Blended Mastery Learning

No system is perfect, right? There are those that are great, those that are terrible, and of course everything in between. We’ve all experienced the entire spectrum, I’m sure. Blended Mastery Learning is a model that allows students to progress through the semester at a pace that suits their individual needs and does a better job at ensuring success than traditional learning. I know because I saw it happen. My students made it happen.

Now that first semester is complete and my room is full of students who are mostly testing today, I finally have time to reflect on the success that was…that IS mastery learning in my Blended Anatomy & Physiology classes. I have 3 sections this year and hope for 5 next year. I would teach 13 if I could. It is the best experience I’ve had in 10 years of teaching. I am also confident that most of my students would agree.

Blended teachers in my school are required to report the number of hours and minutes our students are in class or not. We are also required to report the number of minutes students should be spending outside of class on work assigned to them. The two numbers should add up to the amount of time a student would be in school if they were taking a traditional class. My students were required to be in class 27 out of the 70 school days that made up 1st semester. That is less than 40% of traditional “seat time.” Naturally the students did terribly, right? WRONG. Statistically speaking, they did the same. For me, the same is a huge “edu-win” because my students received a unique experience and owned their learning like I have never seen before.

So I did more grading, more prepping, more emailing, more everything, right? Wrong…mostly. How? Technology. Have the technology work for you – smarter, not harder, right? Yes, I did more emailing this year to both students and parents, but I did it during class time when no students needed my help. I did have to prep a little more than usual, but that time was made up by MUCH less grading and much more time in class to do some of that prepping. Our Learning Management System, Haiku Learning, provides practice assessments, affectionately called “Mastery Checks” in my class (Thanks, @Algebros), that allows students to be tested, online, in super low stakes scenarios (that’s SLSS for you educators). Google Drive works wonders too.

So I only saw kids roughly 40% of “normal” time, which means I never learned all their names or knew much about any of them, right? Wrong again. Completely wrong, and this one surprised me tremendously. See, when students are in class 27/70 days, they are never…I mean NEVER all coming on the same day. Most teachers’ dream classroom would probably include much fewer students to provide more intimate learning and personal interactions. Blended Mastery Learning provides that. Class sizes ranged from 0-20 on any given day, but usually fell in the 4-10 category. FOUR to TEN students per class per day!!!! I got to know my students better this year than ever before. I was able to have more meaningful conversations with them and their parents regarding their progress so much earlier in the school year than ever before. I know their strengths and weaknesses. I know their personalities, likes, and dislikes. I am better connected with my students this year than ever before because that 40% of interaction time was 3-4 times more intimate and more personal and more meaningful and more productive both scholarly/professionally and personally than traditional interactions.

So class is chaotic then, right? Absolutely…sometimes. There are days when some students are taking a test while others are completing a lab. There are days when some students are reviewing, while some are completing a quiz. There are students that come to class during 2nd hour, but they have my class 4th. There are labs and presentations done by students collaborating from multiple different class periods in the same room. Chaos in a traditional classroom is limited. Chaos in life is unavoidable. Chaos in my Blended Anatomy is normal and accepted and it works. To reduce the chaos, we have a Google Sheet that allows students to record their intent for coming to class. I can prepare copies and students can see if they have someone to work with. The chaos is seldom and when it occurs, it is managed and handled well. Don’t get me wrong, most days are quiet and full of only a handful of students. Some days are completely empty almost every period of the day (mostly Mondays and Fridays…go figure).

Blended Mastery Learning in my Human Anatomy & Physiology classes is not a perfect system. In my opinion it falls on the “great” end of the spectrum and it certainly beats the system I was using the first 9 years of my career and I would have a hard time going back if I had to…a really hard time.