Why Come to School? Part 2
What is Mastery?
Director of Staff Development Rebecca Forchuk shares how the purpose of education has shifted. Foothills School Division has had to re-envision how we design and assess learning (read Why Come To School Part 1 for more information). In previous generations, education focused on knowledge and skills with a purpose to rank and sort students. Today, our goal is to ensure students can apply knowledge and skills to a variety of situations in order to develop personal excellence for ALL.
When we assess only knowledge, percentages can adequately report student achievement. Percentages tell you how many questions your child got correct or incorrect; however, percentages are not the most effective or accurate way to report on outcomes requiring deep learning or competencies, such as critical thinking, collaboration, and solving complex problems. To say someone “thinks critically to 86%” or “communicates at a 67%” does not make sense. It is not clear and provides no information about areas of strength, how to improve or next steps. This information is critical in the learning process if our goal is improvement. For these reasons, we shifted to categorical grading to report out academic achievement where the highest level of understanding is “Mastery”.
As we shift to balancing what we call surface learning and deep learning, categorical grading is meant to describe the levels to which students understand or demonstrate deep learning. For more information on the differences, visit: http://home.aubg.edu/faculty/isardamov/DeepSurfaceLearning.htm
At Foothills School Division, Mastery is achieved when students: “demonstrate exemplary academic achievement…[by showing] an in-depth understanding and insightful application of the learning in a variety of situations.” Sometimes it is easier to understand something by considering what it is NOT so let’s start with some misconceptions.
Mastery IS NOT:
1. …above grade level.
Mastery is intended to measure achievement for the grade level your child is currently in. Teachers do not assess grade levels above the one they are teaching. In order to be fair and accurate, Mastery should assess the current outcomes in relation to the grade level students are in. Although some students MAY be able to work at the next grade level, this should NEVER be an indicator of Mastery. Similarly, we have heard people make reference to experts in the field and claim that students cannot “master” or understand the level to which an expert does. This is true and thus, Mastery is not about showing the same level of understanding as an expert within the field. It is about the level of understanding in relation to the outcomes expected by Alberta Education for that grade level. Students are not very motivated to try and attain Mastery if the target is unattainable.
Mastery requires students to apply their knowledge and skills to a variety of situations. If we are giving tasks that only assess memorization of facts or ask students to restate what the teacher has said, we are not actually measuring how well students are able to apply those knowledge and skills to different situations.
Again, 100% may mean a student is at Mastery; however, it is not reliable indicator. If the assessment only measures knowledge or facts, we do not know if a student has an in-depth understanding of the content. For example, if a math test in Grade 4 or 5 requires students to answer 10 questions on long division, they may have memorized the steps and scored 9/10. 90% seems as though they understand division. However, they may not be able to use the processes in math to:
· explain what division means
· connect it to subtraction and multiplication
· reason how the algorithm works
· prove their answer makes sense
· explain when to use division and prove they can use it to solve complex problems.
These are all indicators of Mastery in division for Grade 4 or 5. So, going back to the example, even though the student may have scored 90% on the original test, they did not indicate an in-depth understanding of division. Therefore, 90-100% is not an indicator of Mastery.
I suppose this depends on what your interpretation of ‘subjective’ is. Mastery is more difficult to understand because it is not a matter of what questions are “right” or “wrong” and it is different from what we are used to as parents. However, to meet the needs of the 21st century learner, teachers should be designing learning with the end in mind to ensure consistency in grading. Teachers use the outcomes from the Alberta Program of Studies to indicate what students need to know, understand and be able to do. They consider the developmental ages of the students and what “in-depth, insightful” looks like and sounds like for the specific grade level. Teachers decide what is accepted evidence for in-depth understanding and insightful application of those outcomes.
