Self-paced Mastery and the Tech that Helped Us Make it Work

student on computer

My name is Kylie Schantz and I am a 5th grade math and science teacher at Baldwin Elementary.  In October, students transitioned back to campus for face-to-face instruction. At the time, my partner teacher and I were the only 5th grade teachers returning to campus, so we set up a co-teach classroom with all 42 returning students in the cafeteria to allow for social distancing. After the students returned, we determined that to make this large group work we had to rethink our learning model. This provided the opportunity to implement a self-paced mastery learning model. Both myself and my teacher partner had been using personalized learning plans for years.

The objective of mastery learning is to demonstrate mastery of the standards before moving on to new standards. The model works best with flexible pacing to allow students sufficient practice time.. Our first task was to decide which non-negotiable elements students needed to be successful. These include a rotating schedule, clear due dates, a way to track their progress, and frequent feedback. We established groups of learners with similar needs and created a schedule for each group that rotated through all subjects with specific times for small groups in both STEM and Humanities. For example, one group would rotate through science, math, and reading while a second group would rotate through reading, math, and science. This allowed time for group work, individual work, intervention, independent reading, and read aloud. By rotating groups through subject areas at different times across the day, both teachers have time to meet with every student as needed.

As we worked on developing an effective progress tracker, we tried several different versions of paper trackers and asked for student feedback. While the paper trackers worked well for written feedback between teachers and students, we struggled to get those trackers turned back in each day and students had trouble keeping up with them. I discovered a google sheets format used by a creator on tik tok and we adapted it to make it work for us. We also use the Chrome extension Mote to leave audio feedback in highlighted cells on the tracker. Along with the digital personal tracker, we use a public wall tracker where students move a self-created icon across the lessons as they progress. The public tracker allows students who need to find another student to collaborate with the ability to see who else is working on the same lesson.

Self-paced mastery is not a free-for-all. Students have due dates, but also have wiggle room within the unit to spend more time on lessons where they need extra practice. Instructions and mini-lessons are provided through teacher-created videos which allow students to rewatch as needed. The trackers include final due dates across the unit so students can tell if they are on pace.

The results of this change have been amazing. Our fifth graders are independently owning their learning. Most are able to self-manage their time, tasks, and materials with very few reminders needed to use time effectively. For students who need more structure, we now have the ability to spend more time helping them develop those skills. We find that this method provides more immediate feedback to students, a deeper mastery of the content, improved executive functioning skills, no wasted time, better differentiation, and the ability to conference with students frequently. These conferences are invaluable in building relationships and deepening learning.

To learn more about the model, a free course is offered online by modernclassrooms.org and a helpful informational article is available at: cultofpedagogy.com.Tools that have been helpful to us include: https://slidesmania.com/, https://slidesgo.com/, the tracker, and the Google Chrome extension mote.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for sharing how you are making this “self paced” learning work for your class. I love the wall tracker that you created and how it allows students to know who else is working on the same task so they might buddy up with them for assistance. It’s also a great way to hold the kids accountable for making progress – without being focused on having to all be working at the same pace.

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