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The Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Mastery-Based Program

When you purchase a language arts program, whether you realize it or not, you have a choice to make. Do you place your child according to grade level, or do you place your child according to ability?

Your decision will play a significant role in whether your child experiences success or frustration and failure.

As you ponder the purchase of reading or spelling curriculum for your child, consider the differences between grade-level-based programs and mastery-based programs. 

First, let’s take a quick look at the grade-level choice.

Why Isn’t a Grade-Level Program Best for My Child?

Let me explain it this way.

My dog Bea is three years old. She has participated in agility classes, and she loves running through the tunnels and weaving through the bars.

My friend’s dog is also three years old. Buffy has taken basic obedience classes, but she has never seen a tunnel or weaving bars before.

The Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Mastery-based Program - All About Learning Press

Would you put both dogs in the same agility class?

Of course not. Bea—with her natural aptitude and previous experience—is ready for the more advanced Level 2 class, but Buffy belongs in the Level 1 beginner’s class.

What would happen if you put both dogs in a Level 2 class? Buffy would likely fail because she would never be able to perform at the same level as dogs who have already mastered the Level 1 course.

So what does all that have to do with kids and curriculum? Let’s connect the dots.

Some people might say, “My ten-year-old is in third grade, so I need the third grade spelling book for him.” But we would never say, “Bea and Buffy are both three years old; they should be in the same agility class.” So here’s a question for you: If you wouldn’t expect a dog to skip the Level 1 course and go straight to the Level 2 course, why would you expect a child to?

Maybe it’s time to rethink how we place our children in reading and spelling programs.

After all …

Age Is Just a Number

The story of Bea and Buffy illustrates that age and grade aren’t reliable indicators of which level you should place a dog (or a child) in. Common sense tells us that since not all ten-year-olds have the same educational background, they probably don’t have the same reading or spelling ability either.

For example, some ten-year-olds can easily spell words like pigeon and partridge, while others may still be trying to grasp the idea that the letter G can make different sounds in different situations. Some ten-year-olds can spell circles around most adults, while others have their parents shaking their heads in dismay at their spelling struggles.

It really doesn’t matter whether the differences are the result of natural ability or previous teaching. The fact is, your child is very likely functioning at a different reading and spelling level than her friends. And it would be unfair to force your child and her friends all into the same level just because they are the same age.

Age is never the best indicator of academic ability, so let’s consider these five compelling reasons to opt for a mastery-based program instead.

5 Reasons Mastery-Based Programs Are Better for Dogs (and for Kids!)

Mastery-based curriculum makes learning easier by placing high priority on five important elements. Let’s take a closer look at these five elements and how we apply them in our curriculum.

Your child is placed according to ability so that the program can meet your child right where she is.

The Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Mastery-based Program - All About Learning Press

As we illustrated earlier, a mastery-based program lets you focus on your child’s ability instead of on her age or grade level. That’s why we have your child take a placement test before beginning All About Reading or All About Spelling. This sets your child up for success by allowing instruction to meet her right where she is.

You are free to introduce new material at whatever pace is best for your child.

The Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Mastery-based Program - All About Learning Press

A mastery-based program teaches at your child’s pace instead of at a rigid pace set by a curriculum. All About Reading and All About Spelling help you pace your lessons so the material is efficiently learned and effectively retained, setting the stage for long-term learning. This gradual, incremental approach respects your child’s developmental level and allows her to slow down or speed up as needed. Anna Gillingham, one of the founders of the Orton-Gillingham approach, put it this way: “Go as fast as you can, but as slow as you must.”

Consistent review makes learning “stick.”

The Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Mastery-based Program - All About Learning Press

The goal of mastery-based lessons is to make sure that learning “sticks”—that the brain is able to permanently store, manage, and retrieve information for later use. It’s the “sticking” part that matters. Concepts that are forgotten are not mastered. Simply put, long-term learning should be the main goal of your teaching. In All About Reading and All About Spelling, we help you accomplish that goal by building daily practice and cumulative review into every single lesson. That way, you never have to worry about whether you’re doing enough.

With mastery-based programs, there are no gaps.

The Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Mastery-based Program - All About Learning Press

Nothing brings long-term learning to a screeching halt like encountering missing bits of knowledge. It’s essential in mastery-based learning that no knowledge gaps exist. Then as you teach new skills and provide practice and review, you also monitor your child’s progress so you know he’s really learning. This continual process of teaching, monitoring, and offering feedback is necessary to ensure that no gaps surface down the road.

Your child moves on to the next level only after the content has been mastered.

The Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Mastery-based Program - All About Learning Press

This is an area where mastery-based programs really differ from grade-level programs.

Completing a grade is not the same thing as mastering a level. In a grade-level program, when your child completes Grade 6, he moves on to Grade 7 regardless of whether he has mastered the content in Grade 6. Just imagine the miserable cycle of defeat and frustration that this can create for you and your child. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With a mastery-based program, your child moves on to the next level only after he has mastered the content in the previous level.

Main Differences between Grade-Level and Mastery-Based Lessons

The video below summarizes the differences between the two approaches.

You May Have to Buck the System

The concept of a mastery-based program may be new to you and to those around you. After all, it is so “normal” to place your child according to age or grade. But there are so many factors other than age—including experience, innate ability, and opportunity—that contribute to where a child is academically. Just as we wouldn’t expect a ten-year-old to perform at the same music or athletic level as every other ten-year old, we shouldn’t use age as a way to determine placement in a spelling program.

When you teach a child at her instructional level, she can blossom! And you can relish the fact that you are providing long-term learning.

The Bottom Line on Mastery-Based Curriculum

Every child is more than just her “grade” or numerical age. A child’s unique experiences and aptitude play an important role in where she should be placed in terms of ability.

That’s why All About Reading and All About Spelling are mastery-based programs that:

  • Place your child according to ability
  • Teach your child at his or her pace
  • Use consistent review to achieve permanent learning
  • Have carefully sequenced lessons with no gaps
  • Progress to the next level only after mastery is achieved

If you’re ready to buck the system and experience the amazing progress your child can make when she’s working at the right ability level, be sure to check out our curriculum! And if you ever need a helping hand, we’re here for you.

What has been your experience with mastery-based lessons versus grade-level lessons? Do you have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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Jackie Atkins

says:

Hi Marie
Thank you for this blog. I have both All About Reading and Spelling for my LA program. Are there any mastery based math programs that are current/align with math curriculum being used now – I”m in BC Canada

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jackie,
Math-U-See is a mastery-based program and I know they have kept up with standards. I’m not sure of any other programs that are specifically mastery-based, however.

Sorry I’m not much help.

Lyndsy tippetts

says:

And THIS is why your curriculum is so outstanding! So happy we use AAR AND AAS for my bright, but struggling reader. I recommend this to everyone who will listen. What a difference you’ve made in our lives. I agree with another commentor: all about math would be phenomenal.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Lyndsy! It’s great to hear that AAR and AAS are working so well for your student.

And no, there are no plans for an All About Math. Sorry.

JeAnne

says:

I would like to hear more about transitioning from grade level based curriculum to a mastery based curriculum. After teaching kindergarten for many years, this year I taught a 4/5 combo of English Language Learners that were pretty on top of the language, but their reading and comprehension levels were stuck around 1st and 2nd grade. Wow… all year, they struggled and worked hard. Although there was improvement, I was required to give them grade level curriculum and scaffold. So what do you think happened on benchmarks?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

JeAnne,
Moving away from a grade-level mindset in a public school setting is difficult. However, many classrooms already do it to an extent. It is common to have two or three different reading groups in one class, one advanced, one that struggles more, and one in the middle. That is the beginning of a more mastery-based approach. Now if we could just do that with other subjects as well, particularly spelling, writing, and math.

Please let me know if you have any specific questions.

Carole Gallo

says:

I loved your presentation. I taught special education for 35 years and always taught the child at their level. So important!
Thanks!
Carole Gallo

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Carole!

Denise Johnson

says:

Are you going to consider an all about grammar or math curriculum?

Merry

says: Customer Service

Fun ideas, Denise! We don’t have a plan for those right now, but I’ll be sure to pass your suggestion on to our team!

