Reviewed by David Brock
AP Biology Teacher
As the title suggests, this book is a succinct introduction for anyone unfamiliar with the pedagogical approach known as mastery learning and how individualized, self-paced learning might be incorporated into a science classroom. While I may not agree with all of the methods illustrated in the book, I strongly recommend this short read for the thought-provoking it will do in the mind of any responsible educator. You will walk away with some great ideas; I guarantee it.
The author first provides context for mastery learning, tracing its history and impact during the peak of its use in U.S. schools in the 1970s and 1980s, and she does a marvelous job of explaining why this approach to teaching fell out of favor (i.e.,"it worked too well in many cases," p. 9, author's emphasis). She next presents on overview of the recent brain research on learning and how mastery learning can create a classroom experience that effectively meshes with how we now know the brain works. Finally, the author shares the specific details of how she has incorporated mastery learning into her high school chemistry classes, including practical pedagogical and classroom management suggestions.
I recommend this book for one simple reason: it contributes to the educational dialogue on how better to empower students to take greater responsibility for their own learning. Frankly, the author’s description of her use of worksheets, guided reading, and mini-lectures via Power Points makes me cringe a little, looking at how traditional her specific instructional methodologies still are. And I'm not sure that the distinction for the life of the child is really as great as the author wants it to be between seeing "[students] just ‘get through’ all nine chapters" (p. 28) and a child earning a "D" for truly mastering "one out of the four chapters completed in a semester" (p. 29). But any book as well and clearly written as this one, which challenges educators to think outside the box about what how a science classroom should look, is an invaluable contribution to a dialogue we need desperately to be having more of in this country.
Review posted on 4/21/2011