How Do You Explain Mastery-Based Learning to Your Students?

As a Certified Instructor, Professor Brandon Ford of Navarro College has used Hawkes Learning for years and is a big proponent of our Mastery-based learning pedagogy. All homework and testing platforms are not built the same– Hawkes’ mastery approach can be challenging for students to adopt when they’re accustomed to being able to “turn in an incomplete assignment, make a 50 and move on” says Professor Ford.

He explains Mastery-based learning like this, “You cannot learn without doing. You do not become the Quarterback for the Cowboys by simply stepping onto the field for the first time with a football. You must practice the skill to learn it. Math is no different. When I was in school, I would get a limited number of problems to practice and would be expected to learn the material (much like running a play 10 times and expected to have learned the play). Mastery-based ensures that you can practice an infinite number of problems with NO PENALTY! You can make mistakes, learn from them, and not lose points. You are offered unlimited attempts – something I wish I had when I was in school. As long as you complete the assignment by the deadline, it is a 100. Further, if you do well on the first part of the Certification, you don’t even have to complete every homework problem assigned.”

Wondering how to explain Hawkes’ 3-mode “Learn, Practice, Certify” learning path to your students who are new to our Mastery-based approach? Professor Ford explains it like this:

  1. Learn

This is for if you do not understand my lecture or miss class.  This offers a different way of presenting the information.  If you struggle to understand my teaching style (or even just a particular lesson), Learn is for you! You can see examples, read the book (if reading is your learning style), or watch videos to help you understand the topics. These videos are closed-captioned for students with auditory disabilities. 

2. Practice

“The only way to learn mathematics is to do mathematics.” -Paul Halmos

Practice is a way to “practice” problems with absolutely no penalty.  Unlimited attempts, unlimited strikes, unlimited help.  Practice allows you to send your instructor a copy of the problem for personalized videos, offer hints (to guide you to the answer without giving you the answer), or even give you a step-by-step walk-through.  Practice is the perfect way to feel comfortable with the material.  It is designed to build your confidence before “flying solo” in Certification.  

3. Certify

Certify is your homework.  It’s a little like “Super Mario Brothers” – unlimited continues, but you only have a certain number of “lives”.  Make sure you know what you are doing before jumping into Certify to reduce frustration.  Can you go into Certify without Practice and Learn?  Sure – but you are risking getting frustrated quickly.  How many “Continues” do you use before stopping in “Super Mario Brothers”?  While you can always replay the level, you will find more enjoyment if you aren’t frustrated.  

Once you hit Mastery, you can continue to work (with Navarro’s settings), or you can stop.  By practicing (see above), you can shorten your actual homework (which gives you something to strive for). 

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