What is Mastery Learning?

Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.

 – Swami Vivekananda

As we recall my previous article, a tenth grade student doesn’t know to read, write or speak in her second language (English), thanks to the broken system. For a decade, we go to school and learn same second language, even then how come we don’t know the basics? How such an education model was designed? Why does it even exist in this modern world?

In 1919, before there were computers, or televisions, or antibiotics, a progressive educator named Carleton W. Washburne was named superintendent of schools in affluent Chicago suburb of Winnetka Illinois. Winnetka was a manageably sized school with the community (parent, educator, students and school LT) willing to experiment and excel. In 1922, Washburne introduced what became widely known as Winnetka Plan, comprising of two radical concepts. First, all students could learn if provided with conditions appropriate to their needs and no one must be held back or put on a track that leads to academic failure. This one is aced by our government and education system, no student can fail until Grade Eight, kudos – but every student have the conditions appropriate to their needs? Let me give a rain check on this debate.

Before going to second concept, let’s see how our existing traditional model works. I’m taking the liberty to pick a leaf out of my school life as an example – 9.15 AM sharp, school bell will ring. By then we must be inside the school gate, whole school assembles for morning prayer. At 9.30, we go to our classes, sit in the place allocated to us, educator will come and start taking lectures. After 45 minutes, a bell will ring, immediately the educator will stop her lecture without even fully finishing the concept because the next educator is waiting at door step for their subject. After 2 such period, a bell for the break and after four, a lunch break. Similarly afternoon session comprises of 3 periods. Each time when the bell rang for breaks or end of school day, the next minute, we will run out of class without even considering whether the educator finished the concept or we honed it. We just ran home. There is nothing curious or compelling to tie us in the class, it was so boring – we love to go home and play.

Let’s come back to the Second concept, Learning is structured not in terms of time but in terms of certain target levels the student achieve. This is not 21st century idea, back in 1920s Washburne introduced this concept part of Winnetka Plan. He was advocating the opposite to then and now traditional model. What should be fixed is a high level of comprehension and what need to be variable is the amount of time students have to understand a concept.

Every student must reach a prescribed degree of mastering a concept before advancing to the next concept. They are not time bound, they just keep practicing until they master the concept. In this Masterly Learning, students won’t be in tenth grade without knowing to read, write or speak their languages. They would have mastered the language. They won’t have ran home without finishing the concept. They would have practiced until they master it.

During the progressive 1920s, interest in the Winnetka Plan ran high. Students of this school system graduated with flying colors. Washburne himself became Edu Star and president of Progressive Education Academy. But then a strange thing happened to the notion of Mastery Learning. It soon went out of vogue and for decades, it was all but forgotten.

A good, successful, famous and most sought out model was forgotten. Why? Why was it smothered?

Didn’t you hear the School Bell? Done with First Period. Wait for the Next…

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Hello English – Indian Version of DuoLingo

Discipline: Language Arts

 

Platform: Android

 

Price: Free

 

For What:

Hello English is an Indian version of DuoLingo to learn English if you know any of the 19 supported Indian regional languages. As you all know, I started researching apps to help my mom learn English. DuoLingo helps learning English but you have to know one of the language it supports like Spanish, French, etc. and unfortunately it’s not yet supporting Tamil. As my mom knows only Tamil, it didn’t help her. We tried couple other apps and finally found Hello English. If you know Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, etc. and of course Tamil, you can easily learn English.

Hello English

It has a huge customer base with 10+ Million downloads and 4.5 rating in Google Play store. It uses crowd source and English educators to help answer your questions. It consists of more than 350 lessons, games, news and articles. It also has an inbuilt dictionary.

Help

Hello English smoothly drives you through learning language. Install and on opening the app, it asks for access to your contacts to use your family and friends names to give you the real world experience while learning English. Choose to give access. Next step, select the language using which you want to learn English. In my mom case, we chose Tamil. Now, interface started to appear in Tamil and my mom easily navigate and play with the app. You can also change interface language to English if you’re comfortable in it. Also, choose a profile photo, name and reasons to learn English. Say, To go abroad, better social life, watch English movies, to educate kids, prepare for exams or job hunt. Finally rate your English proficiency and you’re all set to Learn English, Walk English, Swim English.

Picture

App will guide you through the lessons, games and essays. In each of those, you can read a sentence, listen each word with Tamil translation, tap a word to learn about it, fill in the blanks, choose the best answer, match the following and record your audio to gauge speaking skills. All of this with the help of visual pictures, audio and videos to make audience curious, keep learning, practicing and good news you need not memorize as it is similar to watching movies, playing games in your smart devices. On mastering the lesson 1, next game, articles and lessons will get activated. You can also take the test to skip one or group of lessons, if you’re already familiar with it. Based on your mastery level, you will win coins and your Global/City rank will be listed. These exercises help you hone reading, writing, speaking and listening skills.

games

Pros:

  • Supports Indian regional languages like Tamil to learn English
  • Intuitive, Easy and Self-paced learning app
  • Need no educator to teach
  • Beautiful User Interface
  • Works Offline

 

Cons:

  • Supports only English, can’t learn other foreign languages like Spanish, Mandarin, etc.
  • Lack of Human interaction
  • Lack of support for all Indian languages

 

How to Integrate in Classroom:

Decide how you will use it in your classroom. You must have a smart device, chrome book, PC or Mac and a projector so that you can screen-cast and project the app to entire class but I will recommend each student have access to a smart device preferably Android tablet as it is cost effective. So, they can self-learn and educators can mentor them.

