Legislature to Instructional theory
Formative Classroom Assessment and Benjamin S. Bloom:
Theory, Research, and Implications
Theory, Research, and Implications
Achievement gaps among different groups of students have concerned government and educational leaders for many years. In the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” focused directly on inequalities in the educational achievement of economically disadvantaged students and their more advantaged counterparts. The Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) of 1964, which established the Head Start program, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, which created the Title I and Follow Through programs, were specific attempts to address these gaps in educational attainment.
More recently, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation (U.S. Congress, 2001) revived these concerns. The law requires schools to report achievement results separately for various poverty, ethnicity, language, and disability subgroups. Not only must schools identify any achievement gaps among these different student subgroups, they also must take specific steps to close them.
Over the years educational researchers have learned a lot about reducing these achievement disparities. Yet because of our tendency in education today to focus only on “what’s new,” a lot of that important knowledge is being neglected. Instead of building on what we already know, many modern proposals for closing achievement gaps simply rename well-established principles, adding to the tangled thicket of terminology that confounds progress in education. To succeed in our efforts to close achievement gaps and to reach our goal of helping all students learn well, we need instead to recognize and extend this hard-earned knowledge base.
Researchers do their best to view problems in their simplest and most basic form. From a researcher’s perspective, therefore, achievement gaps are simply matters of “variation”: students vary in their levels of achievement. Some students learn excellently in school and reach high levels of achievement, while others learn less well and attain only modest levels. Whenever we measure two or more students’ achievement, we also measure this “variation.”
Researchers design studies to “explain” variation. They make educated guesses, called “hypotheses,” about what factors contribute to the differences among individuals. Then they manipulate those factors in carefully planned investigations to determine the effects. When they find a relationship between the factors that they manipulate and differences in outcomes, they succeed in their efforts to “explain” variation.
One of the early researchers concerned with explaining variation in student achievement was Benjamin S. Bloom. In the early 1960s, Bloom’s studies focused on individual differences, especially in students’ school learning. While he recognized that many factors outside of school affect student learning (Bloom, 1964), his investigations showed that teachers have potentially strong influence as well.
In his observations of classrooms, Bloom noted that most teachers included little variation in their instructional practices. The majority taught all students in much the same way and provided all with the same amount of time to learn. The few students for whom the instructional methods and time were ideal learned excellently. The largest number of students for whom the methods and time were only moderately appropriate learned less well. And students for whom the instruction and time were inappropriate due to differences in their backgrounds or learning styles, learned very little. In other words, little variation in the teaching resulted in great variation in student learning. Under these conditions the pattern of student achievement was similar to the normal curve distribution shown in Figure 1.
To attain better results and reduce this variation in student achievement, Bloom reasoned that we would have to increase variation in the teaching. That is, because students varied in their learning styles and aptitudes, we must diversify and differentiate instruction to better meet their individual learning needs. The challenge was to find practical ways to do this within the constraints of group-based classrooms so that all students learn well.
In searching for such a strategy, Bloom drew primarily from two sources of evidence. First he considered the ideal teaching and learning situation in which an excellent tutor is paired
with each student. He was particularly influenced by the work of early pioneers in individualized instruction, especially Washburne (1922) and his Winnetka Plan, and Morrison (1926) and his University of Chicago Laboratory School experiments. In examining this evidence, Bloom tried to determine what critical elements in one-to-one tutoring and individualized instruction could be transferred to group-based classroom settings.
Second, Bloom looked at studies of the learning strategies of academically successful students, especially the work of Dollard and Miller (1950). From this research he tried to identify the activities of high achieving students in group-based classrooms that distinguish them from their less successful classmates.
Bloom believed it was reasonable for teachers to organize the concepts and skills they wanted students to learn into instructional units. He also considered valuable for teachers to assess student learning at the end of each unit. But he found that most teachers’ classroom assessments did little more than show for whom their initial instruction was and was not appropriate.
A far better approach, according to Bloom, would be for teachers to use their classroom assessments as learning tools, and then to follow those assessments with a feedback and corrective procedure. In other words, instead of using assessments only as evaluation devices that mark the end of each unit, Bloom recommended using them as part of the instructional process to diagnose individual learning difficulties (feedback) and to prescribe remediation procedures (correctives).
This is precisely what takes place when an excellent tutor works with an individual student. If the student makes an error, the tutor first points out the error (feedback), and then follows up with further explanation and clarification (correctives) to ensure the student’s understanding. Similarly, academically successful students typically follow up the mistakes they make on quizzes and assessments. They ask the teacher about the items they missed, look up the answer in the textbook or other resources, or rework the problem or task so that errors are not repeated.
At Locke, we believe in designing multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery (MODM). Where does this fit in Bloom's instructional cycle? (access the content below for additional details)
Bloom’s Mastery Learning
Benjamin Bloom then outlined a specific instructional strategy to make use of this feedback and corrective procedure, labeling it “learning for mastery” (Bloom, 1968), and later shortening the name to simply “mastery learning” (Bloom, 1971). With this strategy, teachers first organize the concepts and skills they want students to learn into instructional units that typically involve about a week or two of instructional time. Following initial instruction on the unit, teachers administer a brief “formative” assessment based on the unit’s learning goals. Instead of signifying the end of the unit, however, this formative assessment’s purpose is to give students information, or feedback, on their learning. It helps students identify what they have learned well to that point and what they need to learn better (Bloom, Hastings, & Madaus, 1971).
