[ABCs of SPED] M is for Mastery

abcs of sped Jun 01, 2018

To start this week's blog, I decided to look up the definition of "Mastery." It's one of those words where you just know what it means, you know? But I wanted to be clear on its technical definition. And you know what? I didn't really like what I found!

Here's what Merriam-Webster says about mastery:

a the authority of a master
b the upper hand in a contest or competition 
2a possession or display of great skill or technique
2b skill or knowledge that makes one master of a subject 
I guess the best definition they give is 2a... but I'd like to do my own "Mallory-Webster" definition of mastery which is this:
The ability to complete a task without assistance or prompting, every time the task is given, in varying and appropriate contexts.
Let's break this down into pieces:
First, mastery includes the ability to complete a task. Mastery is active! If we're creating SMART annual goals (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic/relevant and time-bound), then mastery of any particular goal will require the ability to perform the action stated in the goal. For example, if a goal states that a student will be able to write his/her name, the student must be able to write to demonstrate mastery. It seems so obvious, but even Merriam-Webster references "knowledge" in one definition! In education, we don't want "knowledge" of something to be the criteria. We want the action of being able to do something.
Next, mastery means a student is able to complete a task without prompting or assistance. To determine whether a student has mastered a particular skill or goal, we must assess whether they can do so without our help. Note, though, that this doesn't exclude accommodations like providing directions in multiple formats, or breaking down the directions into multiple steps. When assessing for mastery, we want to solely assess a student's ability to perform the skill, not their ability to follow directions or process large amounts of information.
Third, mastery means the student is always able to perform the skill. I think of mastery like I think of muscle memory. The student should have such a grasp on the particularly skill or task that they can do it without much conscious thought or effort. For example, I have mastered the skill of typing on a QWERTY keyboard. I can perform this skill without stopping to look at the keys or thinking about where the shift button is or wondering if there is a question mark key somewhere. Any time someone asks me to type something, I will be able to do so with a high level of performance, even if it's first thing in the morning or late at night, or on my laptop or on a desktop or even on my phone. Mastery is the ability to perform the skill whenever and wherever a student is asked.
Lastly, mastery involves transferability of the skill into varying contexts. We looked at knowledge transfer a few weeks ago so I wont belabor this point, but for a student to truly have mastered a skill, they must be able to perform the skill in any context that requires it. If a student can count money in the classroom but not at the grocery store checkout, they have not truly mastered the skill! However, if they can count money at the checkout but NOT in the classroom for some reason, I'd still consider this mastery as the checkout is the appropriate context for counting money. 
Again, my very official IEP Guru definition of mastery is this: The ability to complete a task without assistance or prompting, every time the task is given, in varying and appropriate contexts. 
So how does this apply to you or your student? When looking at whether your child has met his or her annual goals, go through each piece of this definition and evaluate whether the criteria is met. If your student meets some of the criteria but not others, they have not achieved mastery and the goal needs to be revisited-- typically in the form of short-term objectives. And lucky you, that's what I'm covering next week! Keep your eyes peeled...
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