Mastery orientation

From the beginning of the year, I have been orienting students to mastery rather than getting enough points on quizzes to pass. I posted about this on April 10th, 2004. My reasoning at the beginning was that students oriented toward mastery learn better.

Yesterday was a case in point. I was teaching the class of students repeating the first year English course that they had failed to get credit for. We had a quiz on the unit we had just finished. The students in the first period came in and began the quiz. Actually one student, from now on “student A”, came in first, and it looked like there would only be one person. A few more trickled in later.

The format of the quiz is a listening section, followed by a vocabulary section, and finishing up with a speaking evaluation. The students work at their own pace, listening to the tape as many times as they like, and doing the speaking when they have earned enough points on the other two sections that there would be a possibility of passing. When a student has done as much as they can on the written part of the quiz, they give it to me to be graded. If they do not earn enough points, they take it again until they make at least a 90% or better combined score for the written and spoken sections.

No one finished the quiz the first time. Everyone had to take the quiz at least two times. Two students did not finish in the first 90-minute class period, and stayed for the second period. Student A finished the quiz at 20 minutes past the end of the second class period, meaning that he had been there, learning for over three hours. Yes, there are better ways to study a language, but if he is not willing to do it on his own, he has to do it during class time. I gave him ample opportunity to leave. He took a cigarette break between class periods, but otherwise struggled away at the quiz.

My assessment of the class was that the students don’t study on their own, outside of class, and as unfortunate as that may be, at least they are doing some learning during class. At the beginning of the quiz period, they complained that they would never be able to get 90%, but they did. They achieved something big, not just a pass with a minimum of points.

My grade report that I hand in this year is going to look strange. Everyone who passes will pass with high A’s. Everyone else will be a repeater again next year.

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