katie: that's amazing.

[00:25:44] Rachel: I also have similar kind of templates for setting up my mastery checks. So I'm, I'm always copying those documents and then just populating the information I need in there as well. Yeah, like templating as much as you can, I think really does help with some of that time


[00:26:00] Katie: You need that. Yeah.

[00:26:01] Rachel: but yeah, I love it. I, I love teaching this way. I feel like this is the way I was meant to teach.

[00:26:09] Katie: Yeah, I feel like this is far more effective. I I'm really optimistic about, the results and getting students more engaged with English and. Even the conversational piece and interacting with more people and getting them in the school community more like I'm, I'm really hopeful that we're going to see some big changes in our school culture and 

how accepted our crew is.

[00:26:32] Rachel: And I also, I, I just really love the it's almost like a shifting culture in my classroom, so there's it, it's focused on learning. And you can, you can tell, you can sense that it's focused on learning because I haven't had those grading conversations that I normally have in the first couple weeks of school, you know, especially an IB chemistry course where the students are very.

set on what their grade is going to be, how to get a level seven, you know, they they're, they're pretty obsessed with grades. And I have yet to ask, have a student ask me how to get a level seven in my course, which has just completely blown me away.

[00:27:15] Katie: Yeah, 

that is 


[00:27:19] Rachel: you know, and any, any time I, I, they have those questions about grades, you know, I've, I've got a few, so that they'll ask me like, oh, is this mastery check for grades?

And I always flip the conversation into, we are focused on learning in, in this classroom. And so my goal for you is to master the content in this course. So you can be successful. As you move on. And um, just constantly flipping the conversation away from grades has been amazing 


[00:27:47] Katie: and I love the ownership. It puts on the students

Because I find it's more motivating when they can take ownership, especially in ESL where like, if they can demonstrate that they're at the next step level. then we can continue to push them to continue to move that along that continuum. 

But like it, it's great to kind of see them more engaged and motivated.

[00:28:07] Rachel: Yeah. It, the, this model and this way of teaching definitely builds in that intrinsic motivation just naturally you can see it in your students. There are a few in my chemistry class that I, I would say, you know, in a traditional. kind of one and done type of class, they would already be left behind.

They wouldn't have a good understanding of nomenclature because you know, it'd be, here's the lesson, here's the practice, you know, we did a quiz, you failed it, but, oh, well, we're moving on,

but I have not allowed that. Like I am, it's an equitable way of teaching

is what it, it comes down to because. I believe that all of my students, like I truly believe all of my students can master this material in the time that they need to do it and that they will, you know, my hope is they're all at a level seven by the end of the 


And I think they, they will be,

I think my marks will be really high, but they're not high because of anything, you know, that I'm skewing or, or doing it's because they're putting in the work.

[00:29:14] Katie: I think you just summed up 




want to hear and see

[00:29:20] Rachel: Yes. I agree. Let's wrap it up here. I, I think we could talk forever about this topic, but we'll come back to it obviously in, in future podcast episodes. 

So, what we'll do is we'll include any of the links or resources we talked about here today. In our show notes, you can access our show notes for this episode at edugals.com slash 1 0 3 that's EDU, G a L s.com/ 1 0 3.

[00:29:48] Katie: And if you like what you heard, then feel free to share it with a colleague or a friend. And don't forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast app so that you don't miss out on any future content.

[00:29:57] Rachel: And as always, we'd love to hear from you. So if you have ideas for podcast episodes, or if you have thoughts on mastery based learning. Go ahead onto our flip at EDU gals.com/flipgrid. And leave us a video message there. you can go onto our website at edugals.com and leave us a written or reply.

[00:30:19] Katie: thank you for listening and see you next week.