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Introducing mastery learning to students

Fundamentally, mastery learning encourages all students to learn at their own pace as they master skills and progress toward learning goals. To some students, this idea may feel different—very different—from previous learning experiences. One of the key messages to share with students is that mastery learning will help them focus on the unique skills they each need to be successful and to deeply understand concepts, rather than just moving through concepts.
The goal is to help them be the best students they can be, and it’s ok if the process looks different for each student: the goal is to help each individual be the best students they can be.

Provide relevant examples

Some teachers recommend providing students with common examples of mastery learning that occur in their daily lives, such as learning to walk, drive, or tie their shoes. Choose a skill that is relevant to your students—you know them best! The common trend among these examples is that they are real-life activities that most people do not succeed at on their first attempt. Rather, people master these skills after trying, failing, receiving feedback, and putting in hard work to eventually reach success. There is opportunity in failing first, learning from failure, and earning the success of walking, driving, or tying your shoes.
Many teachers encourage sharing a story from your own life in which failure and productive struggle eventually led to success. Or, you can use an example of a well-known figure who struggled before reaching success, like this video of John Legend.
Khan Academy video wrapper
Begin Weekly Activity #2See video transcript
If you’re looking for a student-friendly overview to mastery learning try this video, which is also included in this lesson.

Integrate growth mindset

Many teachers encourage integrating growth mindset activities to help students better embrace the idea that they are capable of learning. Growth mindset reminds students that their abilities can be improved with continued effort. This video, How to grow my brain, can be particularly powerful, especially for students who may think that they’re not “naturally smart.”
Khan Academy video wrapper
How to grow my brainSee video transcript
Khan Academy has a selection of growth mindset resources designed to jump-start learning by helping students understand how their brains work and how they can better set themselves up for success. This includes two full growth mindset curricula - one designed for elementary/middle school students and one designed for high school students - with experts from PERTS, a Stanford-based research group. These resources also include a series of teacher-focused videos to support the implementation of growth mindset activities with students.

Provide consistent feedback and support

Transitioning to a mastery learning environment can prove challenging for many students. Providing clear, consistent feedback on what students are doing well and how they can improve their skills is essential. Take time to share common misconceptions with the entire class or small groups, and provide opportunities for students to support each other as they work through shared struggles and understandings. Reinforce problem-solving strategies with students that support their development of skills like persistence and collaboration.
Also, be sure to recognize moments of progress—not just high scores. Take time to recognize students who saw success after many attempts (the Assignment responses report can help with this) or students who spend additional time studying videos and articles to better understand a skill before re-attempting an exercise (you can use the Activity overview report to monitor class and individual student time and skill progress).
If you only remember one thing, remember this: you and your students can learn anything!

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