Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Capacity focus, 55f: Using the Bloom mastery learning concept as an approach to renewing education using digital technology in the Caribbean

(Two Sigma/Digital learning transformation series
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 )

As we continue to reflect on how to transform learning effectiveness in our region, I think we now need to make up our minds on a values issue.

For, while it has been thought in some quarters that a mastery-based learning approach can be disruptive to the easy scheduling desired in organising school curricula and timetables (making it seem to be not worth the associated problems . . . ), the differences in potential degree of success bring to bear a justice issue. 

 if we have a cluster of interventions that credibly can reliably convert a C-student into an A-student by changing how learning is delivered,
and if we have digital means to do so cost effectively,
then we owe it to our young people to properly equip them for success,
especially in core areas like Math and English, as well as basic science and computing.
Where, we do have just such, and yes, I am going to use the slide on the two-sigma challenge again, to drive the point home hard:

Just so, we also should recall (courtesy Wikipedia) the component interventions that go into that C- to - A jump:

Effect of selected alterable variables on student achievement.
Adapted from,[6] Walberg (1984).
Object of change process Alterable variable Effect size [+ sigma value] Percentile equivalent
Teacher Tutorial instruction 2.00 98
Teacher Reinforcement 1.2
Learner Feedback-corrective (Mastery Learning) 1.00 84
Teacher Cues and explanations 1.00
Teacher, Learner Student classroom participation 1.00
Learner Student time on task 1.00
Learner Improved reading/study skills 1.00
Home environment / peer group Cooperative learning 0.80 79
Teacher Homework (graded) 0.80
Teacher Classroom morale 0.60 73
Learner Initial cognitive prerequisites 0.60
Home environment / peer group Home environment intervention 0.50 69

As was previously noted, the highlighted block of key interventions suggests that we can get much of the effect of 1:1 tutoring through a more interactive, rich feedback approach that reinforces learning step by step and provides opportunity for mastering and for remediation as necessary to fill in gaps. Indeed, the logical inference on the effect of 1:1 tutoring is that it is not so much an independent cause of the dramatic improvement, but that it trends naturally to promote several of the factors below it in the table, which leads to a dramatic cumulative effect.

We know that competence or lack of it in the core areas makes a big difference to the potential career options of pupils in school, and that cumulatively, this can make a big difference to development.

So, I now argue that we must try, and must find a way to provide the resources to support educational transformation in these core areas.

First, we need to pause and show a way we can reasonably assess performance in ways that could feed into the sort of statistical scoring scheme above:

A six-point criterion- of- performance based item grading scheme
(to be used with multiple items to gain precision*)
Short descriptor
Performance level description
5 or A
Very Good
Nominal or exceptional performance, showing good knowledge base, good solution, good insights with no significant defects
4 or B
Good knowledge, insight and solution strategy, but with minor gaps or defects in the solution
3 or C
Acceptable knowledge, insight and solution strategy leading to a workable solution, but with significant gaps or defects
2 or D
Major gaps or defects in knowledge, insights or solution strategy, leading to an unworkable solution, or “on the right track” but too incomplete to be a fair attempt
1 or E
Very Poor
Critical and crippling gaps in knowledge, insights or solution strategy, or utterly wrong approach, or barely attempted and very incomplete
0 or F
No attempt, or disqualified
Not attempted or no significant attempt that moves beyond given information, or disqualified for cause

* If we let +/- 0.5 on the scale be 3 sigma [σ], σ ~ 0.2 or variance, σ2 ~ 0.04. Thus, since variances add in a chain, it can be shown that for n assessed items the actual error range will go like +/-[10%/ sqrt(n)]. For five items, that is +/- 4 – 5%, for ten, +/- 3%. In cases where 0 to 5 in steps of 1 is too coarse, this can be used as a first ranking then finer points can be inserted within the bands. Of course, the scores and criteria assigned are scaled so that acceptable but significantly flawed performance will get a 3. The implied pass-point is 2.5, the inferred margin between fair and poor performance. The scheme can be adapted to cases where the bands for grades should be unequal, e.g. where we can justify and want to make fine distinctions in any given band.

Next, let us sum up the mastery-based learning approach, to clarify what we are talking about.

