Classroom Strategies

Creating and Implementing Mastery-Based Assignments

This is the third blog post in my Mastery-Based Grading series. The first post, My Journey to Mastery-Based Grading talks about the why’s and a little bit of the how’s, and the second post, Tracking Data in Mastery-Based Grading discusses how I keep track of student data.

Many have asked about example Mastery Tasks, and what this looks like in my classroom. I’ll be entirely honest that this post is a little intimidating to write, knowing I’m not the only one who does Mastery-Based Grading, and I still have a lot to learn. But, you know what, that’s the best part! I model a growth mindset for my students in that I am always learning and finding ways to improve.

Day-to-day in the Classroom

Our day-to-day doesn’t look too much different than it did before. However, I am more focused on the end product as we do lessons, labs, and activities. In my first post, I detail the overall Mastery-Based workflow in classroom instruction.

Since I don’t grade anything other than Mastery Tasks, many have asked how I hold my students accountable for their classwork and homework. For homework, that’s easy–I don’t assign homework (except on the very rare “if you don’t finish it in class, it’s homework!”). For classwork, I do a mix of stamping and checking work before students can leave. Even the prospect of being dismissed 30 seconds after their friends is enough to motivate students to get work completed correctly before the bell. Additionally, after a while, most students realize that what we do in class is directly related to our Mastery Tasks, and therefore will benefit them.

Playing “Oh Deer!” in science, in preparation for a mastery task!

If you’re thinking, “this will never work for my students/my school!” please stop for a moment to reconsider. My school is one of the lowest performing in our district, we have attendance and behavior challenges, and parent engagement is almost non-existent. But. My students work hard, because I believe in them and we have created a classroom community where they are safe and supported. I rarely have behavior challenges in class, simply because my students believe they can succeed.

Planning for Mastery Tasks

With my PLC, we start with our Next Generation Science Standards, and try to distill down exactly what my students need to know and do. The Crosscutting Concepts and Science and Engineering Practices guide us to the “how” of mastery. Since writing Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) paragraphs is one of our essential skills in science, many of the Mastery Tasks have students write a CER based on a lab or activity. Other Mastery Tasks are videos, lab reports (usually using Google Slides), or digital/analog creations such as comic strips or mini posters.

The rest of my 7th grade science PLC has not implemented Mastery-Based Grading…yet! They are interested, and are hoping to introduce it next school year. The 8th grade science teachers are using it, so thankfully I’m not entirely alone.

That being said, many of my Mastery Tasks are still common assessments, even though they are graded slightly differently.

Example Mastery Task

Below is a screenshot of a Mastery Task on Google Classroom. Attached to the assignment are instructions, the Doc students will edit, and sentence frames to support struggling students (provided on the day of the lesson to specific students, then added to the assignment later to help students with revisions).

Screenshot of a mastery task on Google Classroom

Students did a lab on the Law of Conservation of Mass, where they mix baking soda and vinegar in a flask with a balloon over the top. This lab was glued in students interactive notebooks, and students wrote the first draft of their CER in their notebooks.

Then, students traded notebooks with a partner, and used 3 colors to underline the claim, evidence, and reasoning. They also identified how their partner did based on the rubric. This was both an informal assessment of the partner’s CER and of the grading student’s ability to identify claim, evidence, and reasoning. When students received their notebooks back, they then went to Google Classroom and typed their CER into the Mastery Task Google Doc.

This Mastery Task came about a week after another CER on chemical reactions, where almost every student initially earned an In Progress grade. This led us to add in the additional draft, peer feedback, and finally their Mastery Task draft.

I love mixing in analog projects as well, such as One Pagers and 11×17 mini posters. While watching “The Lorax” movie, students analyzed it for how humans impact ecosystems and created a One Pager based on what they learned. You’ll notice there’s a spot in the corner for a stamp. This allows me to check the One Pager in class and stamp it. Then, students take a picture and submit it to the Mastery Task. If I see a stamp, I know it’s automatically Mastery. If there isn’t a stamp, then I know I need to check it (zoom in a bit, usually), and provide feedback either way.

The Lorax one pager, student example

Some Mastery Tasks are entirely skill-based. I have chosen to include notebook checks as Mastery Tasks because my students are working on their organization skills. They self-check their notebooks and answer a few reflection questions, then turn in pictures of both. I know some teachers may disagree with this, but it’s what works for me and my students.

Each 18 week semester comes down to about 20 Mastery Tasks. It’s not always one per week. Some weeks have none, while others have two.

Advice for getting started

Don’t be afraid to jump in and try! Use an assessment you already have, add a mastery rubric, ask students to complete the assignment, provide feedback, and allow them unlimited opportunities to revise and resubmit their work. Take it one step further by asking students for feedback on how to improve the assignment, and what lessons or activities were helpful in preparing them for the mastery task.

As I said in my first post, one of my next big steps is using One-Point Rubrics, simplifying the feedback process, and allowing me to give more targeted and individualized feedback. I love that I can grow as a teacher as my kids grow as students!

What was do you use to assess mastery in your classroom?

4 thoughts on “Creating and Implementing Mastery-Based Assignments”

  1. Mari, thank you so much for sharing this journey in implementing mastery based learning. You give great information and a lot of food for thought. I’m inspired and I’m sharing your posts with our teachers.

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  2. Mari, thanks for being vulnerable and sharing your journey! I, too, am reluctant to share my work. For me, it is because what I do is so different from every other teacher in my district. It is amazing that we have come up with similar strategies while being totally separated. Seeing you doing this is affirming for me and gives me the courage to continue.

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