47. Student Mastery Profiles: The Teaching and Learning Contract



New learning infrastructure curricula are written for each interdisciplinary subject. In this scenario we focus on how the traditional language arts subject area committee decided to open the door to an interdisciplinary approach. They added technology, and strongly referenced project teaching and learning as the instructional method of choice.

The committee needed to expand its classification to something more generic than language arts. They decided to use the term Communications.

Communications, as with each interdisciplinary subject, begins with a mastery statement encompassing all grade levels. Under that general rubric are three levels of outcome:

  1. course (or grade level),
  2.  unit, and
  3.  component.

Why three levels? Because mastering a course (or grade level) is like building a house.

An architect first prepares an artistic rendering of the final product. Then develops a blueprint to show contractors necessary materials and skills to make the house become what is envisioned. The contractor then hires subcontractors and employees to put everything together.   

In this analogy the house is the course. Blueprints are the units. Components are what workers do to make the house a reality.

Another way of thinking about it is with sports or the military. Winning is the objective.

Winning requires much attention to organizational detail — honing skills of those doing the work. Effectively designing down so the organization’s functions and people deliver up.

The course outcome is the house, or act of winning. It stipulates what students will know or do at the end of a program of study. Unit outcomes are the tangible framework or organizational structures needed to meet the course outcome. Component outcomes are the pieces or fundamental skills necessary to meet unit outcomes.

In the new learning infrastructure, each course contains five to fifteen separate units. Each unit has up to ten components.

The course (grade level) outcome, if written for a standard school year, is typically allocated up to 165 hours. Those hours are split into unit outcomes of varying complexity and length. The level of complexity dictates the number of component outcomes each unit needs.

The teaching learning contract is a direct offshoot of the lesson plan resource (LPR). The LPR is the source used to frontload the teaching learning contract.

The overlap between the two documents is intentional.  While there are necessary differences, all the key elements having to do with student learning outcomes are the same. Both documents primarily address the component. However, the larger goals are also indicated as course (grade level) and unit outcomes.

Below is an abbreviated format for the contract that reveals its contents:


Rebecca knows this process will elicit astonishment and incredulous responses from her associates.  But she presents it with enthusiasm and a strong recommendation that it be taken seriously.

Rebecca Prepares Her Case

Ken, Bryon and Barbara would probably think I was out of my mind to produce such a complicated and bureaucratic system. 

The complicated theory is the student mastery profile as a measure of student progress. Neither simple nor compatible with data-based accountability and program improvement.  

The bureaucratic concern relates to forms, development and use of descriptive narratives. An enormous amount of teacher time needed to create, input, and apply intentions for student learning — for teaching/learning processes to follow.

Neither the current accreditation organizations nor governmental agencies could easily compare schools and districts. Comparisons have been popular with everyone from politicians to real estate agents. The capitalistic notion believes competition encourages greater efforts to succeed.  But it is inappropriate as a basis for school improvement.

Primarily, the model I advocate is based on the ineffectiveness of past quick fixes.

Similar to the physical infrastructure in this country: cheaply shoring up dangerous bridges, roads, water and energy systems, and other essential physical frameworks.

Similar to so-called school improvement initiatives related to standards, high stakes tests, tinkering with grade level configurations, and a myriad of other experimental approaches.

My argument is supported by circumstances related to pandemic-induced disruptions in the schools, societal controversies related to race, and disagreements about the purpose of American public schooling.

And pressures on teachers and principals that cause the attrition rate to skyrocket. Admission rates to teacher education programs plummet.

My vision of a new learning infrastructure will not solve all of education’s problems. But it could improve:

  1. Curricular design and implementation in terms of content, alignment, measurability, scope, sequence, and transparency.
  2. Instructional clarity and greater involvement of parents and other stakeholders interested in curricular content and efficacy.
  3. Teacher ability to use multiple methods and media for conducting instruction and guiding student learning.

If my proposal is accepted fully or in part by the leadership team, I will create examples of how a lesson plan resource and teaching and learning contract would be completed. That element of the process alone will be a challenge. It requires writing measurable intentions for student learning.

©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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