An Adapted Mastery Learning Model

The premise behind the adapted ML model that makes it different from other models is that 85% of students in the classroom need to achieve mastery standards (90% on formative tests) before they progress to the next unit of work or enrichment challenge.  Other models advocated in gifted education such as the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (Renzulli & Reis, 1985) and Maker’s (1982) model for providing for gifted and talented students incorporate various elements of the adapted ML model (Example: compacting, challenging enrichment tasks and acceleration) but do not emphasise the need for students to demonstrate mastery before they progress to the next task.  The implementation for the adapted ML model is presented as a series of phases as outlined in Figure 4.1 and the detailed content is presented in Table 4.1.

Each teacher at Genes College (pseudonym) is required to present full planning documents to the relevant Head of Faculty by about week 4 of each respective term.  These planning units are usually given as one whole unit, while Table 4.1 outlines as Phase 1 a series of smaller units that have be broken up from the larger planning unit in order to stay true to the adapted ML model (Figure 4.1). Bloom (1968) originally contended by breaking instruction into smaller sized units, the teacher could provide students with regular and meaningful feedback.  This allows the students to work towards mastery and therefore building feelings of self-efficacy. 


Phases 2 and 3: Pre-assessment and FeedbackResearch by VanTassel-Baska and Stambaugh, (2005), highlights the necessity of the affective utilisation of pre-assessments to guide instruction.  Each unit will begin with an online pre-assessment showing both the teacher and the students what elements of the upcoming unit they understand and what concepts from the up-coming unit they still need to learn.  During the learning cycle of each unit, the students will complete a formative assessment that matches the pre-assessment.  They complete this formative assessment after completing the required components of the smaller sized unit.  Mastery as determined by a grade of 85% on this formative assessment will allow the child to either progress to the next unit of instruction, or work on an enrichment task.  At the end of each term, students will be required to complete a summative test.  To access an outline of the intervention, click here.


The structure of the Pre-assessments: It is important that the pre-assessment includes a range of questions of different levels of complexity from across the unit.  This enables the student (and teacher) to have confidence in their understanding or lack therein of the content and skills to be covered in the upcoming unit. This pre-assessment should also match the end of unit formative assessment. Students will be responsible for recording their results into their learning contracts, which helps them to track their progress in learning and match what they need to learn with what they have shown they do not understand. 


Administering the Pre-assessment:  The pre-assessment, like the formative test, is to form part of the regular instruction.  Students will be shown to see the importance of the use of the results and see the merit in not cheating during these times.  Therefore, before the students commence a unit of work, they will be responsible for completing both the pre-assessment and recording their results accurately into their learning contracts, in the same way that they would complete their regular instruction.


Phase 4: Learning, Contracts and E-TextSome students may demonstrate mastery in the pre-assessment, but may still choose to complete the entire unit of work, while others will only complete the work that they have not understood.  It is a requirement of all students who do not demonstrate mastery (90%) of sections within the pre-assessment, to complete the sections of work within the unit where they have not demonstrated mastery.  Once the students have demonstrated mastery of a particular concept as determined by the formative assessment, they are required to work on the work assigned for Mastery students (as shown in Table 4.1 in the third column).  All work contained in each unit will be drawn from the electronic text (e-text).


E-Text: An e-text has been generated on the school's LMS for students allowing them to receive instant feedback on their work.  This e-Text will be used for both Mastery students (column 3 work) and regular instruction (column 2 work).  At times, this e-text may invite students to complete a hands on activity, which would be marked by the teacher accordingly.  Other regular e-text work would be completed online on the LMS, with the students showing an understanding of the content through a demonstration of one or more of the proficiency standards (Australian Council Assessment and Reporting Authority,  n.d.).  This can be achieved by the student explaining their thinking either verbally to the teacher, on paper with correct setting out and justification of their thinking or through other practical means (e.g. presentation of a 3D model).  Regular e-text work is akin to what would normally be found in a regular Mathematics textbook, only the content has been already compacted.  This compacting involved a selection of appropriate questions ranging in complexity. 

Learning Contracts:The contract mentioned in Appendix G will essentially guide the students through the relative units of work.  Both parents and teachers will monitor student progress to ensure that the student stays on task.  This contract enables students to both link assessment to instruction, while also gaining a sense of self-efficacy by taking control of the learning process with the teacher's guidance and support. Staying within the school's homework policy, each student is required to complete a set amount of homework per subject each night.  While I may not agree with this practice, I do have to stay within this requirement.  The contract therefore, gives students an understanding of what they need to do and also sets due dates for its completion.  Students who do not complete the contract by a set due date and do not have an accompanying medical certificate, will be given a lunch time study room detention.  At this time, they go to the room to complete the set task/s.  It may be that the child will have 2 or more study room detentions depending on how much work they have completed.   

Phase 5 - Formative AssessmentsWhen students finish a unit of work, they are to show the teacher a copy of their contract either by submitting it online or submitting a printed copy to the teacher.  If the student has demonstrated that he/she has completed all of the set/required tasks, they will then go on to finish the formative assessment as provided on the school's LMS.  Students will not be permitted to complete the formative assessments at home, and will be seated at an individual desk at the time of completion of the formative test.  Students who demonstrate 90% or greater level of mastery of the pre-assessment will not be required to complete the end of unit formative assessment. 


Once the student has completed the end of unit formative assessment, they will hand it in for the teacher to mark.  While the teacher is marking the student's work, the child will work on an enrichment task of their choosing.  If the compulsory enrichment task hasn't been completed, the student must work on this first.  If the student demonstrates mastery on the formative quiz, the teacher will fill out the relevant section of the contract showing this to be the case. Students will receive feedback on the formative quiz and proceed to work on mastery learning tasks as per column 3 in Table 4.1. 

