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How to start a Mastery/Competency-Based Learning Class

Mastery Learning is hard work - really hard work! I believe that the most important part of having a successful Mastery Learning class is how it is structured and communicated to students. Students need to be bought into the idea, and they need to take ownership of their learning. 

This will mark my fourth year implementing mastery at my school. Even though I wrote the book on Mastery Learning, I still have room to grow and improve. 

Students Not Learning Well from Pre-Work

As I reflected on last year’s Mastery Learning, I realized there were a few things I needed to change. The most important issue is that many students were not taking the time to learn deeply from the independent-space learning objects. These were either videos or readings. My students might watch a video, but the quality of their notes and other learning objects was lacking. And for those students who tried just to get by, their level of mastery suffered. I feel a bit like a hypocrite as I teach others how do mastery well, and this is something I always emphasize. 

Because of this issue, I am going to change a few things.

  • Interactive Notebooks: I am going back to something I did many years ago. Students will create involved interactive notebooks. Since these notebooks are involved, just the process of creating them will help them to interact at a much deeper level.
  • Significant Accountability: The tool I used last year to host my pre-learning activities (readings and videos) wasn’t easy to determine who did and did not do the pre-work. So I plan to change my tool so that the pre-learning activities are better tracked. 
  • Starting Class Differently:  Recently, I talked with Dr. Helaine Marshall, a leader in the Flipped Learning world. She starts all her online classes with an interactive question tied to the pre-work from the night before. Students post responses to a prompt that is visible to all students. Students then look for themes and discuss trends and questions. Doing this will also increase the number of students who do the prework as those who have not done the work will clearly have little to add: There is Nothing like a little healthy peer pressure. 
  • Better Reflection at the End of Class: Dr. Marshall does something similar to the start of class with reflections at the end of class. I have done student reflections for several years and see great value in them. But I know that I will get better quality reflections. Dr. Marshall is also in the document, and if she sees students with shallow responses, she deletes them and tells students to try again. I will be doing this with my classes this year. 

A Window into My Class

I created a series of five videos to communicate how the class will operate to my students. These videos and activities should get them up and running for the school year. During the first few days of school (next week) we will learn how to learn in a mastery system.  I will have them:

  • Create their Interactive Notebook
  • Learn how to connect to all class resources
  • Watch and interact with the five videos on Mastery Learning. 
  • Give them practice on how to start and end each day.

Some of my other goals during the start of the year are:

  • Build Positive Relationships: I fundamentally believe that good teaching only happens in the context of positive relationships. So I have some time set aside to get to know students. In fact, one of the videos is a video about me and who I am. 


  • Get Curious About Science: I teach high school students, and sometimes by the time I get them, some have lost interest and curiosity in the natural world. I will do demonstrations that generate curiosity and wonder. Previous students tell me that these have re-sparked their interest in science. 


My Introductory Videos

Below I have posted the introductory videos that my students will both watch and interact with during the first few days of class.  

Video 1:  Introduction to Mastery Learning


Video 2: How this Class will Operate

Video 3: How to be Successful in a Mastery Learning Class



Video 4: Getting to Know Mr. Bergmann


Video 5: Setting up Your Interactive Notebook - special shout-out to Nora Walsh whose interactive notebook ideas I use


What do you think? How can I support you as you start out your school year?  One resource you may want to pick up is my new book,  “The Mastery Learning Handbook: A Competency-Based Approach to Student Achievement,” It comes out in October 2022. You can also subscribe to my podcast at


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