Friday, October 3, 2014

Spotlight on the Hot Seat: the Anatomy of Mastery Learning Cycles

This year I've instituted mastery checks, which are one-on-one discussions with students to see what they know. I made this change because I was spending too much time as a study hall monitor checking off assignments, rather than talking with kids about what they did and did not know.

I'm using mastery checks in combination with standards based grading and Bloom's taxonomy. Students move through levels by completing certain tasks aligned to comparable levels of Blooms taxonomy - from understanding to creating. Students start with a level "1", which means showing no evidence of understanding the "I can" statement. In order to progress to a level "2", they meet with me one on one in the mastery check "hot seat" (or "fluffy chair" as one student affectionately calls it.)

I give students a small whiteboard and ask them to demonstrate what they know based on the "I can" statements. 


Work in progress on student whiteboard for the Hot Seat

Students solve problems and explain their thinking in real time. Once students successfully complete the mastery check, they receive permission to take the quiz. This mastery check allows me to identify issues and suggest remediation, before a student takes a quiz. Last year, these talks were less frequent and often happened as a result of a student failing a quiz. Instead of students wasting quiz attempts, they have a good idea if they are ready for a particular quiz, and so do I.

The other nice thing about the "hot seat" is I'm getting better insights into the common misconceptions. By identifying these misconceptions early on, I can adjust my practice in the moment when it's most helpful to students. I'm already considering making a video aligned to a deficit I'm seeing in mathematical reasoning; only students who have this particular confusion will be pointed toward the video.

Finally, the biggest anticipated impact will be to prevent students from hiding. Every student must talk to me before moving on. Rather than a mere suggestion or informal check-in that a student can blow off, students are getting the clear message that a one-on-one talk with me is mandatory. I've already identified a few students who tried to skip over some of the learning materials, like problem sets or notes. When they came to me, they couldn't explain why they were completing certain steps in a problem. I've had to redirect them to earlier learning opportunities they had not completed.

I'm hoping the hot seat or fluffy chair will provide better supports for my students. So far, these discussions have been enlightening and seemingly helpful to my students.