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The Mastery Gap: Crossing the chasm from learning to mastery

Learning is an something every person encounters during their lives. It is the experience of attaining new knowledge through experiences, exploration, and study. Learning can take place through a variety of ways using a variety of tools to create the learning experience. But, someone may have a learning experience or even pass tests measuring understanding and comprehension yet still not truly master the content.

In the field of education, curriculum is the totality of student experiences. Bruner introduced in the 1960s the concept of a spiraling curriculum which highlights the importance of re-engaging with ideas over time in order to keep them fresh in our minds and consistently build on ideas. Each time the student is exposed to the content, he/she develops a deeper understanding. Bloom introduced a similar concept with mastery learning. Mastery learning declares students must achieve a level of mastery, usually defined by a test score, in prerequisite knowledge before moving forward to learn new information.

There has been much talk about a learning gap due to COVID19 pandemic but I propose the gap is in mastery rather than learning. Students have been exposed to content in a wide variety of ways over the past three years, but they have not been tested in the manner we previously tested mastery (e.g. standardized assessments). Additionally, even though some assessments have been conducted and students have proven mastery at that time, the research around trauma suggests they may not retain information over time due to the state of trauma they may be enduring. Again, they have been taught and have learned but retaining the information over time may not be evident. A mastery gap is the term that better describes what we are experiencing in our schools today.

A mastery gap indicates students have been exposed to content and may have tested well when measuring understanding but due to circumstance of COVID trauma, they may not have established enough mastery to move to the next level. We will see this erupt as we move into the future and students who were in 2nd grade in 2019 are now entering middle school dependent on their prior knowledge as they move into deeper understandings of the concepts introduced in earlier grades. If there was no real mastery, the gap in knowledge will slow or perhaps prevent them from acquiring deeper knowledge.

Obviously, this is not tested but my belief is we will see this mastery gap develop over time as we continue our healing process. With that in mind, we really need to be thinking of ways to reintroduce concepts in a manner that is meaningful and inclusive. The way we manage this gap could very well establish a students ongoing love of learning!

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