Driven by the demands of the school curriculum, the need to get through each topic in a set period can often force us to rush students through content. In an ideal world, all students would be given as much time as they need to build understanding.

Mastery learning is an educational philosophy discussed by Sal Khan in his recent teaching for mastery TED talk. This approach puts forward the notion that students should not be rushed through to more complex concepts without having the foundational knowledge needed to successfully transition to the next level.

Khan believes we should be teaching students to master the material before moving on, ensuring that students are given as much time and support as they need to tackle each new concept before trying to build upon it. As Khan says, you wouldn’t build the second floor of a house on a shaky foundation, otherwise it will collapse.

Mastery learning:

  • Reframes a student’s sense of responsibility, where performance is viewed as the product of instruction and practice, rather than a lack of ability.
  • Encourages a student to persevere and grasp knowledge they previously didn’t understand.
  • Uses results to identify content that requires further focus.
  • Gives students the time and opportunity as they need to master each step, instead of teaching to fixed time constraints.
  • Provides feedback and assessment throughout the learning process, not just after a major assessment.

Currently the pressure to meet the needs of the curriculum overshadows the building of connected mathematical understanding for all students.  If we accept that students learn at different rates, shouldn’t we facilitate more opportunities for students to effectively review, improve and grow, rather than just moving on?

Online programs and teaching resources can support a mastery-driven approach. In a teacher-led environment, teachers have access to tools and data to support individual student learning and progression. In a student-driven classroom, students are given agency and visibility of their learning in order to master concepts at their own pace.

How does your school create more opportunities for students to achieve mastery whilst balancing the curriculum delivery demands?

Watch the full Teaching for Mastery TED Talk with Sal Khan below: