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Teaching to Mastery by Placing Students at their Level of Understanding and Ability in Core Topics

At West Virginia Academy, we believe children need to feel successful while learning. Lessons should be constructed using a small-step approach that gives each student an opportunity to feel that success every day. Placing each student at his or her own level in the critically important core subjects of Literacy and Math maximizes the student's learning environment and lays a foundation for success in other subjects.

A student should be placed in a level where they can reach mastery on core topics quickly. Students should be able to provide correct answers about 70% of the time when learning new material and about 90% of the time when reviewing previously taught material. At this level, teachers will be able to correct any errors and students will be able to absorb material successfully and feel the joy of learning. Optimal response rates can be achieved across large groups of students by prioritizing core topics to permit adjustments to the timing and pace in which materials are presented as well as supporting students who learn at slower rates with additional time to absorb such materials. This individualized approach enables teachers to achieve optimal response rates across student groups and maximizes student outcomes overall.

Although, teaching students at their level requires more than just making adjustments along the way to achieve optimal learning outcomes within each level. Forcing a child into a particular level in a core subject based on their grade rather than their degree of understanding and ability can cause a child with knowledge gaps in a topic to feel inadequate. Additionally, a student who has already mastered a topic and is placed below their level of understanding can also struggle with feeling bored and then disengage from the material. Each student needs to be challenged at an achievable level and so placing a child at the wrong level can adversely impact the student's desire to learn and harm the child's self image.

Students who are properly placed at the level of their ability and then supported with coverage of the material that matches their pace of learning can contribute more in group settings, complete their homework faster, and look forward to attending school each day. More importantly, creating an environment where students develop positive feelings about their learning environment in grade school can build self esteem, foster intellectual curiosity, and progress to a lifetime of learning.

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