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It’s a new calendar year, but only mid-school year. This means it’s that time when students have completed their mid-terms and benchmarks and teachers are evaluating the results and planning for the next semester. The primary challenge will be for teachers to determine why their students mastered certain skills and what skills their students need more opportunities with to develop mastery.

For example…

If students were never taught a specific skill last semester, they will need initial instruction on this skill.

If students were taught a skill last semester but didn’t have a chance to consistently engage with it, they will need more time to practice.

If students were taught a skill but didn’t have an opportunity to use it, they will need to apply that skill in authentic situations.

If students were taught a skill and showed mastery in one class, they will need to be taught to transfer these skills into other content areas or situations.

We all recognize that real learning is a process. But regardless of where our students fall in the learning process, our charge and commitment remain the same—to ensure our students are supported with multiple and varied opportunities to utilize skills until they are mastered. The good news is the decisions about what our students need to learn and what we can do to support our students’ learning are in our hands.

So, how do we leverage what we know about learning to make decisions? How do we proactively plan for a progression that ensures mastery?

The Phases of the Learning Process

First, consider the learning process—those phases that any learner follows to acquire a new skill to mastery.

  • Initial Instruction: the phase when learners first hear about a new skill and how to acquire it
  • Practice: the phase when learners have multiple and various opportunities to practice the new skill with guidance and feedback
  • Apply: the phase when learners have opportunities to authentically apply the new skill
  • Transfer: the phase when learners understand how to transfer the skill into various situations
  • Mastery: the phase when learners independently use the skill and can articulate how the skill was used in learning

Once learners have completed each of these phases, they can say, with evidence, that they have mastered the skill.

The Responsibilities for Teachers and Students in the Learning Process

At the beginning of the school year, all of these phases should be explained by the teacher. However, in order for the learning to be effective, the students will have to take charge of some of these phases themselves as they build ownership for their learning.

Students are better able to own their learning if they have a clear understanding of where they are in the learning process, or the Mastery Sequence. The Mastery Sequence is built upon the notion of conceptual redundancy of the skill or content being learned. The Mastery Sequence ensures that students have opportunities for repetition with the same concept in a variety of approaches. This includes opportunities to learn the skill initially, practice the skill, apply the skill, and then transfer the skill across time and situations.

So, it is the responsibility of the teacher to use the data regarding learning loss to make the decisions around what skills to teach, what order to teach them in, which phases in the learning process to release responsibility to the students, and how to communicate these decisions to the students.

If students know where they are in the learning process, they have more opportunities to master the skills they need to master.

How to Proactively Plan

Our task is to ensure that students understand the learning process, the purpose of each phase, and the value of looking at learning as a continuous cycle of growth. We must plan our units and lessons to support this understanding.

For each phase of the learning process teachers will need to ask themselves:

  • What is the learning outcome of this phase?
  • What will students need to show to demonstrate learning?
  • What will be the role of the teacher?
  • What will be the role of the student?
  • How will I communicate this information to my students?
Phase
Purpose of Phase
Additional Planning Questions
Initial Instruction First introduction to a new skill
  • Is this a discrete skill that requires direct instruction from the teacher or a skill that could be better introduced through student exploration?
  • How will I ensure my students understand the purpose and value of this phase?
Practice Opportunities to practice the new skill with guidance and feedback
  • How will I monitor students’ learning while they practice?
  • How will the students receive feedback?
  • How will I release the practice, during the lesson and/or over time, as student learning allows for more independence?
  • How will I ensure my students understand the purpose and value of this phase?
Application Authentic application of the skill
  • How does this opportunity differ from practice?
  • How will I provide opportunities for application of the skill?
  • How will I ensure my students understand the purpose and value of this phase?
Transfer Independent application of the skill to new situations
  • How will I provide opportunities for the transfer of the skill?
  • How will I ensure my students understand the purpose and value of this phase?
Mastery Independent usage of the skill when needed and articulation of how the skill was used in learning
  • What does mastery look like and how will my students know they have mastered a skill?
  • How will I ensure my students understand the purpose and value of this phase?

The Advantages of Proactive Planning

Planning for the second semester may feel daunting. But utilizing the Mastery Sequence can provide both students and teachers with expanded opportunities. This could include freeing up time for teachers to work with students individually or providing additional opportunities for students to collaborate with classmates. The increased responsibility for students in the learning process will create independence and ownership of their learning.

But all of this requires thoughtful planning. Planning that ensures that our students will end up being the most independent generation of learners we have ever produced. Thus, as we plan this year, we must ensure that we do not produce the lost generation of children with too many gaps in their learning. We must ensure that we produce the most independent generation of learners we have ever seen in the United States.

The Learning Brief

In this article you learned…
  • The benefits of proactive planning.
  • The five phases of the Mastery Sequence.
  • How to leverage the phases of the Mastery Sequence when planning and teaching to empower students to own their learning.
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Can you imagine building an environment full of motivated, engaged, and eager students who own their learning?
We can.

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