Mastery Learning

Playing to Win — Updated from Get Your  A Out of College

School is a wonderful place for an education.  Somebody ought to try it sometime.

When we realize we are in charge of our own learning and always have been, it changes everything.  We choose how we learn, when we learn, and what.  It’s an absolutely wonderful freedom and empowerment.  You know that’s true, don’t you?300px-Poker-hand-and-Chips

Success versus Failure

Imagine a game based on success rather than failure, a game in which almost all students of French can count on mastering it, students of auto mechanics can become masters of their craft, students of geometry can fully expect to achieve mastery. When you think of it, that is not at all unreasonable.  And it sure does feel better.

I have resented to this day
When any but myself presumed to say
That there was anything I could not be.
– Robert Frost
You can master anything.

What’s more, there’s plenty of research that shows you don’t have to have talent in a field to master it.  It’s not even necessary.  You don’t even have to like it. If you are mentally and  physically okay—not great, just okay—you can master anything you feel like trying: painting, music, gymnastics, whatever.  (“You gotta sing like you don’t need the money.”)

The A List


The Way of Zen a la Alan Watts

Why haven’t schools rushed to adopt these practices? It’s this simple: If the structure emphasizes grading and ranking, then mastery and achievement would be at cross purposes with that emphasis. Follow the money; it’s all in the registrar’s office, in teachers’ record books, in course outlines, in standards, in the bell-shaped curve, in making up tests.  You will not find much that deals with everyone doing great.  It’s all about sorting and ranking. “How could we tell a B student from a D student?  What would business, industry, or grad schools do if we sent out nothing but A students?”

The Actual Goals


The New Curriculum

And you may be thinking that, too. If you are so accustomed to ranking that you wouldn’t want to be part of a school in which 95 per cent get top grades, don’t worry. These massive institutions are not about to change over. Meanwhile, you can easily get those A grades that only five per cent are allowed to have. All you have to do is discover the actual goals and learn how to play the real game. It’s far easier than you might imagine.

Once you’re onto the game, though, you can figure out the hidden house rules and start playing to win. Were you ever taught how to remember, how to take a test, how to cut through the padding in a text, how to keep the knots out of your stomach?   In this website, I’m passing on some of tricks of the trade.  You may already be using some of them intuitively, but using them consciously and deliberately cuts out masses of wasted time and emotion.  And you should never get emotionally involved in a money game.  The message? Take charge.

Take charge.

It’s that simple. You can put yourself in charge of your own learning.  You’ve been doing that all your life outside of school.  What school should be about is remembering how you’ve been doing that, learning how you learn.  That sounds pretty good.  I think I’ll finish this posting with that.

What we need to learn is how we learn.

School is a wonderful place to get an education – a good library, people who started before you did, smart young people like yourself trying to figure out what’s up.  It’s all there.  You just need to learn how to use it for your own purposes – which may not be what the authorities have in mind.   These web postings may gain you the time and peace of mind to start.


A good place for an education

3 thoughts on “Mastery Learning

  1. Hello there! Thanks for the reminders!
    Okay, you said you didn’t just want kudos, so here’s my off the top of my head reaction to this entry: “Why haven’t schools rushed to adopt these practices?” What practices? If I just happened to stumble onto your website, I’d be looking back to the words preceeding this sentence, thinking I’d missed something. And maybe I have–I’m just having my first cup of coffee . . . I know you mean no grading and you allude to this following this statement but as a ‘first time reader’ I might want a stronger connection. This must be a preamble to the rest of the book . . . but that’s not clear here if I were a first time reader. Maybe I’m just still asleep today, but I want to know more (right now) about how there can be “a game in which almost all students of French can count on mastering it . . . you don’t have to have talent in a field to master it. It’s not even necessary. You don’t even have to like it.” I like and agree with all these wonderful statements, but if I were a first time reader, I’d want more substantiation than “recent research” . . .Maybe a mention that the answers follow in your book . . . or future blog entries . . . and maybe I’m just dense today …


    • Hey, Carol, That’s the kind of response I can bite into. Actually, anyone can google “mastery learning” and find answers to your questions, but there are other ways to get the answers, too. People can google all their doubts these days, so I don’t have to cite references. There are probably hundreds for every bold statement I make. But what I’m really counting on is each human being being his or her own resource. For example, we know damn well if we can do whatever we need to do. We’ve mastered millions of things, like flexing our little fingers — an amazingly complex feat if you stop and think about it.

      Anyway, here’s the bottom line, and you know very well, from your own life, that this is so: The reason people can’t learn what they want to do is that they think they can’t learn what they want to do. And that’s because society, the world they were born into, keeps telling them they can’t do things until the poor souls buy into it.

      But all over my website are all sorts of entries that approach the matter of taking charge of our own lives, and they all point back to mastery learning. Wouldn’t it be strange if nature designed animals that can run their own lives?

      Thanks for checking in. Maybe you’ve started a dialog with some of our readers. Clark


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