Kelli Melenyk

says:

We are halfway through level 4 of AAR. My daughter simply loves this material. I can’t say enough how much we appreciate and look forward to this part of our school day. I am wondering what you might recommend to use following the completion of this program? We are looking for something more multisensory than just a writing program. We are working our way through AAS as well. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kelli,
Congratulation on nearing the end of All About Reading 4! How exciting!

First, if you haven’t seen it already, I think you will find our What Happens after All About Reading? blog post helpful.

If you are looking for a more multisensory approach to writing, take a look at Brave Writer’s Home Study Courses. They teach writing and literature through project-based writing assignments, such as learning all about secret codes or working on a photo journal for a month.

WriteShop is another program known for its multisensory approach.

I hope this gives you some ideas, but let me know if you need more or have other questions.

Carol

says:

The Master-bases lessons is so right for any child . I totally agree with you. Each child learn at different levels. At the grade level lessons, some children cannot always keep up with the others. This is good advice and I wish that all schools would follow the master-bases lessons. The results will be great and beneficial to each child.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

We agree, Carol! Mastery-based learning allows for the best success for each unique student.

Kelly Paul

says:

How do I purchase this program.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kelly,
You can purchase All About Reading and All About Spelling through our website. Please let me know if you have questions about your order, placement, or anything else.

Carol

says:

I agree with you on this and believe all schools should be taught as so. Each child learn at a different level. If schools would do it, they would be more successful and the would not be so stressed out.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Of course, I agree, Carol, but it is a complex issue. If schools were to change their focus to true mastery, they would have to reorganize how they approach everything. That level of change can be very, very difficult to achieve. However, I think the growing homeschool movement, private tutors, and individual teachers in schools are slowly changing how people think about grade-level versus mastery. I think it’s making a difference.

Ann Trew

says:

How could I determine at which level my granddaughters should commence. One is 10 and the other is 12 years old. THe 12 year old is not bad at spelling and reading but won’t write. The 10 year old struggles at times with reading and spelling is a problem. I have been using Jolly PHonics with her ap present but not entirely happy with her progress on this programme.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Ann,
I’m happy to help you with determining which levels to use with your granddaughters!

First, we have placement tests for All About Reading to help you decide which level would be best. Also, we recommend having your student read the sample stories from the previous level online as a further confirmation. You want her to be reading fluently with good comprehension before going to a higher level.

Level 1 sample story
Level 2 sample story
Level 3 sample story
Level 4 sample story

Evaluate (without correcting your granddaughter) for the following…
Her ability to decode the words in the story.
Her ability to comprehend the story.
Could she fluently read the story with expression?
Did she understand the words from a vocabulary standpoint?

For All About Spelling, we recommend that most students start with level 1 to build a strong foundation in spelling.

All About Spelling is a building block program with each level building upon the previous one. The rules and concepts learned in Level 1 are applied in Level 2, and then those are applied in Level 3, and so on. Placement for spelling is based on the student’s knowledge of spelling rules and concepts rather than grade level, reading level, or the words a student has memorized.

For example, we find that many students simply memorize easy words like “cat” and “kid” but have no idea why one uses a C and the other uses a K, or that the same rules that apply to these words also apply to higher level words such as “concentrate.” Other students switch letters or leave out letters entirely. This usually occurs because they don’t know how to hear each sound in the word. Level 1 has specific techniques to solve these problems.

The article Which Spelling Level Should We Start With? has more information on the concepts taught in All About Spelling 1 and will help you decide if your student can skip level 1 and go into level 2.

Level 2 of AAS focuses on learning the syllable types, when they are used and how they affect spelling. This information is foundational for higher levels of spelling. Three syllable rules are introduced in Level 2, and then more in Level 3 and up. For this reason, we don’t recommend starting higher than level 2.

However, we encourage you to “fast track” if the student knows how to spell most of the words but does not understand the underlying basic spelling concepts. In this case, very quickly skim the parts that your granddaughters already know and slow down on the parts that they need to learn. Pull out several words as examples. Make sure they understand the concept being taught and then move on. This blog article has a good example of how you might fast track.

