Kiera McDonnell – Lead Practitioner for Maths
What is Mastery?
More traditional teaching methods assign a set amount of time for coverage of certain topics. However, over the past decade, theory has made a notable move away from teaching to a time constraint, to varying the time to ensure that pupils are confident and proficient in the outcomes and objectives before moving on to new content. To summarise, there is a far greater emphasis upon depth of understanding rather than a thin breadth of understanding.
The Mastery approach, first proposed by Benjamin Bloom in 1968, considers the critical links that pupils must make in their learning and that without certain concepts and processes true understanding is not possible. It would be unrealistic to think that a student could understand division without a deep understanding of multiplication. If the bedrock of understanding is not secure, any additional content or learning will not be either.
Mastery is less effective if high prior attaining students are accelerated through the curriculum, thus widening the attainment gap. Stretch and challenge are, instead, achieved through deep questioning, both by the teacher and by the student, and a demand for greater precision. In the same way, support is provided through strategies such as varied and multiple representations. Promoting a growth mindset mentality, the Mastery approach is built upon the belief that all students can reach a desired outcome with the right support.
How effective is it?
Due to the targeted and individualised nature of this teaching and learning approach, research clearly shows that Mastery has a very positive effect on student learning. Studies also show that, not only has there been a positive impact on attainment but that student enjoyment, confidence and sense of achievement is also augmented; this student confidence and enjoyment is also transferred to other school learning. The impact of Mastery as a Teaching and Learning strategy has also been found to be particularly effective when pupils work collaboratively, either in pairs or small groups. Learning from peers and supporting classmates in their learning not only improves cognitive understanding but, again, can also increase overall enjoyment. Finally, research evidence also shows that the process yields improvements in students’ confidence in learning situations, school attendance rates, involvement in class sessions and attitudes toward learning.
What are the implications for day-to-day practice?
Moving towards a more Mastery based approach in your classroom clearly requires planning. The need for continual, meaningful in-class feedback in order to effectively respond to the particular needs of your pupils is key. The provision of additional and alternative representation and models, alongside deep questions and problem-solving tasks that challenge students’ understanding, all require rigorous and careful planning. However, through implementing these strategies and introducing the idea of Mastery to your students you have the potential to instil in them the belief that they are capable of learning, and learning well, which, in turn will support them in their journey to reaching their full potential at school and beyond.