Laura Candler has a neat, teacher's perspective, summary (that of a Math teacher):
Mastery Learning is an instructional philosophy based on the idea of giving students more than one chance to demonstrate mastery of content and skills. In a Mastery Learning classroom, as in a traditional classroom, students receive instruction on a topic and then take a test to determine their level of understanding. But that's where the similarity ends. In a Mastery Learning classroom, the teacher scores that assessment and determines who has mastered the content and who needs more help. Students who have mastered the material are given "enrichment" opportunities, while those who have not mastered it receive additional instruction on the topic. The new instruction is presented in a different way, perhaps using manipulatives or other hands-on approaches. After a day or two, a retest is administered to the group who did not demonstrate mastery. In my experience, most of the students who didn't master it the first time are able to achieve mastery on the second test. There are many benefits of using his model, but the most important one is that all students can learn and grow, and no one is left behind. Every time you begin a new unit of instruction, you can feel confident that your students have mastered the concepts needed to embark on new learning.  [NB: It is well worth looking at Ms Candler's "Math Facts" workbook sampler here. Want of sound knowledge of addition/subtraction and multiplication/division tables often has a significant role in breakdown of Math capacity.]
 We have already seen a simple flowchart:

However, it will be useful to go into a bit more details (integrating other key points), and to address what happens with those who seem to have major problems:

Here, we see that at intake to a unit a student should be profiled to identify his/her knowledge state. This may show that a student is ready to learn, or may show that a student is in need of significant specialist attention. Perhaps enrichment is indicated. It may also show that the student is beyond the learning scope for the unit in question and should go on to something else.

Already, we are seeing a place for individualisation of learning emerging.

Similarly, it would be advantageous to have the diagnostic assessment being explicitly based on an identified knowledge space that defines the scope and ordering of learning states; as was discussed previously.

We then see the significance of the IDEAS approach to presentation, and the significance of the learning activities spiral approach, in light of key case studies and themes that incrementally build capacity:

 Another useful idea is the concept of the CPA approach to inducing concept formation:
C -- Concrete hands-on activities and interactions first

P -- Pictorial representations to help form concepts based on the concrete exposure

A -- Abstract procedures, processes and symbols that build on the pictorial representations
(I suspect that the use of good pictures can help provide scaffolding for those struggling with algebraic representations or the like extremely abstract topics. Indeed, the algebra tiles representations mentioned here -- home made version here (software, here) -- may be helpful even with Algebra!)

The reader will notice that I also stress the use of projects as ways to individualise learning as well; which are dandy for enrichment too. When you have to do something significant and for preference practical with learning, it can teach more, more powerfully than anything else. It is also a major confidence booster, and to have a project as part of a portfolio of learning achievements is also very helpful. Nothing proves that you can do X better than having demonstrably done it!

You will also see that I am stressing the presence of back-up where people who have major learning problems can get help. That too, as a justice matter, should be part of our curriculum planning.

But, where does digital technology fit in?


A well laid out course should incorporate all of these elements in structured learning frames that embed a case structure designed in light of the structure of the knowledge space identified with expert inputs, frames that also access powerful multimedia learning resources. If we do the job right, no tutor will be better able to more patiently help a struggling child, meanwhile flagging that child for assistance from the teacher -- now more a learning coach and facilitator than a sage on stage to do chalk and talk games and to wield the magical red ink pen for marking.

So, why should we not use digital course organisation and presentation technologies such as Moodle, Xerte, eXe and so forth?  Would not that allow us to use our best, most effective teachers as presenters accessible on demand as needed by students anywhere, anytime? Doesn't that release the teacher to be a coach and facilitator who manages learning and helps adapt to the individual needs of students? And, so forth?

Couldn't we argue that our universities and partner institutions including poverty relief development agencies, as well as private enterprise, civil society and government all have a vested interest in solving this major area of problems with education in our region?

Why not find some territories willing to be pilot projects then develop, improve and scale-up? Why not have a regional cyber campus that supports primary and secondary studies over the Internet backbone across the region? Why not have a digital lending library and e-textbook and learning resource retailers on the same backbone? Why not do even more than that?

I am also highlighting the potential of the 7" Android tablet in a folio with a built in keyboard, as a key learning device (and such units should be in the US$ 120 or so range within a year -- actually, if we are willing to accept resistive touchscreen -- stylus, not finger -- technology, we are already there):

Of course, this calls for a major development effort.

The logical foci for this are primary and secondary level core subjects:
Basic Science
Why not let us do a regional initiative for these, up to and including second chance secondary education efforts?

So, now, let us think on this for now. DV, more later. END