Mastery Learning Tasks – Column 3According to Guskey (2007), a solid understanding of the baseline content better prepares students for work on "more advanced units" (p. 23).  In this sense, the advanced units of work essentially represent work from a higher grade level.  Students who have demonstrated mastery of year 8 level curriculum (Phase 4), complete the formative quiz (Phase 5) on the baseline curriculum, hand this in to the teacher to mark and provide feedback (Phase 3).   While this is being marked, the students work on completing enrichment tasks.   After it has been marked and if mastery (85% grade) has been achieved, the students work in the mastery group on mastery tasks (phase 4) progressing through the cycle again.  Once mastery is completed on these accelerated tasks, students work on the enrichment tasks, as given in column 4 of Table 4.1 and the relevant Appendixes. 

Phase 6 – Non-Mastery ConsolidationAs outlined in Section 2.5, the conditions of needing to demonstrate mastery level of understanding of a topic is essential before a student can progress to the next unit or task.  This is one of the central tenants of the adapted ML model that sets it apart from other models.  Failing to achieve an 85% grade on a formative quiz (Phase 5) means that the student needs to go back and complete similar activities/tasks as per the theoretical model presented in section 2.5.  In this case and in remaining within the claims presented in both Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, the adapted ML model provides teachers with a serviceable model.  It is within this context, that initially the students would need to go back and complete the remaining activities from their e-Text.  It also means, that these students would need extra assistance, both in the form of feedback and support from the teacher.  This may mean that the teacher re-teaches the concept to the student a different way, or they may simply perform the task with the students and withdraw support when it is no longer needed.  While this support is being provided, the mastery students will be working on mastery tasks.  This essentially notices the classroom working within a social constructivist perspective receiving help from a more capable other when needed.  It may also be the case that the student may prefer to receive tuition from their mastery peers.  This will be encouraged.  It may also be the case that there is only one component of the unit that requires further consolidation.  It is essential that the student gains an understanding of what they need to learn to achieve mastery levels.  If they possess the motivation levels to achieve mastery, they can achieve this goal with such support in place before progressing to enrichment tasks (if time permits). 

Phase 6 – Enrichment InvestigationsIf time permits, and the student has completed and demonstrated a level of mastery of both regular and mastery content, they are to then work on an enrichment investigation of their choosing or on one of the compulsory Enrichment investigations.  Both Bloom (1971) and Guskey (2007) highlight the possible use of the ML model with more advanced learners, suggesting that after they have demonstrated mastery, they should progress on to advanced or enrichment work (as is discussed in section 2.6.4 in greater detail). 


Every student is required to complete at least one of the compulsory Enrichment tasks.  There will be a choice from other tasks, which a student can complete to help them receive extra credit towards their end of semester report card grade.  Students will have an assortment of enrichment projects (Examples given in Appendix B, C, D and H) that they can work on in the classroom.


Enrichment challenges will be given after students either as a way of introducing a unit of work to peek interest in the particular content area about to be covered by way of introduction, or as a way to provide students with the chance to gain a deeper level of understanding of the compacted curriculum covered after they have covered the core content.  Examples of this might include an introduction to the concept of theoretical probability, by playing a very simple game involving a single normal dice.  In the investigation, they may be introduced to the language that they will then encounter in the compacted unit of work.  After the completion of this unit of work, they might complete an enrichment task that looks at predicting weather patterns in their local area based on a study of current and past meteorological events.  They can apply the knowledge learned in the probability and statistics unit to a real world challenge and have the choice of presenting their findings in a format of their choosing.  An elaboration of the phases students might progress through in such enrichment challenges is given in Table 4.2.


They develop a real world product that is presented to a real world audience. With the implementation of modern technologies, email and the world-wide-web, presenting findings from such research to a wider audience is in some sense easier. The students can submit their findings to international Mathematics, Science and technology competitions, meteorologists (via email), parents via open days and other experts.


As the students interest levels have already been peeked, the students have been able to investigate a problem to a much greater depth and along the way have learnt and developed self directed learning skills.  Students also gain a level self-efficacy and self belief once the task is completed as they have been able to complete a task and present their findings in a creative way to a real audience.

Structure of the Enrichment Tasks:The level to which each student operates may differ.  While one child will be dependent on on-going support from the teacher, others may just need scaffolding in the form of an introductory session, a task sheet, and checks along the way to ensure efficient time management procedures have been incorporated as is presented in Table 4.2. 

Table 4.2
Enrichment Tasks - Phases


High levels of support

Low levels of support

Phase 1



Students complete the enrichment challenge in pairs and groups, helping each other along the way. 

Students complete enrichment challenge individually.

Phase 2

Planning phase.

A more capable other may help the student with planning and implementation of their projects helping them to set appropriate timelines, goals and objectives.

The student sets the timelines and obtains approval from the teacher for these timelines.

Phase 3

Investigation phase.

The teacher may also help by providing the students with books, websites and access to experts for the completion of set milestones.

Students find their own resources and information developing effective information retrieval skills along the way.

Phase 4

Culmination phase

Teachers guide the students and help them collate their data into tables, spreadsheets and graphs.

Students collate their data into spreadsheets and graphs obtaining help from the Internet and other more capable others when/if needed.

Phase 5


Students present their understanding of their findings to an audience.

Students work with the teacher to select the target audience.  The teacher may facilitate a meeting, or a presentation to be given to the selected audience. 



Other students, however may require the teacher and/or other more capable students to work with them along the way and provide help and support as more capable others giving guidance.  Table 4.2 presents a summary of how students may complete a enrichment task according to the adapted ML model.

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