Let’s say Students have a smart device and learn independently. They need not even create user credentials to login. All they have to do is open the app, enter their name, choose a profile picture and the regional language from which they want to learn English. App will drive them to their daily lessons, games, articles and news. Students must use the app during Core Skill time to learn and revise English reading, writing, speaking and listening skills.

As I mentioned, Hello English lacks in human interaction. During Socratic discussion time, educators must facilitate group of students to apply their learning from the app to speak, listen closely to the comments of others, think critically for themselves, understand, articulate their own thoughts, connect learnings with real world scenarios and respond to thoughts of others. Also, integrate the learning in trans-disciplinary projects. Say, write a blog about the project activity in the language students learning and socialize sharing it with family, friends and our community.

You need not worry about testing students as the app covers it and tracks the progress my means of mastery level indicators on each lesson.

Talk English. Walk English. Swim English.

DuoLingo – Learn International Languages at Your Own Pace

Discipline: Language Arts 
Platform: iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Web 
Price: Free 

For What:

DuoLingo is a language learning app offering 16 languages for English speakers. Say, as an English speaker you can learn Spanish, French or German along with million other learners. It uses crowd source to help you understand your learning or discuss doubts and queries. Speakers of non-English languages can also learn using this app. These include Spanish, Greek, Czech, German, French, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Turkish, Ukrainian and Vietnamese speakers. 

DuoLingo smoothly drives you through learning language. On mastering the basic module (lesson), next module will get activated. You can also take the test to skip one or group of modules, if you’re already familiar with it.

Duolingo

 

Each lesson has range of activities such as matching words, translation, listening and speaking exercises. It identifies your weakest words to strengthen it. Under the module, a bar will show the mastery level. It will get weak progressively if you don’t practice the same lesson regularly as our brain will start forgetting. DuoLingo keeps track of it, sets the revision schedule and reminds you. It is so much intelligent that, as our brain masters the lesson, interval between our revision schedule increases – as obviously we don’t forget and eventually become geeks.

Pros:

  • Intuitive, Easy and Self-paced learning app
  • Need no educator to teach
  • Beautiful User Interface

 

 Cons:

  • Lack of Human interaction
  • You must be a speaker of one of the language supported to learn new languages. Say, you know my mom passionately trying to learn English and that’s why I started researching apps. She knows only Tamil but this app doesn’t support it so she can’t learn English. DuoLingo won’t help my mother but I ended up learning Spanish. Hope Tamil will be supported soon. This is the best free app to learn new languages. Period.

 

How to Integrate in Classroom:

Decide how you will use it in your classroom. You must have a smart device, chrome book, PC or Mac and a projector so that you can screen-cast and project the app to entire class but I will recommend each student have access to a smart device preferably Android tablet as it is cost effective. So, they can self-learn and educators can mentor them. 

Let’s say Students have a smart device and learn independently. They must create a profile, login, choose target language they wish to learn and setup weekly goal. Students must use the app during Core Skill time to learn, practice and revise new language like Spanish.

As I mentioned, DuoLingo lacks in human interaction. During Socratic discussion time (open ended discussions), educators must facilitate group of students to apply their learning from the app to speak, listen closely to the comments of others, think critically for themselves, understand, articulate their own thoughts, connect learnings with real world scenarios and respond to thoughts of others. Also, integrate the learning in trans-disciplinary projects. Say, write a blog about the project activity in the language students learning and socialize sharing it with family, friends and our community. 

You need not worry about testing students as the app covers it and tracks the progress my means of mastery level indicators under each module (lesson) and weekly goals.

Set your own goal. Learn at your own pace. Welcome to personalized learning!

I still have a dream…

I was born and raised in a small town Chengalpattu near Chennai, India. We had couple established schools, most of my town went to one of it, I’m not an exception. We went to the school, we had classrooms, sat in benches, in rows, facing the blackboard where educators lecture for an hour while many students sleeping, playing and only few listening. When exams came, we memorized, scored good marks and walked away happily with report card. I never had the exposure then which I have now at Microsoft but hey I’m now what I’m because of the school and we had no Smart Phones, iPads, iTunes, Apps, not even computers for the most part so the education we got is just fine.

 

Think about the modern world, we’re in the digital era but still education is old school. Kids are taught the same way, lectured in front of blackboard, memorizing and forgetting after exams. We’re in the society where everything is individualized and personalized. We can get out computers built to our exact specification, we can customize our smart phones, we can even get the food customized and yet in this world of customization, one main thing we fail to personalize is education. It is not engaging and definitely not interesting, that’s why students wait for the school bell to run home and play games, hear music, watch videos.

 

We’re not preparing our students for the world they’re expected to be in, we’re not giving the exposure they need to compete with this opportunistic society. We’re just letting them prepare for the world their ancestors lived. Is it going to help them?

 

I still have dreams of education. I have dreams of how a school should look. I have dreams to gamify the learning. I have dreams of replacing classroom with school space. I have dreams of innovating school space utilization. I have dreams of optimizing operation cost. I have dreams of reducing education cost. I have dreams of personalizing education to each individual and identify their unique passion. I have dreams of integrating games, music and videos in the learning process. I believe in the power of technology to transform classrooms.

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