Making Mastery Work In The Middle

Middle school is probably one of the craziest but also the best places to teach. I spent my career teaching middle level Science and even though it wasn’t always easy I truly loved this age. Students are not too old to be amazed but they are independent enough and brave enough to take risks and own their learning. I’ve worked with schools to implement Mastery Learning and Student Paced learning at all levels but I truly think that Middle School students are primed and one of the best groups to use Mastery learning with.


Structure and routines are the foundation of any successful classroom, but especially Middle level classrooms. This is also the core of a thriving mastery environment. Mastery learning can organically create systems and routines that foster ownership and allow students to access their learning and content when ready and within their Zone of Proximal Development. Frameworks like The Grid Method can also help teachers develop and create these routines. Thinking through ways to progress monitor students, provide access to content, manage grading and mastery checks, as well as creating ways to organize and represent the curriculum path for each student. By providing solid and consistent routines and systems you can easily implement Mastery Learning within any middle level classroom.


As students work through any self paced framework or learning path intervention is one of the most important components of success. By allowing students to work at their own pace in a mastery based setting we can target interventions and provide input as they need it. This allows us to adjust the learning opportunities, texts, activities, or assessments to best meet students exactly where they are at.


Another powerful component in the middle level that can be leveraged for success is allowing students to demonstrate mastery or experience learning based on choice or interest. In a traditional classroom this can be difficult to manage but in a self-paced mastery learning classroom this is as simple as providing options as students work through their content.


While the focus of Mastery Learning is allowing students to work to mastery at their own pace that doesn’t mean they don’t need formal reminders of things like expected pacing and flexible due dates. Utilizing things like goal writing and providing expected pacing and suggesting due dates can be helpful to keep student organized.


All of these things will help you successfully implement mastery learning in your Middle level classroom or school, however the hardest and most powerful aspect that most teachers need support with is simply letting go. You have to trust that students want to learn and give them the room to thrive in your classroom. Doing this is always the first step to success!

Chad is a founding member of the Teach Better Team and works with schools, districts and teachers around the world to increase student achievement through innovative, research based instructional practices. Chad is an educational consultant, blogger, author and trainer.