What is Mastery Learning?
Mastery learning breaks subject matter and learning content into units with clearly specified objectives which are pursued until they are achieved. Learners work through each block of content in a series of sequential steps.
Students must demonstrate a high level of success, typically at about the 80% level, before progressing to new content. Mastery learning can be contrasted with other approaches which require pupils to move through the curriculum at a pre-determined pace. Teachers seek to avoid unnecessary repetition by regularly assessing knowledge and skills. Those who do not reach the required level are provided with additional tuition, peer support, small group discussions, or homework so that they can reach the expected level.
How effective is it?
There are a number of meta-analyses which indicate that, on average, mastery learning approaches are effective, leading to an additional five months’ progress over the course of a school year compared to traditional approaches. Unusually however the effects of mastery learning tend to cluster at two points with studies showing either little or no impact or an impact of up to six months’ gain. This clear split and wide variation implies that making mastery learning work effectively is challenging.
Mastery learning appears to be particularly effective when pupils work in groups or teams and take responsibility for supporting each other’s progress. It also appears to be important that a high level of success is set. When pupils work at their own pace, as opposed to working as a part of group or whole class, it appears to be much less effective. Mastery learning may also be more effective when used as an occasional or additional teaching strategy as the impact decreases for longer programmes of over 12 weeks or so. Chipping Hill Primary School may use mastery learning for particularly challenging topics or concepts, rather than for all lessons.
Lower attaining pupils may gain more from this strategy than high attaining students, by as much as one or two months' progress, so mastery learning appears to be a promising strategy for narrowing the gap. However, it should be noted that teachers also need to plan carefully for how to manage the time of pupils who make progress more quickly.