INDIVIDUALIZED CURRICULUM THAT IS MASTERY-BASED
Individualized curriculum makes sense! When a student is consistently getting high scores, he or she will be happy. When foundations have been fixed so things make sense, he or she will be happy. When the student is not noticing how he or she is doing compared to other students, he or she will be happy. If the student masters a concept and does not have to wait for the rest of the class, he or she will not get bored by having to wait, thus will be happy. If the student can take more time when needed without other students noticing, he or she will not feel stupid, thus will be happy.
What is individualized curriculum that is mastery-based? First, what it is not. It is not having to teach or learn at the pace of the entire class. It is not holding back a student when he or she has already conquered the concept. It is not moving ahead before a student masters the concept. It is not passing a section of material with a lower score.
Now, what it is. All prerequisite learning has been mastered. It is normally dividing a year’s worth of each subject’s material into at least 10 separate, measurable units. It is requiring a mastery-level score on a unit before proceeding to the next unit. The learning is done at the student’s speed and ability. The curriculum is the main teacher, so the adult can focus on supervision, help, motivation, and overall progress.
The need for mastery: Let’s take mathematics for example. A student could have a “teacher of the year” trying to teach division, yet still struggle. If the student did not master addition, subtraction, and multiplication first, then division will always be difficult for that student no matter how good the curriculum or teacher. Addition, subtraction, and multiplication are needed to complete division. The foundational concepts must be mastered first, so the student can concentrate on the new concepts rather than be distracted and frustrated with always getting wrong answers due to issues that really do not deal with the new concept. Sometimes to move forward, a student needs to go backward first! Taking the time to repair the foundation takes more initial time, but that time is often made up by the repaired student’s ability. The younger the student, the faster it can be made up. A mastery-based score is usually as high as 90% correct. Students receiving lower than a mastery score would repeat that unit until they achieve the necessary score. If a student achieves less than this in the foundational work, there will always be a struggle in new concepts. How would you like a brain surgeon that only got 7 out of 10 things right or even 6 out of 10 things right? Most individualized curricula provide a diagnostic that is used first to go back and repair holes or gaps in the student’s knowledge, before continuing chronologically.
The simplest way to explain individualized curriculum is instead of a subject having 12 grade levels, an individualized curriculum might have as many as 120-144 grade levels from 1st grade through graduation. A year’s worth of work, such as 10-12 units, is still blocked together as a grade level for record keeping to relate to other schools. An individualized curriculum does not use a pass/fail for the semester or year. It is more of a pass/fail with much smaller units, so the smaller unit can be re-taken without penalizing the student an entire semester or year. For record keeping, the units completed during the year are averaged together to have a grade that can relate to other schools. Usually, an individualized curriculum will yield a “B” or “A” average for most students.
The need for multiple, measurable units in each subject: If a curriculum has too few grade levels in a subject, it is overwhelming for a student to repeat an entire grade level to master some missing concepts. On top of that, most schools do not allow for a student to repeat just one grade level subject. They either make the student repeat all subjects or promote the student without mastery in a problem subject. In other words, the student is socially stigmatized by repeating a grade in all subjects or is crippled for the remainder of his academic life by being promoted without mastery. Some schools may use a summer school structure to deal with a “D” or “F”, but most are far from efficient because all of the course concepts are usually repeated rather than just the specific area of trouble. Also, most schools are not structured to assess or repair previous years’ gaps that may be causing the problem.
An individualized curriculum prevents the student from getting promoted to the next grade with holes in their foundation. For example in a traditional curriculum, a student can get a “D” or “F” for several concepts in a subject, but can get enough other higher scores with other concepts to pass the subject. The student in the traditional curriculum is still advanced with foundational “gaps” that will perpetuate problems in later grade levels. Smaller units also work better with diagnosing past problems. Rather than repeating an entire year of a subject to repair some gaps, the student may only have to complete a couple small units to fix the problem.
The need for a customized learning speed: As mentioned in other posts, traditional classrooms can intimidate a student. If the teacher asks, “Does everyone understand this?”, do you think a student is always going to raise his or her hand? To a student, it is like admitting he or she is not as smart as others. Students will bluff their teacher long enough until it is difficult to determine where things went wrong. Students using an individualized program will seldom ever be working on the same concept as others, thus feel less intimidated to ask for help. All of us have different reading, comprehension, and critical thinking speeds. It is only natural that some of us may need more time to complete something. Should the student that gets it have to wait? Should the student that needs more time lose out? Many times, a student needs less time in one subject and more time in another. Sometimes, a student moves along with most of a subject’s concepts, yet comes across a concept in that subject that needs more time than other students. Students given time when needed to ensure mastery is actually faster in the long run. Some students may actually graduate early or be able to take additional subjects to broaden their knowledge with an individualized program.
Students still need close supervision and rewards to maximize their ability with an individualized curriculum, but it is the most efficient educational structure. Although the individualized curriculum is the main teacher, occasionally the student will request help. Generally, students are gently trained in the beginning that the answer is right in front of them, since units are smaller. First, “Can you show me where it talked about that?” Then “Can you show me the paragraph it firsts talks about it?” Then “Can you read this to me?” At this point, the student will usually smile and say, “Oh, I get it!” More importantly, it trains the students you will always make them go back to get the answer, so they eventually learn it is just as easy for them to go back than ask for help. Some individualized programs offer teachers on call to help with concepts that aren’t resolvable, such as Southeast Academy. Most parents are able to supervise their student with the support of a quality, individualized program. Some programs offer online structures that automatically score student work and tests. Be careful to use programs that have been in existence over 12 years, so you know they have the bugs worked out! There are many new programs without the strength of experience!
Again: When a student is consistently getting high scores, he or she will be happy. When foundations have been fixed so things make sense, he or she will be happy. When the student is not noticing how he or she is doing compared to other students, he or she will be happy. If the student masters a concept and does not have to wait for the rest of the class, he or she will not get bored by having to wait, thus will be happy. If the student can take more time when needed without other students noticing, he or she will not feel stupid, thus will be happy.
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