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What Is Mastery-Based Learning and Will It Make My Kid Happier?
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Sure, you want your kid to succeed academically. But you also want him to feel like he's actually benefiting from his education. Could a mastery-based learning approach make the process more enjoyable? Considered to be a response to the one-size-fits-all system, it's been gaining popularity at schools (from elementary to high school) across the country. Here’s the lowdown.

What is it? Also known as proficiency-based or competency-based learning, the basic principle of mastery learning is that students advance only once they’ve mastered a subject. For example, a student must achieve a level of mastery in algebra (say, by scoring a 90 percent on a test) before moving on to calculus. If a student can’t hit that goal, then she’s given additional support and time until she does. 

Wait, how is this different from other teaching programs? In a typical academic model, an instructor might teach a new concept, give out homework on said concept and then quiz students on their knowledge. Then, regardless of how the students scored (say, some children get 75 percent and others 95 percent), the whole class will then move on to a more advanced subject—even though students didn’t know anywhere from 5 percent to 25 percent of the material. Mastery-based learning advocates say that if students haven’t nailed the basics, then they’ll struggle with more complex concepts later on. Instead, schools should give all students the time they need to achieve the same level of mastery.

Got it. So what are the potential benefits? Proponents say that students will not only learn concepts better, but they’ll also feel more empowered about that learning. So instead of looking at a bad grade and feeling like a failure, they can look at a lower score as a “not yet mastered” assessment, and know that they just need to keep working on it. Oh, and something else your kid might love? Many mastery-based learning programs skip grades entirely.

And the potential cons? Some people argue that this approach might not work for subjects that require more creative thinking (like English). And because students learn at their own pace, it can be logistically challenging to implement. But with mastery-based learning on the rise, you may well be seeing this type of learning coming to a school near you.

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