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How do we Know When Students Show Mastery?

Today, did my students learn? If not, why not? 

These are hard questions we must always ask ourselves and any good Principal should also ask: Are you providing students with what they need or just what they want? Are the students engaged? (For how to better ourselves, see “Always Actions” post.) We always need to be creating and refreshing strategies to help students.

Because, our primary purpose is to engage students to learn.

Let this sink in: Research of John Hattie says: “Simply tell students what they will be learning before the lesson begins and you can raise student achievement as much as 27 percent.”

How do we know when our students have the skills down at a deeper level?

To gain a comprehensive knowledge of the lesson so that our students are “owners,” they need to have taken an ownership into the lesson and not just trying to get through it as fast as they can. A student will show a “mastery,” such as able to understand the skill, be able to perform a sequence of tasks unaided or answering 80 percent of a test on the lesson (if the test is properly aligned to the lesson). If they are not in the mastery category, then they will show frustration. This can be inferred from a teacher’s observation or formative assessments of the students’ performance on how they know and respond to the criteria of the concept, skill, or subject of the lesson.

Basically, when the student is confident enough to properly teach it to a peer, or do a presentation, then they have it down, this is mastery.

The Importance of Objectives for Student Mastery

Learning Objectives helps the teacher be efficient and will be the path to mastery. These give the purpose of what the student will be learning. This serves as the foundation and the heart of our lesson plans. Good Objectives show what is expected of the student and deliver the measures for evaluating student achievement. And for the student, this shows them how they can succeed. In this way,the learning is focused, and students have the direction to stay on task. As research states, when students will know what is expected of them and what they are to learn, which will significantly increase the ability of the students to learn.       

How to Increase Student Mastery  

Here are a few ideas I use that work. Try these suggestions below like “Think-Pair-Share,” and ask students to reflect… These work great for all grades:

  • Have clear learning objectives: Students will improve academically, and behavior problems will significantly decrease.
  • Give clear expectations and post them: Engagement and feedback are key factors to success in the classroom. Clear expectations should be conveyed, and students should be challenged to step up to higher thinking and engagement.
  • Reflecting questions: Ask students to reflect on the day’s lesson and the important concepts. They can write down what they have learned or orally report. Then, ask them how they would apply this concept or skill in a practical situation. I do this with High School math too.
  • Think-pair-share:  This is a collaborative learning strategy where students work together in small groups of 3-4 to solve a problem or answer a question or work on a PBL (Project Based Learning). This allows them to think about the question or task more deeply with discussion. This is aided from comparing thoughts before sharing with the whole class.
  • 3-2-1: This can be used as a class activity or an exit ticket. This allows students to contemplate on what they have learned by responding to the following questions at the end of the lesson: 3 things they learned from the lesson; 2 things they want to know more about; and 1 question they have. This promotes student deliberation on the lesson and helps to process the learning and gives valuable feedback to the teacher.

Mike Hughes summarizes the following indicators that might mean learning is taking place. Children are:

  • Explaining something in their own words.
  • Asking questions.
  • Making connections.
  • Recreating (rather than reproducing) information.
  • Justifying their decisions.
  • Explaining their thinking.
  • Talking to each other.
  • Active – doing something with the information.
  • Reflecting at a conscious level.
  • Offering analogies and metaphors of their own: Oh I get it – it’s a bit like…
  • Re-drafting, revising, re-thinking and so on.
  • Frowning (the penny is stuck) … and then smiling (as the penny drops).

When we promote an effectual learning environment, then our students will be more focused and engaged. They will be taking an ownership of learning. This can only come about when we create a culture of cooperation. That is, students need to know we have rules, yet we care. We teach with enthusiasm and show we want to be there. We need to listen to our students. We need to be using scaffolding that gives students the opportunity to take on deeper learning targets. Then we can effectively use small groups that provide to them opportunities to listen, reflect, and engage in learning conversations with each other.

Teacher tip, to be an exceptional teacher, give students a scoring guide or rubric to assess their learning and you can raise student achievement as much as 37 percent!

So, scaffolding, positive feedback from the teacher and feedback from the student, as we care and they will share, this all helps create the effective learning atmosphere. Then, our students will be more engaged, confident, and able to be successful. Our role as a teacher is to help our students develop skills of higher order thinking, collaboration, communication and application. Helping them through the scaffolding and tapping into prior knowledge will help them develop new skills and solve new problems. 

More helps:

Dr. Richard Krejcir is an Author, Researcher, seasoned Special Education teacher and the Director of a nonprofit that does educational training in third-world countries. He is also a STEAM teacher and a father of a son with autism.

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