Progressive teachers for decades (perhaps centuries!) have long advocated for deemphasizing grades, developing various methods for re-learning concepts & skills, and providing students multiple opportunities to demonstrate learning.
These ideas have found a renaissance of sorts with the the recent movement towards standards based grading, mastery learning, competency based learning, and allowing students to submit assignments late without penalty.
I am an advocate for being flexible in how students learn and demonstrate their learning, but doing so has raised a number of practical and philosophical issues:
- Personalized learning helps meet students where they are at. However, at what point does a class become too individualized? How do we balance personalization with shared experiences like whole-class discussions, debates, and simulations that are critical for building community?
- Students learn at different rates. Can we expect all students to master the same number of objectives in a defined learning period? Should some objectives be required and others be for enrichment? What does it really mean to hold high expectations for all? Are some objectives (or some courses) more important than others? Who decides?
- Define a learning period. A class period? A week? A unit? A semester? If we truly implement mastery learning, should teachers or students move on to the next lesson, unit or class even though some students haven’t mastered some of the objectives? What percentage of objectives or students? What level of evidence is required to demonstrate “mastery”? Should a student be asked to stay in a course until they demonstrate mastery of the required objectives even if stretches into the summer or next school year? Should all students be required to stay in a course for a full term even if they demonstrate mastery of the required objectives sooner?
- Mastery learning & teachers’ sanity. How do teachers manage providing multiple opportunities for assessments to different students at different times? Should teachers have firm deadlines after which they will no longer will accept work or re-takes? Do schools’ grading policies push them to do so? To what degree is it the teacher’s responsibility to ensure all students master required objectives? To what degree is it the students’ responsibility?
These are some of the questions I’m grappling with as I try to emphasize feedback & mastery instead of learning for a grade in the courses I teach and with teachers I coach. I look forward to reading about, thinking about and discussing these questions further and share my reflections with you.
Arpan, I love it when teachers generate more questions then answers!! These questions- perhaps taken one at a time – will be excellent catalysts for much-needed discussions. Keep asking them, and keep tweaking where you can. We’re all in it for the students’ learning!
Thanks for your encouragement Joy! I’m really excited about the work your book Shift This and the conversations its inspiring. I look forward to reading it soon. I plan to explore each set of questions I listed in my post and share my thoughts throughout the year. However, I know I’ll be grappling with some of these questions for my entire teaching career.