A New Method~ Mastery Based Learning

“Mastery based learning changes the mindset of the student.  An 85% on a test doesn’t brand a child as a B student in their DNA, but impresses them to keep trying, to persevere, to take ownership of their learning.”                                    Sal Kahn, TED Talk, November 2015


Because most of us, as educators, have only our experience in traditional academic models to rely on, we often use that understanding to model our home educating experiences.  There is often little reason to challenge these ideas, they are so deeply ingrained in us.  Then a wrench falls into the gears of our finely tuned system of education:  a slow reader, a math struggler or just a squirrely 6 year old, and suddenly there are waves of discontent.  Maybe we recognize that for all we are pouring into the system in the form of money, time and energy, very little progress seems to be happening in the area of learning.  Instead of a growing level of curiosity, we are faced with strong resistance and that leaves us with a great big question mark.  I am so thankful for these points in time!  These are the moments of revelation that require me to throw out the old expectations and open my eyes to new possibilities.  I am forced to truly see my students for who they are and consider their needs as individuals.  I must challenge my expectations, motives and techniques to birth new methods fine-tuned to the child before me, instead of enslaved to tradition, the unrelateable systems of the past.

This is what excites me about this TED Talk by Sal Kahn, of Kahn Academy as he speaks on Mastery based learning.  His presentation makes the point that classroom teaching is not conducive to this approach, but I think it’s a beautiful approach for home schoolers.  Let’s throw out the August to May schedules that come with the curriculum!  Let’s not panic when we come to a lesson that needs a week of investigation and practice, instead of its allotted day!  Let’s break the shackles of a system that doesn’t apply to us by ceasing the practice of dragging students through their journey of learning!  Instead, let’s practice some respect and embrace the amazing little individuals before us.  Let’s run alongside them as their coach as they set the pace for their learning adventure and develop character of fortitude and responsibility.

[Video Link- “Sal Speaks at TED About Mastery-based Learning” November 2015]

It’s worth a watch and I hope you will let me know your thoughts.


2 thoughts on “A New Method~ Mastery Based Learning

  1. I really admire Sal Khan and all he is doing to help students. I had never really thought about this concept of mastery learning as a Charlotte Mason Educator. But I have often found myself frustrated with my expectations as compared to what Mason says should happen. Why is my child not narrating fluently and with ease on every topic? What is wrong with my child? What is wrong with the way I’m teaching? I have a degree in elementary education and I still have such insecurity.

    Take math: often I get the impression that CM would have agreed with the notion that only so many of us are going to really be good at math. As a person who struggles with math who is teaching her child who struggles with math (coincidence?) I often feel that fear. He is in fourth grade and we are still working on simple addition and subtraction?? Why is he not mastering this? Why are flashcards not working? Why is repetition not working? I actually chose to try a new curriculum(again) and go back to one of the very first books–just so we could understand this author’s vocabulary and way of teaching from the ground up. Even though I felt that we would be able to rush through the book (and we did cover it pretty fast), and even though I told DS not to be insulted by some of the “easy” questions because we were “training our minds to think mathematically”, I still had (and have) those fears. I find myself growing impatient when he doesn’t get something so easy right away or it takes longer than the allotted time. And I find myself skeptical that anyone can learn the language of numbers. I am dubious, Sal, but I want to believe you that I could actually master calculus! LOL

    I am glad that Sal gave this talk and I hope superintendents and principals and teachers actually listen to what he is saying because truly it is ridiculous to move on to the next topic before the child has mastered the foundation. How can we expect better results when we give so little respect to the “journey” of the child? Let us love them for who they are, meet them where they are and find a way to teach them what they need even if our methods step outside of the organized, preconceived notions of what should happen or how long it should take.

    Thanks for sharing this! Jennifer


    1. Thank you for your comments Jennifer! I agree, as one who struggles with languages, the idea that given enough time and intent to master something, I could one day see myself as fluent in French and Latin, does seem far fetched.

      It is a courageous move to dare to go into new territory and try out the unknown. But I don’t think we can educate our own tribes well in the “safety zone ” of the certain. We are not all the same and the tried and true for one will fail for another. That is the beautiful moment where we find ourselves back on our knees seeking direction from the Master Educator who understands how each of us are knit together AND what we need as individuals to be prepared for the future He holds for us. I pray He equips you with the inspiration and courage you need to prepare your son well.


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