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Achieving Classroom Mastery Through Responsive Teaching

A discussion with Mark McCourt, author of Teaching for Mastery

In this interview with Mark McCourt, author of Teaching for Mastery (John Catt Educational), hear about the debate and confusion surrounding mastery while also becoming informed of emerging new interpretations based on earlier concepts. McCourt, who refers to mastery as “responsive teaching,” is a proponent of a continual assessment through questions to children that ultimately steer teachers to alter their methods accordingly. Instead of relying on summative assessments and grades to determine learning outcomes, more of an “in the moment” responsive approach as educators is what makes the difference.

Although mastery has seen various interpretations by the likes of Benjamin S. Bloom, John B. Carroll, and Tom Guskey, it’s the initial intention of Carleton Washburne’s work that very much inspires McCourt. “What Carleton was trying to do with the mastery approach was to get all of the benefits of one-to-one tuition in a one-to-many setting,” McCourt explains. Offering an interesting metaphor that compares learning to the game of Jenga, McCourt highlights the need for greater focus on closing the knowledge gaps over grade ascension. “The reason people don’t get the blocks at the top of the tower has nothing to do with what they’re learning in 10th grade,” he says. “It’s because something in first grade or second grade is missing, wobbly, or loose.”

As you listen to the interview, think through the following questions, and consider your views on the subject of mastery and what you are doing to assess your particular learning practices on a continual basis:

• The idea of “mastery” has faced some controversy in recent years. What is your view on the subject, and do you find McCourt’s interpretation to spark a reexamination of certain beliefs?

• What is your opinion of responsive teaching, and do you feel more needs to be done to stop the “conveyor belt curriculum” that leaves students with gaps in their learning?

• Do you feel the education system is overly focused on age-related expectations for students, and should more focus be on tackling the deficits in previous learning before moving to grade-specific work? 

• Do you feel more needs to be done to support elementary teachers who are teaching a variety of subjects all at once? What types of extra outside efforts would help to enhance subject-specific pedagogical knowledge?

Learn more about Mark McCourt’s’ book, Teaching for Mastery, and more great John Catt Educational publications, by visiting us.johncattbookshop.com

About Mark McCourt

Mark is the UK’s leading authority on teaching for mastery. He has trained over 2,000 schools in mastery models for schooling.

A leading figure in mathematics education, Mark has led many large-scale government education initiatives, both in the UK and overseas. Mark was a Director at the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) and has also been a school leader, an Advanced Skills Teacher, a school inspector and a teacher trainer. He founded and was Chairman of the Teacher Development Trust.

Mark has extensive experience in mathematics teaching and learning across all age and ability groups, having taught students from age 3 to Ph.D.

Follow Mark McCourt on Twitter @EmathsUK


Teaching for Mastery Mark McCourt book cover

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