5. The New Learning Infrastructure: Trust, Respect, and Attention to Detail

In her teacher education program, Mary Chapman began to understand what it takes to build a new learning infrastructure. Anything created to support surface functions must be trusted absolutely.

Trust comes from people who respect those who build and maintain the infrastructure. For bridges, respect is based on a knowledge that highly competent architects, engineers, and skilled workers make something substantive, safe, and enduring.

Because everything is given attention to detail.

For schools in the new learning infrastructure, trust and respect are given to teachers. In this reinvented education system, they also practice attention to detail.

Mary’s introduction to that principle was in seeing the importance of mastery learning. And being able to articulate what it means in concrete and holistic terms.

“Concrete” in connection with specificity. “Holistic” in the context of learning as multifaceted and interconnected brain functions.

Defining mastery is just the beginning. While essential, it is only the big picture. The professional discipline to achieve that big picture is when the REAL work begins.

No detail overlooked. No mistakes tolerated.

That takes Mary into curriculum content and design. Researched and written in ways that are usable and measurable in every classroom. Encouraging quality student performance and sequenced through the grades to achieve learning continuity.

To fulfill the quest for student mastery.

An important aspect of building curriculum was that Mary work closely with colleagues. A necessary skill if continuity in student mastery was to be achieved.

Mary Chapman’s Story – Part 3

Our professors told us the top of a locally developed curriculum pyramid is mastery. A mastery statement is a specific definition of what students are to know, do, and become after graduating from the grades taught within a school district.

Each subject area and grade level are building blocks toward the achievement of the final set of expectations. Separate mastery statements are needed for each subject area and grade. 

For example, I teach seventh grade science. My first task is to collaborate with all others who teach science in every grade.

To establish a mastery designation that aligns with the general district statement AND the study of science as a discipline. 

Mastery statements are needed to establish what my students are expected to know, do, and become after completing the full subject area program, as well as each academic year. Grade level statements must be identical across the district.

When compared to science mastery statements in sixth and eighth grades, the seventh-grade statement needs to show a logical connection. Sixth grade learning is to be reinforced in my grade, and I can expect the eighth-grade teachers to reinforce what I am teaching.

Curriculum experts call that process sequencing or spiraling.

We were told by our professors that the process is time-consuming and challenging. Schools and districts have long depended on the services of commercial publishers. To develop what they called scope and sequence charts. Or blank templates. Sometimes they are referred to as curriculum maps or mapping.

The key thing we had to acknowledge was that mastery is a function of curriculum content and design. It may not be detailed in terms of content to be covered, but it paints a broad picture of the kind of human being we ideally would like our “grade completers” and graduates to be.

A mastery statement is much more encompassing than anything from past public-school experiences. We researched all ideas about what a truly educated person should be and included them in our statement.

Our professors said we needed to capture a holistic and real-life essence in the statement, to forget what past or current declarations offer.

Check out what we created:

Students completing the full program of studies at XYZ School District will have skills that expand their understanding of reality. That includes a deep understanding of themselves and how they fit into the world.

They can solve complex problems, think and act creatively, and manage their own needs responsibly.

Graduates understand and can act on principles associated with entrepreneurship. The ability to become lifelong learners is made possible through knowing how to learn and being motivated to do so.

They are curious about ways they can stretch boundaries into new and different realms. That includes an inherent drive to learn continuously, to ask good questions and become part of diverse communities in which feedback is vigorous and stimulating.

They will understand the importance of self-confidence, gained through experience with widening groups, taking meaningful initiatives (reaching out), receiving consistent encouragement from respected associates.

Graduates will practice mindfulness in terms of clarifying priorities and actions each day.

They are open to others from different backgrounds. They understand and work to achieve self-discipline and personal values. They create and maintain the convictions to pursue these values.

Students completing the full program of studies at XYZ School District will also speak and write effectively. They will know how to make people feel at ease, those from every walk of life. Graduates will enter conversations with others and show genuine interest in their ideas and activities.

While each academic discipline is important, graduates will grasp the idea that problem solving is usually associated with a complex and interactive system. Solving problems requires collaborative skills that allows all disciplines to work in concert.

Graduates will understand the meaning of intellectual passion. Not simply a passion for attaining more knowledge, but in comprehending its significance and value.

The ability to communicate expressively both orally and in writing. And that life is more than a single dimension. It is an assortment of experiences that make it worth living.

After we finished and proofed the mastery statement for our fictitious school district, we were stunned with its substance and tone. Then reality hit.

What school district today would dare accept our mastery statement? What board of education, administrative staff, patrons, or parents of students would understand it, much less accept it?

Even more daunting to me personally was the challenge of creating a mastery statement for a full

science program and each year’s course. Although not yet a practicing teacher, I chose middle school.

Where in that simulated district mastery statement would the discipline of science fit? Where would my own grade level fit?

As I slowly read the simulated district statement, certain words and phrases popped out:

  • understanding self in a remarkable world
  •  problem solving
  •  inventing new solutions to human problems
  •  maintaining a sense of wonder and interest in new ideas
  •  working closely with others to discover new worlds both beyond and on the earth

Wow! All those points made my subject much more than the procedural “scientific method” stuff.

Middle school kids are fascinated in themselves, the changes they experience in their own bodies and minds.

Biologically, what makes us become who we will someday be? How do the biographies of others link to how we feel as pre-teens? What intellectual passion captured those people and how did it happen? How can it happen to us?

Biology, geology, physics, geography, anthropology, and all other facets of life on earth need further exploration. They need collaborating with others who share that kind of personal excitement.

For the greater good.

Even before we created a district’s simulated general science mastery statement, I decided my middle school mastery statement would have a biographical focus. My students could project themselves into an imagined future.

In all facets of science. To include environmental concerns and a deep dive into skills needed to make a difference for both ordinary people and our nation’s economy.

In my imagined course I would use field trips, role play, panel discussions, and debate. We would build connections with adults in careers associated with scientific discovery and social improvement.

My biggest challenge was to make the imagined course mastery statement fit the time or instructional circumstances involved.

Little did I realize that task would be impacted by a worldwide virus. Which turned out to be both a liability and opportunity for me.

When I left the university and had to teach virtually a few years later, it was tough. But with science front and center in the news every day, its importance now and in the future could not be more dramatic.

Essential for twelve-year-old kids as they considered their adult roles. 

©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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