Mastery: the buzz word in education

Last week I introduced the idea of mastery from the standpoint that, in order to achieve mastery, children must enjoy and be fully engaged in the personal aspects of their learning. This week we ask: what is mastery and why is this a buzz word in education? Mastery has been at the centre of education since the English National Curriculum was updated and revised. Pupils are now graded on their achievements according to their level of learning – mastery being the highest. To achieve mastery of a topic or area of learning, children must have a deep and rich understanding of it. They will have explored and delved deeply: I call this deep diving. Think of the iceberg, with far more of it hidden beneath the surface of the ocean. We have to ‘deep dive’ beneath the surface in order to see, understand and fully appreciate its beauty and its significance in the stability and order of our world.

Back to mastery. Children must be able to explain and answer the deeper questions about learning: especially the question WHY. Take maths for instance. Children who emerge as the best mathematicians will have ‘deep-dived’ into the inner workings of maths and asked the question WHY at every opportunity. Consider a few examples at different key stages:
– Early fractions: why has the smallest fraction got the largest denominator (1/3 or 1/16)?
– Later fractions: Why, for every equivalent of one third, is the denominator three times the numerator?
– Decimals: Why, when dividing any value by 100, do we move the decimal point two places left (strictly speaking, it’s the digits that move right)
– Area: Why is the area of a rectangle – its length multiplied by its breadth?

Interrogating maths (or any subject) in these kinds of ways, encourages children to explore the deeper meanings of topics as they approach them. Talk is essential. The communication between teacher and pupil is now two-way as children must learn to ask questions. Pupils must never be merely passive receivers of information. All learning is active.

So why is mastery the new buzz word in education? Because it represents learning at its excellent best. When children explore, interrogate and challenge what they receive – they are far more likely to excel. So let’s get all our children buzzing.

PS. My books for parents are aimed at helping all children to achieve their best. The Early Years Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 are out now on Amazon and Key Stage 2 is almost out. So parents, help your child to succeed and to achieve mastery where possible.

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