Monday, August 5, 2013

What is "Mastering a Skill"?

In education today many teachers are letting students learn at their own speed or their own skill level, letting them stay behind, until they master a skill, and letting others move on quicker when they learned the material, so they may be challenged with the next area of learning.

The amount and time and effort it takes reach mastery varies according to the complexity of the skill.  But exactly is mastery?  According to Dictionary Reference a master is:
A person eminently skilled in something, as an occupation, art or science, a person whose teachings others accept or follow; a Zen master.  the great masters of the Impressionist period.  
The Provincial Government states in their PLO (Learning objectives) that the student must learn these specific skills or these specific items of knowledge.  In my field of teaching (computers) I teach a skill.  Mastering a skill requires both theory and practice.  Theory is important, because if you're all about the "doing," you'll waste energy doing the wrong things.  And practice is important because it reinforces learning.   But most important of all is having the students recognize and want to learn the skill.

There are levels of learning in each of these fields (theory and practise).  In the theory section the students can be tracked at these following levels:  
  • Unawareness: You are unaware that there is a skill to be learned.
  • Awareness:  You realize you need to learn that skill.
  • Clarification:  You understand what you need to do differently.
These stages show when the student is willing to learn and has looked into the learning.

In the next stage of learning is the practice side, the repetition of learning this skill until it becomes natural to you.  This is also in stages.  These stages are simplified but can be changed for any teacher.
  • Awkwardness:  You attempt the new skill and find it difficult.  You need support.
  • Familiarity:  The new skill is easier to do but still not automatic.  You need to refer to previous learning.
  • Automatic:   You no longer need to think how to do the skill, it just comes naturally. 
It's when you reach that sixth stage listed above that you have mastered a skill.  Up until that point, this skill requires requires constant and consistent practice (usage). After that point, however, the skill is automatic, like riding a bike.  You may get a bit rusty, but the skill is always there for you to draw upon.  When rusty, practise and relearning will bring back the skill once more.

The reason I have been considering this is to understand a rating system (not so much as a marking system) for students to learn the skills I want them to learn.  Both they and I need to understand when they are proficient in a skill and when they have mastered it to the level of being able to teach another student (something needed when doing differentiation in a classroom of 30 students and 6 different choices of learning.

But there is something else to consider when talking to students about mastering a skill.  The biggest thing that we as teachers need to do is to reinforce the learning with positive reinforcement.

I know the video below is not an educational video but it is an excellent and simple example of how the human brain works when trying to master a skill.  You guess the skill and as a teacher, consider what is being learned, not by exemplifying, or reading, or instructing, but by simple trial and error and you'll see that the motivation is there, and in the end the reward of the finish project is show great appreciation.  View this video with the eyes of a teacher and see what we've forgotten in the learning process of a child.  The two things mentioned above has no age barriers where the need for passion in learning, the need for reinforcement, and the celebration of learning ever dies.   

I need to show my students this video so they understand the concept of learning, that with trial and error, and with practise, they too can accomplish a skill.  Why is this important?  Well after doing the MOOC in Genius Hour, I believe this is a consideration for the the students, to understand that they may not meet their expectations, but it takes time and practise to master what they want to master. This is what I need to think more about for the Genius Hour in my Information Technology 11/12 Classroom.

Just my two cents  ;)

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