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.


Mason and the Older Child

In August, I attended the Charlotte Mason Institute Western Retreat in Los Angeles, at the American Jewish University overlooking the Getty Center.

Let me start by saying that these retreats are really unlike anything a home schooler has experienced.  I have gone to conferences and conventions aplenty!  They are great experiences and I generally come home wiped out from trying to drink from the fire hose of ideas and suggestions they provide.

I noticed a marked difference in myself when I left my first CM retreat.  To begin with, I wasn’t frazzled or belabored.  As I packed my things to leave, my mind was FULL of new concepts and ideas that I had been taught, better equipping me for the tasks that lay ahead.  I was mentally busy considering new ways to approach challenges and offer inspiration in our learning experiences but it wasn’t overwhelming.  I had experienced a rich banquet laid before me in a peaceful and thoughtful setting and I was returning home refreshed, energized on every level and ready to be a better educator for my family.

I attended a Preconference Immersion class for the first day on Teaching the Older Child by Kerri and Kathryn Forney.  This presentation was a very good overview of some of the basic CM concepts and then how to apply them to older child.  Here were the ideas I was inspired by:

  • Systems vs Methods: A system is a set of plans which, if used as directed, should produce a desired result.  A method is a “the result of principles, living organisms, which have powers of growth, expansion and adaptability.”  I found significance in the idea that our children deserve respect enough to be the individuals that God created them to be.  No system will serve all because of their individuality and therefore, they are worthy of nothing less than a method with built-in flexibility to accommodate.
  • It’s all or nothing… we either apply the methods as a whole or don’t use them at all.  We can’t encourage a child to flourish in the joys of a book for one subject and then mine for facts in the textbook of the next subject.
  • “The function of education is not to give technical skill but to develop a person; the more of a person, the better the work of whatever kind.” CM v6p136  Life is bigger than the hoops we jump through.  Are we aiming for the hoops or the goal on the other side of the hoops?
  • We seek to develop the whole child.  Transformation is the end goal of education, not completion of a workbook.  They have a natural craving for knowledge and if offered a rich feast, they will happily partake in it.  Oh, and I loved this idea; Knowledge is not what he knows but who he is.  It is the consumption of an idea and the application of it.
  • Education is not information.  It is a relationship or an experience; it is a full life.
  • The role of educator is guide. It is the teachers responsibility to open many doors in different directions, staying in the background with enough direction to enable the student to explore with success.  Promote self-education and not forced intellectual feeding.
  • Information does not become knowledge unless the child decides to “know” it themselves.  Guide toward self-education.
  • Narrations:  We read- we narrate- we know.  What we do not narrate, we do not know.  But narrations are not a regurgitation of what was heard.  It requires the narrator to process the information again, from auditory to verbal skills and share the connections that were made.  What they get, they get.  Be okay with what they don’t get for the time.
    • Some ideas for varying narration:
      • Write in the style of the author
      • Make illustrations of the reading
      • Write 5 questions about the reading
      • Do you agree or disagree with the character’s decisions in your reading?  Why or why not?
  • Scheduling: Consider completing all book work in the morning while all our mind’s are fresh.  Try to keep the subjects no longer than 30-40 minutes (for older children), a total of no more than four hours.

Each one of these points are worthy of their own conversation but that will have to be for another time.  These were the nuggets I took away from the class and I continue to work on implementing them.  I think my biggest challenge is stepping back as an educator and developing self-education in my children.  How about you?  Where is your biggest challenge with the ideas mentioned?