growth and mastery mindset

Oh man! I love this topic! I did a lot of research on mastery learning after my first few years of teaching. I realized the "sage on the stage" model of teaching and learning was NOT working for me. We spent too much time on lectures, which didn't give us nearly enough time to practice working physics problems. And if I tried to work through problems at the board, there was a subset of students that was bored to tears because they were ready to practice on their own and another subset of students that were so lost that they couldn't follow along and became disruptive or disengaged. Plus, my feet were TIRED! I knew something had to change.

I read a couple books that gave me an idea of what I wanted to do - Flip your classroom: Reach every student in every class every day (Bergmann and Sams, 2012) and The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined (Khan, 2012). These two books were very enlightening to me with how to approach my classroom.

So, I spent the summer of 2013 completely revamping my classroom - I went through the standards and every unit and wrote out objectives for every unit in my course. These were the key things I wanted students to learn before the unit test. For example, the first objective in the Velocity Unit was "Describe the difference between position and displacement."

Then, I recorded a short video or two for each objective. Because the objectives were so specific, it was easy to laser focus on a topic in the video. I also created a scaffolded page of practice for each objective that needed practice. Here's an example of scaffolded practice for Velocity (Link):

After that, I created what I called an Organizational Guide for my students. This had each objective listed and the video that went with the objective and a checklist of tasks for the unit. Here's a screenshot of the Velocity Organizational Guide (Link):

The Organizational Guide was their roadmap for the unit.

Then, I created a free account on My Haiku Class with a page for each unit. Here's what the velocity page looked like:

I had 2-3 quizzes for each unit and multiple quiz versions for each quiz (they didn't yet allow you to create a large bank and just pull randomly from the bank). Each quiz had the objectives listed so they knew they needed to know how to do each of those things before they took the quiz. This gave them confidence to take the quiz because they knew each question was aligned to an objective. Nothing was going to "surprise" them on the quiz. And each quiz was password protected, so they had to ask me for the password. They couldn't just take all the quizzes at once. Here's an example of the first quiz in the velocity unit:

You can see that each question is aligned to an objective, so if they missed one, they knew EXACTLY what they needed to study. And I could easily see where I needed to focus my instruction.

You can see here, that they struggled with the definitions for "displacement" and "velocity" on this quiz. After they completed the quiz, they could come to me and I'd show them what they missed and we'd discuss WHY they missed it. If it was a problem, we'd work it out. Typically, several students would be at the same place at once, so I might have 3-4 students working with me on a concept, rather than trying to teach to the ENTIRE class at once. We talked about what they'd do next - were they ready for the next quiz? Did they need to go back and do some practice problems? etc?

Then they'd take the second quiz when they were ready and the higher of the two grades would be recorded in the gradebook. I told them I didn't care WHEN they learned it, as long as they learned it, but we did need to follow a certain pace

At the beginning, students tried to take the quizzes without studying - watching my flipped videos or doing practice problems. Then they quickly learned, that wouldn't work. By the end of the semester, very few students were using the second attempt - they'd learned what they needed to do to be successful. I'd see them watching the video, taking notes (I had guided note sheets for each video, LINK), working through practice problems, coming up and checking their work against the key, seeing where they made mistakes, going back to their desks, and re-working the problems, or asking me why I solved the problem the way I did in the key. But they were taking responsibility for their learning! Those skills that they inadvertently learned while studying high school physics would serve them their entire lives! They got to where they knew that it was okay to not know what was going on the first time and knew what they needed to do to be successful! It was pretty cool to watch.

Spending each class period working out the same problem lots of times and doling out passwords and helping them understand what they missed on their quizzes was time-consuming, but well-worth it.

When it was time for the summative assessment, each question on the assessment was aligned to an objective. They knew, just like the quizzes, that there would be no "trick" questions. If the objectives covered everything I wanted them to know (which they did because I wrote them), then there was no need to add questions that didn't align to the objectives. Here's an example of part of a test - each test had multiple choice, matching, and short answer questions.

We also included a section on the information covered in the lab from that unit to reduce the occurrence of one student in the lab group doing everything, leaving everyone else in the group basically unaware of the concepts covered during the lab. Each student knew they had to UNDERSTAND the concepts in the lab because they'd be assessed on it later.

And, of course, if their test grade was higher than their quiz grades, the test grade replaced their quiz grades. So, they always had an incentive to learn the material. Even if they'd goofed off during that unit, they knew they could come back and demonstrate what they learned on the summative assessment.

Same with the final exam - if the final exam score was higher than any grade that 9 weeks (we couldn't do the whole year or even the semester because of district requirements), the final exam score replaced their lower grades. So, when it came time to study on the final, they could refer to their previous quiz grades and see EXACTLY where they needed to study.

Completely changing an ENTIRE course like this took a long time! I think I calculated that I averaged 40-50 hour weeks that summer. But once the foundation was laid, everything ran pretty smoothly and not much work was required on the back end.

And the results! Students demonstrated such growth! They learned that the point of the course was to learn. The journey was part of the process. I had such a clear picture of how EVERY student was progressing at the end of each class period. Students learned study strategies they could use for a lifetime. They learned to be responsible for their own learning. Grades improved. Parent complaints decreased.

And, of course, because I spent my days working at the table with my students in small groups instead of standing at the front of the classroom all day, my feet got a break!


These titles helped frame my understanding of asset-based teaching and learning and how to help students develop these skills, even if not directly cited above.

Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2012). Flip your classroom: Reach every student in every class every day. International Society for Technology in Education.

Brunsell, E., & Martin, H. (2011). "Flipping" Your Classroom. The Science Teacher, 10.

Fonseca, J. M. B., & Conboy, J. E. (1999). Introductory Physics for Nonphysics Majors—A Case Study. Journal of Computer Science and Technology, 272–277.

Khan, S. (2012). The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined. Twelve.

Morgan, K. (2011). Mastery learning in the science classroom: Success for every student. NSTA Press.

Wormeli, R. (2007). Differentiation: From planning to practice, grades 6-12. Stenhouse Publishers.