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Flipping the System

Grades are arbitrary and pointless because they do not actually measure what they are intended to measure. So what’s the alternative?


So what does mastery actually look like? How do we make sure that students achieve it? We have to rethink and restructure the way school works. That’s exactly what I intend to do.

If we think about a typical classroom, there is a group of kids who are all about the same age being taught the same lesson and given the same assignment and the same assessment. Those who pay attention, do the work, and earn a good grade get to move on to the next lesson the next day (or week or however long a topic takes to teach). The kids that didn’t do their work or struggled with their work (or didn’t do their work because they struggled with it) and did not earn a passing grade? They move on too. They may get some extra support; or maybe their teacher goes back and tries to reteach something to them to help them understand better; or maybe they get pulled out to go to an intervention class. But now they’re doing double the workload because they’re having to play catch up because they didn’t master a previous skill AND are still expected to be on track with the rest of the class. This is the burden placed on students who struggle.

Then you’ve got the students who didn’t need all the practice and could have gone straight to the test because they already know how to do the skill. Maybe they’re “good” students and sit politely and quietly in class; or maybe they are the eager students who raise their hand to answer every question, thus robbing other students of the chance to answer and participate in the learning process; or maybe they’re bored and cutting up and distracting other students who are trying to learn. These same kids sometimes only have average grades too, because they can do well on tests, but never turn in assignments.

All of these situations sound pretty terrible, but that is the reality of most classrooms at nearly all levels of education.

But what if…

What if, Instead of a teacher delivering a lesson to all the students and assigning the same work to all the students and testing all the students in all the same way, we empowered the students to learn at their own pace? There is no teacher standing at the front of the room, but students spread out comfortably all around, working on whatever skill is relevant to them in an adaptive, engaging, technology-based program. The teacher becomes a guide, helping students determine what goals they set for themselves. When they meet a goal, they move on; if they’re struggling, they get support.

Then, what if, instead of completing worksheets (that will get thrown away, let’s be honest), the students took the skills that they’re working on and applied them to projects to demonstrate what they’re learning? The projects would all be a little different because it would require students to use the skills they’re working on, and each student would be working on slightly different skills.

Then, what if, instead of a teacher telling students what project they’re going to complete to demonstrate their skill, students were presented with a problem to solve. Then the project becomes one that they create themselves or collaborate on with a team.

Then, what if we took all of the data from their skills programs, and all their projects, and meaningful work over the course of the year and compiled it into a portfolio?

Then, what if we had an exhibition, where students' portfolio of work was displayed for family, friends, and the community? No one wants to put anything less than their best work on display. This ensures that everything they do is done until it truly represents their best effort.

This is Mastery.

This is ACRES.

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