All About Spelling has a gradual progression for increasing the student’s stamina and fluency in writing, from words and short phrases in Level 1, to phrases and short sentences in Level 2, to 12 dictation sentences per step in Level 3. Partway through this level, the Writing Station is introduced. In this exercise, students write sentences of their own that they make up using some of their spelling words. In this way, All About Spelling may help your older granddaughter use words in a more real-world context through dictation and writing, helping her to transition to longer writing assignments.

I hope this helps, but let me know if you have questions or need anything.

Zuri

says:

I have an 8 year old who reads 3rd grade level books but he struggles pronouncing some words. I Also have an 11 year old that reads 4 and 5 grade level books but also struggles and the last time he was tested he was at 3rd grade level. I have already purchased level 1 of spelling to start at the beginning for spelling. What level should I purchase for reading? Do they also have to start at the beginning?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Zuri,
Unlike our spelling program, you do not need to start All About Reading from the beginning for it to be beneficial. We have placement tests for All About Reading to help you decide which level would be best. Also, we recommend having each student read the sample stories from the previous level as a further confirmation. You want your student to be reading fluently with good comprehension before going to a higher level.

Level 1 sample story
Level 2 sample story
Level 3 sample story
Level 4 sample story

Evaluate (without correcting your student) for the following…
Your student’s ability to decode the words in the story.
Your student’s ability to comprehend the story.
Could your student fluently read the story with expression?
Did your student understand the words from a vocabulary standpoint?

Please let me know if you have any other questions or need further help with placement.

I love that we can go back and review and most of the information has actually been retained! We love being able to build on knowledge that stays put and is ready for use in future lessons:)

Merry

says: Customer Service

Hi Jamie,

That’s fantastic! Yes, retention is what we really want. It sounds like you’re doing a great job with your child!

In-shaallah

says:

My daughter is three yrs and blending is becoming difficult for her what can I do to help her.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Do I understand correctly that your daughter is three years old? If so, then the best thing for her would be to wait. Blending is a difficult skill and many children are not ready to attempt it until they are five or six years old. We have a lot of fun activities and games you can work on with your daughter in our Preschool Archives.

Deb Boykin

says:

My child has done very well with All About Reading and is now in Level 3. We had gotten through with several lessons when we took a two month break this summer so we are now doing some review and re-reading the first several stories in Chasing Henry.
My concern is that she is struggling with All About Spelling. She went through Level 1 with little difficulty but Level 2 has really slowed down. She can read the words in the spelling list, but when it comes to spelling them she just seems to have a mental block. Before our break we had gotten through Step 6 in Level 2, but I started over at the beginning on August 1st to try and help her. Any suggestions will be appreciated.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Deb,
All About Spelling 2 is a step up from level 1. You are likely already doing this, but children make the best progress when they work on spelling for about 15 – 20 minutes a day 5 days a week. Short daily lessons result in more progress than longer lessons less often. Also, spend a lot of time in review, but make the review as fun as you have time for. Our blog post on 8 Great Ways to Review Spelling Word Cards has lots of ideas.

I hope this helps, but please let us know if you have further questions or if your daughter has trouble making progress.

Rashmi

says:

My daughter just turned 3 and is showing interest in reading. I met a mom who does homeschooling and she suggested All about reading. I was still worried whether it’s too early to start on a program, this post helped me in understanding that I can start now and need not hurry. This program can be finished when she feels comfortable:)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Rashmi,
This Readiness Checklist for our Pre-reading level can help you determine if your child is ready to begin now, or would benefit from a bit more maturity. Our Pre-reading level was developed with 4 and 5 year old children in mind, but many 3 year olds have done very well with it. And, as you mention, taking it as slowly as she needs to go is a great approach.

You may also enjoy our blog posts, many that include free downloads, about teaching preschoolers.

Susan

says:

I love this program. My daughter was in pre-K and the teacher wanted the class to memorize sight words. My daughter never could do it. She saw all of her friends recite the list and get prizes. She would come home so discouraged. At 4.5 years old, she asked me why everyone could remember the words except her and was something wrong with her. It was then I decided to homeschool. I researched curricula to death. I Found this program and started her on level 1. This program has been such a huge blessing for us. She has about 15 lessons left in level 1 and has started zooming through! She is really doing well. She is SO happy with herself. She is so incredibly proud and wants to show off her reading skills to anybody willing to listen. I can not tell you how that makes this Momma’s heart feel to see her so confident in herself again! I just wanted to say thank you to the All About Learning team for their constant support and wonderful program!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Susan,
I am so sorry to hear your daughter was discouraged about reading at such a very young age. Poor thing! I am very happy that her discouragement is a thing of the past now and she is so confident! Thank you for sharing this.