It should be crystal clear to both teachers and students what students should say or do in order to demonstrate Mastery. It should not be “90-100%” on the test. Throughout the unit, teachers should share what success looks like, have students reflect on where they are, identify next steps to improve, provide effective feedback to students and allow them time to improve on previous performance. It should never be a surprise to students what is needed to attain Mastery. The criteria should be decided upon BEFORE the unit is taught and students should understand the criteria. Although not all students will achieve Mastery, all students should understand the differences between the achievement levels and identify what they need to do to progress towards Mastery.
Now that we have considered what Mastery is not, let’s explore what it is.
… an in-depth level of understanding or thinking.
…an insightful application of skills and knowledge to new situations.
Although each description may differ slightly depending on the subject’s outcomes and the task, here are some general guidelines that indicate what people can do when they understand:
· Draw useful inferences, make connections among facts, and explain their conclusions in their own words
· Apply their learning; that is, transfer it to new situations with appropriate flexibility and fluency
· Analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information and situations independently, not just recall prior teaching and recite information
· Take prior learning and use it effectively when confronted with new intellectual challenges and contexts where their knowledge, skill, and understanding are needed
Mastery is about identifying the levels or quality of the type of thinking. “For instance, one can describe at a very high and detailed level or at a superficial level” (Ritchhart et al, p. 7). Teachers need to identify the type of thinking required, the difference between the levels of thinking, and plan instruction accordingly. Some types of thinking found in the Alberta Program of Studies are:
· reasoning with evidence or thinking critically
· observing closely and describing what’s there
· building explanations, interpretations, hypothesis, generalizations
· making connections
· considering different viewpoints and perspectives
· capturing the heart, or big ideas, and forming conclusions
· wondering and asking questions
· uncovering complexities and going below the surface of thing
Taken from: Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making Thinking Visible. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
The following are two examples that describe a student achieving at the Mastery level:
Math Grade 1 Outcome:
Understand adding numbers with answers to 20 and related subtraction
A student who demonstrates Mastery will:
-Clearly explain what addition and subtraction means in their own words
-Make connections to real world and situations that require us to use adding and subtraction
-Clearly model adding and subtracting using objects and Base 10 blocks, pictures and equations and moving towards equations to be more efficient
-Explain, in their own words, similarities and differences between adding and subtracting
-Develop effective strategies to gain automaticity (quick recall) of facts; can take “numbers that aren’t nice and make them nice” in order to recall facts efficiently; will be able to show and explain the strategy they use
-Apply the most efficient counting strategy
-Use estimation strategies to recognize if answers make sense; realize the answer doesn’t make sense so change it accordingly
-Prove answers efficiently and explain how they know they are “right” in their own words; they may change solutions based on their proof
-Make judgements about most efficient strategy; is able to communicate and explain in their words why the strategy is efficient
-Solve, create, explain and verify thinking for high complexity problems for Gr. 1
-Defend their mathematic decisions using academic vocabulary
Language Arts Grade 7 Outcome: Responding to texts (an element of reading comprehension)
A student who demonstrates Mastery will:
- Persuasively justify their own point of view; use detailed evidence from what they are reading to support their point of view as well as connections from other books, movies or experiences
- Make convincing predictions; creating predictions using author’s clues like foreshadowing
- Convincingly capture the heart of the author’s message by expressing different interpretations of the story; use detailed evidence to support ideas
- Convincingly capture the heart of the author’s message about human nature by comparing the choices and behaviours of characters to self and other characters (either in real life or other books, movies, etc); easily consider how the choices impact the story and how changes in the story could lead to different messages
- Understand the fine details of plot and how the author makes intentional choices to connect all the elements together in order to impact the reader
- Perceptively develop, clarify and defend their own interpretation, based on evidence from the text with support from own experiences
As Foothills School Division moves forward with best practices in assessment and designing intellectually engaging learning, please keep in mind that FSD is responsive to changes in education, which means things may be different from schools in the past. We are on this journey together and continue to keep the best interest of students at the heart of everything we do to ensure they are well prepared for life beyond the walls of school.
Each learner entrusted to our care has unique gifts and abilities. It is our mission to find out what they are…Explore them…Develop them…Celebrate them!