Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mastery Learning or Spiral learning?

How do you prefer to learn?
  1. Incrementally: a little bit at a time, able to show fairly complete proficiency at one ability or skill before proceeding to the next, slightly more challenging level; or
  2. Iteratively: Cycling through a number of skills and challenges, periodically returning, and gradually ratcheting up the challenge level.
The first approach s sometimes referred to as mastery learning; the second as spiral learning.  As always the devil is in the detail.

Spiral learning approaches are great for those students whose pace matches that set for instruction.  On the other hand, if you're struggling with the pace it will feel too fast, and you may feel inadequate (or resentful); if it's too slow, you may well feel bored (but boredom can often be productively overcome).  Mastery learning, on the other hand is by necessity individually paced, but can be a bit procedural from an instructional perspective.

In my jiu-jitsu and classical judo classes I have learned (and follow) a hybrid approach:
  • The teaching method is spiral, but we are always reinforcing the basics, and pair practice with a variety of partners gives students access to individual instruction (and learning through teaching)
  • Assessment is mastery oriented: you do not get put up for grading until you are ready to demonstrate a section of the curriculum at a high level of proficiency: so individuals tend to progress at difference rates, but there should not be a sense of being an "A, B, C, ... student" with its attendant problems (e.g. encouragement to adopt a fixed mindset).
This may be reasonably be regarded as a best of both worlds approach: we get the interest, variety and reinforcement of the spiral together with the steady progress of incremental mastery.


Anonymous said...

Sensei Dan,

Happy "late thirties something" birthday.

Best regards,

Adrian Zadro

Dan Prager said...

Thanks Adrian

I feel older already!