Early on in my educational journey, I would spend countless hours scouring various teacher resource sites and class blogs in search of the perfect literary analysis graphic organizer or interesting project idea. While I did find a great deal of interesting resources, I felt that I was always just reacting to student needs. Tools are helpful, but they really need the touch of a true craftsman for them to be of any substantial use. However, the past several years I have shifted my own philosophy some to focus on the idea of personalization and mastery.
Personalized Mastery Learning is really a mindset more than anything else… and it is a mindset that forces teachers to find the right tool for the right situation at the right time. At the heart of personalization, educators need to realize that one size truly does not fit all. We know so much about how students learn, but we very rarely take time to implement this knowledge in our daily practice. Because of this, I have always felt that a structured curriculum can sometimes be too confining. Personalized Mastery Learning, and its focus on collaboration and shared decision making between student and teacher as well as finding the right instruction at the right time, is really quite prescriptive in nature. As educators, we kind of need to think of ourselves as physicians.
Doctors are strategic with the types of treatment they give their patients. Good doctors have conversations with their patients and look at their relationship as collaborative. We need to be just as strategic with how we work with our students.
As an English teacher, I once had a student who refused to read and write. He would not produce a thing. Needless to say, this made assessments rather difficult. Over the course of the year, I began to try and think of alternative assignments that would target his interests. Through conversations with him, I found out he was a big fan of genre film (horror in particular.) So I designed coursework that turned him into a film critic. I created a document with links to films, film reviews, articles, and clips. I also set him up with audio books that he could use to scaffold the things he was beginning to read. Through this strategic work on the content side, I was able to build a relationship with this student that helped define a more specific learning path. Now, several years later, the student is able to read, write, and reflect without the same scaffolds. I would not have been able to do this if I had not been strategic with what I was trying to accomplish.
So, just as doctors evaluate their patients based on the symptoms being communicated and converse with them to determine a treatment that works, so do teachers in a personalized mastery learning classroom. Sometimes a student may not be able to place his finger on the stumbling block to learning and it is my job to build a relationship with him to understand a way in and to create a conversation about solutions. As a “patient,” the student is responsible for sharing information, being part of the conversation, understanding and participating in the discussion and having a voice in the learning plan so that in the end, we are ultimately working together to move him forward through Personalized Mastery Learning.