Is Google Classroom the ultimate mastery learning tool?

Mastery learning is a concept that has enjoyed its fair share of the limelight in education in recent years.

While it is not a new idea – it was first proposed as an educational strategy back in the 1960s – it has gained popularity in recent years due to its successful application in the education systems of Pacific Rim countries, most notably. In case you’ve missed the hype, this method of pedagogy breaks down the content of learning into units with clearly defined learning objectives or outcomes. Students practise applying the skills taught until they can demonstrate a high level of proficiency – in other words, they are tested and must achieve a score of 80% or more. Only then can they progress to the next unit of learning.

The current popularity of mastery learning is in no small part related to the fact that it ties in well with the concept of the ‘growth mindset’ – the belief that attainment is not determined by fixed concepts of ability but is instead something achieved through the repeated practise of key skills.

In the mastery learning model, the student’s progress relies on well-focused and well-timed feedback from the teacher to move the learning on. And this is where a digital learning platform like Google Classroom, which streamlines dialogue between teacher and student, really comes into its own.

Paper-based learning effectively limits the number of times a teacher can give feedback on the same piece of learning – how long a handwritten paper trail of student/teacher interaction is it realistic to create? – and can make the process of reattempting and redrafting a cumbersome experience for the student. Digitally based learning in Google Classroom takes care of these problems. Children can cut and paste passages to redraft (taking into account teacher feedback) to their heart’s content or keep on chipping away at that tricky Maths investigation with pertinent input from their teacher until they crack it. It is, surely, the ultimate mastery learning tool at our disposal as educators.

And if you use a digital assessment tool like StudyBee, which plugs straight into Google Classroom, it’s possible to give tailored feedback against selected learning objectives to every student in your class in a few clicks of a mouse. Download your free trial here.

Recent analysis by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) brings together the findings of many mastery learning research projects, and provides some thought-provoking insights. Overall, the mastery projects in the sample boosted progress by +5 months’ over the course of a school year. Interestingly, the EEF overview highlights some key features of mastery learning in the sample groups that had the greatest impact:

  1. Mastery learning is most effective when it is collaborative

Mastery learning places emphasis on all students progressing through new units of learning at the same time, so it is perhaps unsurprising that in successful mastery learning environments peer mentoring plays a key part. Alice Keeler has written about encouraging collaboration in Google Classroom in her blog and offers some great practical tips.

  1. Mastery learning is effective when every student works at the same pace within a group

If you’re unsure how to assign tasks to individual groups in Google Classroom, Ditchthattexbook offers practical ‘how to’ guidance on using the Grouping feature here.

  1. Mastery learning is most effective when used for short periods of time

The EEF analysis indicates that the impact of mastery learning approaches decreases when used for more than 12 weeks at a time. Student outcomes in the sample studies showed that lower attaining students made more progress than higher attaining ones. This suggests that mastery learning may be an effective instructional vehicle for delivering targeted intervention to narrow the gap. And that’s a useful piece of knowledge for the GC-savvy teacher to have up their sleeve in the next round of pupil progress meetings.

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