Schools closed. Remote learning. Exhausted teachers. The pandemic has had a huge impact on schools around the world. Perhaps the biggest issue we face now and going forward is the impact of learning loss and learning gaps caused by the pandemic. According to a paper by Libby Pier and others, they reached two key conclusions about the results of the pandemic on education:
They summarized it in the graph below:
The big question is how do we teach in light of the growing learning loss, especially with some of our most vulnerable students. Is there a way that we can reach students of a wide variety of ability levels in the same classroom? How can we catch students up? How can we work with such a wide range of comprehension and mastery?
Semi-Asynchronous Mastery Learning
In 2012 I co-wrote the book, Flip Your Classroom with Aaron Sams. In the second half of the book, we talked about how we merged Flipped Learning with Mastery Learning and dubbed it Flipped-Mastery Learning. Since that time, thousands of teachers worldwide have implemented the Flipped-Mastery model with great success. Though it has many iterations, the basics of it remain the same.
Mastery Learning isn’t a new concept. Doctors have to pass the Board Exam, lawyers the Bar Exam, and most of us took a driver’s test. All of these are examples of mastery learning. But how can the average teacher implement this when they teach 30 students per class and six classes a day? What overwhelms most isn’t the concept of mastery; it is the logistics of implementing it on a day-by-day basis.
Managing 30 students all at slightly different places in the curriculum seems impossible. You might ask:
A Little Background on Mastery Learning — The 2-Sigma Problem
Did you know that Benjamin Bloom of Bloom’s Taxonomy fame spent a large portion of his career showing that mastery learning worked and advocated for its adoption? In 1984, he wrote an article in Educational Researcher entitled The 2-Sigma Problem: Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring. He cited studies that compared student achievement under “conventional teaching,” mastery learning, and one-to-one tutoring. The research indicates that one-to-one tutoring produces a two standard deviation improvement in student achievement (see his graph below).
The paper is essentially a challenge to the educational world to find a teaching method that is as effective as one-to-one tutoring. He further states:
If the research on the 2-sigma problem yields practical methods (methods that the average teacher or school faculty can learn in a brief period of time and use with little more cost or time than conventional instruction), it would be an educational contribution of the greatest magnitude. It would change popular notions about human potential and would have significant effects on what the schools can and should do with the educational years each society requires of its young people.”
It’s as if he was challenging us to find the educational holy grail. In the intervening 30+ years, nobody has found the grail — or have we?
If I may be so bold — the method that Bloom was looking for is Flipped Mastery. It marries mastery learning with one-on-one instruction. It allows teachers to get quality one-on-one and one-on-small group time that genuinely works.
What does Flipped Mastery look like?
By now, I hope you are at least intrigued. How does a 2-Sigma class look? What are the essential elements? The best way to understand this model would be for you to visit a Flipped-Mastery classroom. In lieu of that, let me try and describe what you would see.
This brief introduction to the Flipped-Mastery model might feel a bit overwhelming. It is easy for me to say that all of the above things happen. But I imagine that you are wondering about HOW to do each of these tasks… no worries. This is the first in a series of articles where I will flesh out the bullets above. I will also share how this works in a wide variety of classroom settings. From elementary to middle and high schools. From science classes like mine to history and language classes. We will also address how this looks in remote or hybrid classrooms.
Note: I wrote this piece for IntrepidNews.com and you can find the original story here