Saturday, October 26, 2013

Flipped Mastery: Finding a Balance for Middle School Students

For my upcoming unit of Patterning and Algebra, I have decided to run the class on a Mastery Method. I have spent the past two weeks setting up the program, marking plan, support materials and just released it to the students this week. I was surprised to then see two articles posted this weekend, one from the New York Times and the other from David Wees which both made me reflect upon my methods and goals.

The New York Times article In 'Flipped' Classrooms, a Method for Mastery, Tina Rosenberg summarized the challenge of a traditional class room as "the teacher must aim the lecture at the middle, leaving the faster learners bored and the slower ones lost". I have enjoyed using a Challenge by Choice approach to differentiate my teaching for my students. They select the level of challenge and support that they would like when learning a new concept. The issue I was having with using this method was that I was dictating which concepts we were learning and when. Students still enjoyed selecting their level of challenge as they could move slower or faster depending on their personal needs at that time with that concept.

However, looking forward to our algebra unit, I know that my students are coming from a wide range of backgrounds, and some have already covered this material. Due to this I wanted to provide the Challenge by Choice teaching style, but also with the student selecting which concept they wanted to explore and when. My solution to doing this was to combine the Challenge by Choice with a Mastery Method of teaching.

To make this happen, I have broken down the unit concepts into small, understandable steps for my students, each with their personal copy. I took this idea from Dan Meyer after reading his post about his checklists for students to track their learning. Students are made aware of which concepts we will be exploring in the upcoming week via an email and announcement on Friday. If students want to, they can go to another document that outlines videos that I have made or found as well as practice questions about this topic. They can explore the concepts ahead of time, practice, and then come to class knowing what kind of support they would like to have (Green, Blue or Black). When I introduce the concept, students can then decide if they would like to explore the concept together, or if they would like to move ahead and explore an additional concept through online resources, in class activities or with peers. As stated in the Times article, putting this together has been almost having another job, but I know that by having the resources available will allow the students to move at their own pace.

The plan for tracking the students progress is through the use of Mastery Quizzes. Students will sign up each week and identify which mastery quiz they would like to complete. These are formative and they can take them as many times as they like. To be a master, they need to get 4/4 on the concept twice. Students track their progress on their concept check list sheet and I do the same in my notes. It is through these quizzes that students can show me that they already have understood a concept and so they do not need to be in the Green group with me, but can move ahead. If a student has not preformed a mastery quiz on that concept, they are indicating that they would like some support walking through the concept.

In the end, all the students will still write a signature assessment (test) displaying their understanding of the unit. The difference is that they can select how they progress from the start of the unit until the end, not having to move at the same pace.

David Wees made some valid points in his post that made me reflect on my plan to use online resources like Khan for students to practice.  David identified the following challenges of only using online assessments or learning tools when looking at its use at his son's school:
  • It did not measure his ability to explain his reasoning to others.
  • It did not ask him to show multiple solutions for finding his answer.
  • It did not present a meaningful context, and measure my son's ability to apply his understanding to that context.
  • It did not check to see if my son had gained any transferable understanding.
  • It did not allow my son to talk to peers about his solution.
I am going to keep David's comments in my head as I move forward. My goal is to ensure that those students that are moving ahead are also needing to think collaboratively and be challenged when in the Black or Blue groups. I will remember to think that online tools should be used as a way for them to track their own learning, but not as the way for them to display it. 

If you have any experience with a Mastery based program, I would love to hear or read about your experience and appreciate any advice you can give. 

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