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Competency Based Learning: How Flipped Mastery Makes CBL Possible

During the 2007-2008 school year, Aaron Sams and I pioneered the flipped class model of education. Though the flipped class model proved to be an effective strategy in which we saw increases in student achievement and engagement, we only did the traditional flipped classroom for one year. Prior to our second semester of our first year flipping our class, a counselor approached to ask about enrolling a new student into my Chemistry class. When I asked what Chemistry the young lady had done in the past, the counselor replied, “None.” JonHelpingStudent2Since Chemistry is a subject which builds on itself, I was at first tempted to say no. But as I thought about it, I had a library of videos which this student could watch and she could work independently of the other students.  To my surprise, this student almost completed a year’s worth of Chemistry in one semester.  It was then that Aaron and I realized that each student did not need to be on the same page at the same time.  So we “invented” what we began to call the Flipped Mastery Model.

In 2011, a group of educators met at the Competency Based Learning Summit. (Read the Executive Summary HERE and the full report HERE). During that Summit, the leaders identified five key tenets of Competency Based Learning (CBL):

  1. Students advance upon mastery.
  2. Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
  3. Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
  4. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  5. Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

These five points resonate with me. They feel like what we should aspire to and move towards.  But when I put on my hat as a classroom teacher who teaches six classes a day, with 25-30 students in each class, I would say they are impractical and logistically impossible.  How can I manage 150 students who are advancing upon mastery?  I can’t have 150 kids each on a different place in the content. Differentiation on that scale is overwhelming.

However, when Aaron and I began using the Flipped Mastery Model, I realized that there is a way in which a regular teacher could manage this type of learning. It did not require wholesale change in the structure of the school. We were able to accomplish the five CBL goals within the confines of our six classes a day schedule.

TeacherHelpingStudentsMathTeacherHelpingStudentsMathteacherhelpingkidsWe wrote extensively about the Flipped Mastery Model in our 2012 book, Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day.  We spend the first half of the book describing why and how you should flip your class.  In the flipped class model, all students watch a short instructional video as homework, and then everyone does the same activity on the following day.

In the second half of the book we explain how we moved from the simple flipped class model to the Flipped Mastery model. As I reflect on that book now, I realize that our message about Flipped Mastery may have gotten lost.  There was such buzz and excitement about the the flipped classroom, that very few people were ready to take it to the next level.  Though I have spoken extensively around the world about the Flipped Classroom Model and to some extent the Flipped Mastery Model, I have found that most teachers are afraid of flipping their classes, let alone moving to Flipped Mastery. Managing students in different parts of content at the same time seems way out of control. And you know what?  It is!  But I can categorically say it is the best thing I ever did in my classroom. I have seen teachers all across the globe effectively implement Flipped Mastery.  I have also worked with teachers who tried it and gave up. For those that give up, I typically find it is due to one or more of the following:

  • Not planning for how to deal with students who take a longer time to master concepts
  • Not planning their competencies and objectives clearly
  • Not organizing their content into appropriate chunks
  • Not harnessing the power of technology to help with assessments
  • Creating an overly complex system of grading and assessment that overloads them with too much paperwork

The purpose of this post is not to give an extensive list of the procedures and logistics of the day to day running of a Flipped Mastery class. Aaron Sams and I have written extensively about this in our books. We have even devoted a chapter to the topic of mastery in each of our Flipped Subject Series books.  The series includes individual books about flipping Science, Math, Social Studies, English Language, and Elementary Instruction.  You can get more information about the series HERE.

So if you are looking for the practical steps on how to actually implement Competency Based Learning in your class or school, I encourage you to read (or re-read) the second half of Flip Your Classroom and pick up the appropriate subject book. I will also be following up this blog post with additional posts in which I highlight some top tips for implementing a Flipped Mastery program. Flipped Mastery (Competency) is truly a transformative teaching strategy and significantly helps students at all ability levels to achieve.

If you have implemented the Flipped Mastery Model, I would love to hear from you and have you share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below.