Instructional Approach: A Mastery Learning Model for Teaching Academic Competence

Charles Arthur, Teacher/Administrator
Everybody Reads Program

The programs and methods being used in this project are based on a mastery model of learning. 19 The mastery learning model begins with the shared mission among teachers that all students will be successful in learning and in progressing towards a high level of academic competence. Along with this is the assumption (based on years of experimental research) that all children can learn and achieve basic and higher-order levels of proficiency in core academic subjects.

The most effective and efficient way to accomplish this mission is to present essential content in carefully crafted and delivered sequential lessons and activities. This means that learning is most effective for most children if it is incrementally and reasonably arranged from the simplest and easiest to the more difficult and complex. In this way, skills and knowledge are gradually accumulated into larger and more difficult composite tasks.

Effective sequencing and cumulative knowledge development are most likely to occur when students thoroughly master the materials all along the way. This enables students to successfully learn subsequent steps in a given sequence. Without mastery, students are faced with new learning while still having to learn what has previously been presented. This can quickly result in confusion. Mastery gives students a sense of success and competence right from the beginning. Students can be sure of what they know. Moreover, mastery learning has value beyond the immediate demands of sequential lessons. It builds learning skills, learning strategies and background knowledge that can accelerate future learning and intellectual performance in virtually any subject. With a firm foundation, a student's learning can then begin to accelerate, and the child can learn more within the given time. In contrast, learning only some aspects of content is actually mislearning and inefficient. This produces cumulative dysfluency as students increasingly have fewer and fewer skills needed to participate in and learn from more advanced instruction.

A tightly sequential mastery approach to instruction means using programs that are more direct than most other programs widely used. Rather than using a scattergun or shotgun approach to teaching, the approach is more like a laser-beam. The materials in this program are focused and explicitly teach specific learning objectives. All skills and knowledge needed to perform academic tasks are identified and explicitly taught.