Sherry

says:

Our homeschool is built on mastery-based programs in all subjects. If the program is not geared toward mastery learning I don’t buy it, or I tweak it to work for our goals. This program is working for my daughter and she looks forward to it.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sherry,
It’s great to hear that our program fits so well with your homeschool philosophy, and that your daughter looks forward to it so much!

Crystal

says:

This makes a lot of sense. Thanks

Stephanie

says:

Ditching grade levels is so important for those struggling readers! I have an almost 8 year old and a 5 year old both in AAR 1. The older went through once and now again, because apparently she needed more practice than I gave her the first time. She’s learning, though, it just takes awhile for it to stick for her. Little brother just started, but we’ll see how they handle it if he catches up to her.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Stephanie,
My daughter had to repeat All About Reading 1 as well, but it paid off and she is no in AAR 3 and reading beginning chapter books in her free time.

Jamie Wilkins

says:

We are having so much fun with Spelling now! Our daughter (4th grade homeschooler) can do some awsome crazy math in her head, but the poor thing just wasn’t connecting things for spelling. We were told that the spelling program is mastery based and outlines the rules of spelling. This is what math thinkers need! We are loving the program for its simplicity and ease of understanding, too!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jamie,
As a mathy person, and mom of mathy people, I completely understand! If your daughter is anything like my children, there will be times in All About Spelling when complaints about “English should just have one way to spell anything,” will be uttered. Overall, though, it is a great fit for students like ours.

In-shaallah

says:

I have a child in my class who is 5years who can hardly read,
We are doing everything possible but it looks as if
the parents too are not helping in any way. I have invited them couple of times but still. His doing well in
Other areas but in language no.what can I do to help him?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

5 years old is very young, and it is not uncommon for a 5 year old to not be reading. Work with him with phonograms, and have him read books that 100% decodable.

Without knowing in what teaching in reading he has had so far, and without knowing what he is struggling with, I cannot give more specific suggestions.

Sheri Matheny

says:

Thank you for this article. Can’t wait for my son to master spelling permanently! Not just memorize words temporarily.

Renae

says:

Your analogies used in the articles are always helpful. I appreciate that the lessons in AAR are not per day but rather a mindset of “move on when your child is ready.”

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Renae,
Thank you for letting us know that our analogies are helpful. Sometimes it’s hard to hit upon the right analogy to make your point clear, so it’s great to know we are being successful!

I love the analogy of dog training! Our schools are so grade-level based, but for many students, they need a different approach!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad you found this helpful, Jennifer.

Ashley

says:

We have just recently started with AAR level 2. We are very pleased with it so far, and look forward to continuing with the program.

The ability to use a mastery-based approach for my kids was fundamental in our decision to homeschool. We have used All About Spelling all the way through with 2 children so far and just started with a third. Both older children love spelling and found the methods painless and fun. They are both excellent spellers.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kristin,
Thank you for letting us know how well All About Spelling has worked for your family. It’s great to hear from those that have used AAS all the way through!

Katherine Hubert

says:

AAS is helping us fill a number of gaps in my 11 year old’s spelling knowledge. We have started all the way back in level one so that we can learn the rules from the beginning.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Katherine,
This is great! No gaps learning makes for the best progress.

Mary Francis

says:

I use AAR and AAS with both my kids and they love it. It’s fun, engaging and teaches a lot of thing without the stress of being bored

Shawnelle Davis

says:

I have used level one and 2 of AAR and AAs and we love all the programs. Thank you for a simple yet multisensory approach. After homeschooling for 12 years and using many reading and spelling programs, your tops them all.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Shawnelle! Thank you for sharing your experienced opinion.

Vanessa

says:

Love All About Reading & All About Spelling!

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