The Mastery Learning Group Story (so far!) …

In returning to the regular classroom from Primary Extension and Challenge it was wonderful to see the progress being achieved by the implementation of the Australian Curriculum, particularly in Pre-Primary. Having been exposed to more advanced content, students began entering my Year 1 class with a broader range of achievement than ever before; some already reading whilst others were struggling with basic phonics skills. Anyone outside of the teaching profession would be amazed at the range of abilities that teachers need to address in the classroom. It’s a daunting task for even the most experienced teacher and can cause significant stress!

I began searching for a strategy to help me to address this broad range of abilities and achievement. It was then that I remembered the old manilla mastery folders of the past and how they had been used to help students consolidate their basic facts and skills. I decided to trial them for individualised homework.

Our school was using the Jolly Phonics program and I began by using the post-test results of the students’ recall of  basic phonics sounds. However, some students already knew them all and so I further tested them on phonics alternatives, phonetic words, high frequency and sight words.

The daily classroom phonics lessons formed the foundation and context of learning but now all students in the class had a store of individualised learning material for their short five minute “test & learn” sessions, four days a week as homework. Every student had a self-paced learning pathway which facilitated the systematic consolidation of phonics and sight words.

The parents loved the approach, being spurred on by knowing that the folder learning material was specific to their child. Each child took as long as they needed to progress through their content. Whilst some students steamed ahead, leaving the folder behind to enjoy junior chapter books, the SAER students achieved the milestone of knowing all their first phonic sounds by the end of the year. It was rewarding and satisfying to meet these individualised learning needs.

Partnering with parents, individual student progress starting from point of need led me to using the folder across the curriculum and not just for discrete “facts”. Any area that a student needed to work on was communicated through the folder as well as tasks and skills. No child’s folder content looked the same. A major benefit was being able to approach case conferences confidently with such a simple tool that brought the school and parents together to address the specific needs of all students particularly in the development of foundational skills.

The folders were highly successful but their lack of durability and the time involved in creating them was a massive problem. Being a placemat for last night’s spaghetti and transported to and from school each day did not help! I tried using modified clipboards but the seams split and they didn’t last the year either. This frustration led me to design my own more functional and versatile, quality mastery learning folder.

The first factor in the design brief was that it must be able to withstand the rigours of daily transportation between school and home. The folders are manufactured in WA using high density recycled cardboard (2200 um), quality PVC (0.33mm) and fabric reinforced welded seams; a product designed to last! The second design factor was retail cost.  It was to be a folder for schools and parents – it had to be as cost effective as possible despite being made in Australia. The folder became very simple without sacrificing quality or functionality. Additionally, the folder could be retained for several years.

Finally in February 2014, the first run of the  Mastery Learning Folder entered production.

Since then my new goal has been to create a bank of flashcard sized learning content based on the Australian Curriculum. Called the Flashcard Club, teachers and parents have unlimited access to free downloadable folder content including phonics, sight words, maths strategies, gross motor skills exercises, learning goals and much more and teachers can create their own specific content.

As teachers and parents, our highest goal is to see every child reach advancing benchmarks and every’s child’s journey will be different. It’s my personal goal to provide teachers (and parents) with tools that can enable children to learn foundational basic skills from point-of-need, and proceeding at a pace that is appropriate to their needs. Watching children get excited about their progress as they experience the success of moving at their own pace from sight-sound recognition to de-coding phonetic words and onto sight words and reading for understanding is what it is all about for me!

Now in 2018, I have the privilege of helping schools, teachers and parents to address individual learning needs and I am enjoying aligning the folder process with research-informed evidence as a part of a MEd.

I would love to hear your stories and successes with mastery learning folders or address any questions you may have – please get in touch!

I send you my best wishes as together, we seek to improve the learning outcomes of all the students in our care.

Nicola Carr-White

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