Teaching for Mastery

School is a really interesting place — for many different reasons. People have lots of strong opinions on the way that we should be…

School is a really interesting place — for many different reasons. People have lots of strong opinions on the way that we should be learning.

I think most of these opinions are often predicated by a personal bias. Some experience often prevents the arguer from seeing the other side.

I enjoyed school. But I don’t think I learned a ton of real world skills from it. Is that bad? I am not exactly sure. Bad for me? Probably not, I made some friends and am happy with where I am at today.

That, of course, is not to say school is ideal or good for everyone.

Regardless, it’s about learning. How can we learn more?

Better, how we can help everyone learn more?

The one and only Sal Khan from Khan Academy shares some great insight on this is in his talk:

(skip down for quotes)

Here are some of my favorite quotes and thoughts from it:

And in a lot of ways, this is how you would master a lot of things in life. It’s the way you would learn a martial art. In a martial art, you would practice the white belt skills as long as necessary, and only when you’ve mastered it you would move on to become a yellow belt. It’s the way you learn a musical instrument: you practice the basic piece over and over again, and only when you’ve mastered it, you go on to the more advanced one.

So the idea of mastery learning is to do the exact opposite. Instead of artificially constraining, fixing when and how long you work on something, pretty much ensuring that variable outcome, the A, B, C, D, F — do it the other way around. What’s variable is when and how long a student actually has to work on something, and what’s fixed is that they actually master the material.

So as a society, we have a question: All this new productivity is happening because of this technology,but who participates in it? Is it just going to be that very top of the pyramid, in which case, what does everyone else do? How do they operate? Or do we do something that’s more aspirational? Do we actually attempt to invert the pyramid, where you have a large creative class, where almost everyone can participate as an entrepreneur, an artist, as a researcher?

Would you choose to build a house on top of an unfinished foundation? Of course not. Why, then, do we rush students through education when they haven’t always grasped the basics?

Anyways…is there a best way to learn? Did you find that school was great, bad, somewhere in the middle?

Is what is best for you always best for everyone?