Paired with each formative assessment are specific “corrective” activities (known as multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery or MODM at Locke) for students to use in correcting their learning difficulties. Most teachers match these “correctives” to each item or set of prompts within the assessment so that students need work on only those concepts or skills not yet mastered. In other words, the correctives are “individualized.” They may point out additional sources of information on a particular topic, such as page numbers in the textbook or workbook where the topic is discussed. They may identify alternative learning resources such as different textbooks, learning kits, alternative materials, CDs, videos, or computerized instructional lessons. Or they may simply suggest sources of additional practice, such as study guides, independent or guided practice activities, or collaborative group activities.
With the feedback and corrective information gained from a formative assessment, each student has a detailed prescription of what more needs to be done to master the concepts or skills from the unit. This “just-in-time” correction prevents minor learning difficulties from accumulating and becoming major learning problems. It also gives teachers a practical means to vary and differentiate their instruction in order to better meet students’ individual learning needs. As a result, many more students learn well, master the important learning goals in each unit, and gain the necessary prerequisites for success in subsequent units (Bloom, Madaus, & Hastings, 1981).
When students complete their corrective activities after a class period or two, Bloom recommended they take a second formative assessment. This second, “parallel” assessment covers the same concepts and skills as the first, but is composed of slightly different problems or questions, and serves two important purposes. First, it verifies whether or not the correctives were successful in helping students overcome their individual learning difficulties. Second, it offers students a second chance at success and, hence, has powerful motivational value.
Some students, of course, will perform well on the first assessment, demonstrating that they’ve mastered the unit concepts and skills. The teacher’s initial instruction was highly appropriate for these students and they have no need of corrective work. To ensure their continued learning progress, Bloom recommended these students be provided with special “enrichment” or “extension” activities to broaden their learning experiences. Such activities often are self-selected by students and might involve special projects or reports, academic games, or a variety of complex, problem-solving tasks. The figure below illustrates the instructional sequence.
Mastery teaching is not.....
Misinterpretations of Mastery Learning
Some early attempts to implement mastery learning were based on narrow and inaccurate interpretations of Bloom’s ideas. These programs focused on low-level cognitive skills, attempted to break learning down into small segments, and insisted students “master” each segment before being permitted to move on. Teachers were regarded in these programs as little more than managers of materials and record-keepers of student progress.
Nowhere in Bloom’s writing can the suggestion of this kind of narrowness and rigidity be found. Bloom always considered thoughtful and reflective teachers vital to the successful implementation of mastery learning and continually stressed flexibility in its application. In his earliest description of the process he wrote:
There are many alternative strategies for mastery learning. Each strategy must find some way of dealing with individual differences in learners through some means of relating instruction to the needs and characteristics of the learners. ... The alternative high school schedule … is one attempt to provide an organizational structure that permits and encourages mastery learning. (Bloom, 1968, pp. 7-8).
Bloom also emphasized the need for instruction and assessments in mastery learning classrooms to focus on higher level learning goals, not simply basic skills. He noted:
I find great emphasis on problem solving, applications of principles, analytical skills, and creativity. Such higher mental processes are emphasized because this type of learning enables the individual to relate his or her learning to the many problems he or she encounters in day-to-day living. These abilities are stressed because they are retained and utilized long after the individual has forgotten the detailed specifics of the subject matter taught in the schools. These abilities are regarded as one set of essential characteristics needed to continue learning and to cope with a rapidly changing world. (Bloom, 1978, p. 578).
Modern research studies show mastery learning to be particularly effective when applied to instruction focusing on higher level learning goals such as problem solving, drawing inferences, deductive reasoning, and creative expression (Guskey, 1997). The process helps teachers close achievement gaps in a broad range of learning goals from basic knowledge and skills to highly complex cognitive processes.
In addition, some secondary teachers worry about the constraint of class time. With only limited time available, they fear the introduction of feedback, corrective, and enrichment procedures will reduce the amount of material they will be able to cover. As a result, they will have to sacrifice coverage for the sake of mastery.
The first few mastery learning units typically do require more time than usual. Students must be provided with some orientation to the process, and class time usually needs to be set aside for the teacher to direct students in their corrective work. Teachers who try to have correctives completed as homework or during a special study session before or after school find that those students who most need the extra time are the least likely to take part. As a result, it’s not unusual for a mastery learning class to be somewhat behind a more traditionally taught class during the first two or three units.
After students become familiar with the mastery learning process, however, most teachers find that they can pick up the pace of their instruction. Mastery learning students tend to be engaged in learning activities for a larger portion of the time they spend in class. Hence they learn more and learn faster in later units than do students in more traditionally taught classes (Arlin, 1973; Fitzpatrick, 1985). As students catch on to mastery learning, they also tend to do better on first formative assessments. With fewer students involved in correctives and a reduced amount of corrective work required, the class time allocated to correctives in later units can be drastically reduced. Furthermore, because mastery learning students learn well the concepts and skills from early units, they are better prepared for later, more advanced units. This means that less time needs to be spent in review activities. Thus most teachers find that with slight changes in the pacing of their instruction (slightly more time spent in early units but less time in later ones), they are able to cover just as much material, and in some cases more, as they were able to using more traditional approaches to instruction (Block, 1983; Guskey, 1983, 1987).
Mastery teaching & learning is relatinginstruction to the needs of the learners
Mastery teaching & learning is accessinghigher level learning goals
Mastery teaching & learning is problem solving andapplication of principles/ analytical skills/ creativity
Mastery teaching & learning is notlow level cognitive skills
Mastery teaching & learning is not intended for teacher to berecord keepers