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The Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Mastery-Based Program

When you purchase a language arts program, 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.

Watch the video below to learn the important difference between grade-level-based programs and mastery-based programs or read on to discover more. 

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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Susan

says:

We have tried several different spelling programs. They are weekly test and my girls learn them in the order of the list. If you change the list, they don’t remember. I am looking forward to using all about spelling.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Susan,
Memorizing for a test is not an effective strategy for mastering spelling for many learners. I’m glad you are looking into All About Spelling. Let me know if you have questions about placement or anything else.

Kathryn H

says:

I wish more curriculum options for other subjects were leveled based on ability rather than grade level. With suspected dyslexia and dysgraphia, my child sometimes must work on a grade level lower than the “actual” grade level. I love that I can tell my child that the AAR and AAS levels are exactly that – levels! All of my children are so excited when they finish a level and move up to the next one.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I understand what you mean, Kathryn. I have found that there are options for all subjects that are not grade-level focused, but sometimes you have to look for a while to find them.

Beckey

says:

My kids ask to do this program. They love it. It’s so easy to teach as well.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear, Beckey! I love that your children ask to do it.

Amber Ailstock

says:

We switched from swr and couldn’t be happier! Mastery is best when learning pieces to the foundation!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Yes, so true, Amber. A solid foundation allows for the best success in learning!

Hanna

says:

We love All About Reading and Spelling! This was an interesting read about why they are separated!

Angela Crase

says:

I have been using All About Reading with 3 students. I love it! The multi-step approach is a winner!

Amanda Dye

says:

The mastery based programs just make so much sense to me! It ensures there are no gaps and much less frustration for the child. We love AAR and AAS!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Amanda!

Lindsay

says:

Love All About Learning! I have a child with dyslexia and we have been using AAL for 3 years now. She is soaring!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful to hear, Lindsay!

Cheree

says:

This is excellent. I really like mastery, because it makes sure there are no gaps. However, in our homeschooling I also combine some spiral style.

Faye

says:

I’m already seeing such a difference in my twins learning style and mastery of different subjects, including reading, that I think this approach will be great for both of them!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

So, true, Faye! It can be wonderful to observe how unique each child is.

Shana McCrady

says:

This is great! It’s a hard thing to realize when you come from a public school background where everything is organized by grade level

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Yes, great point, Shana!

Kristi

says:

I am so excited to start this program this fall with my kids! Everything about it excites me!

Tracey

says:

I have never used a mastery-based program, but I need something. I have twin boys, and they don’t seem to want to read. I am discouraged by this, but I have been told that it is normal in some kids. I just have to be patient and try different programs with them.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Tracey,
Often children don’t want to read because it is difficult work for them. When you have to work hard for every word, it is almost impossible to find enjoyment in reading. All About Reading was designed to take the struggle out of learning to read and to make reading the favorite subject of the day!

You may find our How to Motivate Your Child to Read blog post helpful too.

Let me know if you have questions or specific concerns.

Carolsue

says:

This would be a wonderful took to use in my homeschooling adventure!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great, Carolsue!

Kristy Kempton

says:

I am so encouraged to start this program with my 10 year old. I’ve been looking around for awhile for a program to use with him and this one is just what I’ve been looking for,

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful to hear, Kristy! Let me know if you need help with placement or anything else.

Amber S

says:

I was always unsure about mastery but I now see how it is appropriate for certain subjects, like reading!!. I also see the daily review within the program as a spiral approach. Either way great program.

Jennifer

says:

I totally agree with the mastery based approach. Thank you for your blog it is very helpful.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jennifer. I’m glad this was helpful.

SharC

says:

My twin girls learn very differently and at different “ages/levels” than their older brother. The mastery approach is definitely better than grading every child the same.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great point, Shar!

Kelly

says:

Can not wait to try this with our 5 year old! Also, all of the samples have been wonderful. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Glad to hear that you found the samples helpful, Kelly! Let me know if you need help with placement or anything else.

Katie

says:

Great information! Thanks for sharing!

Katie

says:

This is great information thank you.

April

says:

I cannot wait to try this for our family! I will be sharing this article with some of our friends as well. :)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for sharing the article, April!

Larose

says:

Thank you so much for this blog. It resonates so well.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Larose. I’m pleased to hear you are finding the blog a good fit for you.

Glenda

says:

Mastery-based lessons make more sense than grade-level lessons, and the proof is in the results. My 10 yr old Grandson has severe dyslexia. He has only just begun to read using this AAR Mastery-based program. After only his 3rd lesson, he smoothly read his first story! Afterward his face lit up. Beaming with delight, he hugged the book to himself and proudly announced “I’m taking this book to my room!” This program has proven life-changing for him. His confidence has returned, his sense of humor restored and he is more affectionate now, as well! I wish I had learned of this program earlier.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Oh, Glenda! This was wonderful to read! I am so glad that All About Reading is helping your grandson find his confidence and humor again! Thank you for sharing this. I’m going to make sure the entire AALP team gets to see it too.

Courtney

says:

Hey Jackie, I have found Cathy Duffys review website to be helpful when choosing curriculum if you’re interested in checking it out. You can read about different math programs here-

https://cathyduffyreviews.com/homeschool-reviews-core-curricula/math

I’m trying Math Mammoth light blue series this year with my child. I believe it’s a mastery based program that aligns with common core standards. I hope that’s helpful!

Lori

says:

I would love to check this out!

Ana Poveda

says:

This makes so much sense! Every child develops at a different rate and there are so many other factors than age!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

So true, Ana!

Courtney

says:

I’ve heard so many great things about this curriculum. I’m really looking forward to using it with all of my kids!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m pleased you have heard good things about this curriculum, Courtney! Let me know if you have questions or need help with placement.

Rachel p

says:

Thank you for all the resources you give us!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Rachel! Glad you like them.

Kristin

says:

Works for our family. Each of my girls works at the right level and pace for her.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful, Kristin!