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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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Ruth

says:

This program has been such a blessing!

Annette

says:

AAR had been awesome for our daughter!

Betsey

says:

Love AAR

Wendy Clark

says:

Thank you so much for this program!!!!! It has changed our lives!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Wendy! We are very happy to have made a difference. Thanks for letting us know.

Jessie Peckens

says:

I love this approach to learning to read and my son is doing so well with this program!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

This is great to hear, Jessie. Thank you.

Lindsay Rowe

says:

100% agree, this is why we homeschool. Just because my child is a certain age doesn’t mean he is working at the exact level of others with his birth year.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Exactly! Thanks, Lindsay.

I would love to use this program with my son who we are homeschooling this year! I have heard great things about it:)

Annie Currier

says:

We have never used All About Spelling. It would be great to try it out!

Jessica

says:

My kiddos have done so well with the program! Thank you so much!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jessica. Thank you for letting us know your kids are doing so well!

Sara

says:

We are just beginning the All About Spelling program with the IEW PALS program. We love the hands on and visual learning. It makes spelling fun!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

We’re happy it’s so fun, Sara! Thanks for letting us know.

Lana K.

says:

Hi! My daughter is 7 Years old and we started 2nd level of All About Reading and Spelling programs for second grade. With the pace she is doing her work for the last two months, I feel that she will finish both programs in February-March. I am ordering level 3 now so we can continue to work without any breaks until end of this school year. We may continue level 3 during the summer or take a summer off and continue it in grade 3. I like that whole Program made by levels not by grades, which gives us flexibility in our work. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Lana,
Thank you for sharing this. Sometimes people assume that mastery-based learning is only for those that struggle, and that grade level materials are fine, or even best, for everyone else. Your daughter’s quick progress with AAR 2 and AAS 2 show that advanced learners can benefit from mastery-based learning as well. She is better off going on to higher level learning when she is ready for it.

Temalesi

says:

Well! here in Fiji we are using Observation Checklist where Teachers observe children individually. From there they may figure out the development pace of the child. I’m so thankful with your help in advising me with the 5 reasons of dong Mastery based Program mes

Annalisa

says:

Looking forward to trying all about spelling program.

Elizabeth T

says:

Mastery-based just makes more sense. Why move on if the child does not grasp the information they are being taught?

April

says:

I love the ability based programs. It allows me to tailor school to my child’s strength and weaknesses. It also takes the pressure off to hurry and get to the next grade.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

April,
Yes, that is a great point. Without grade levels, the pressure is off, or at least slackened. A parent can work at the level that is right for their child. Thank you for mentioning that.

Janna

says:

We have been enjoying the All About Reading program that we have tried for the first time. It’s a great program and my kids are gaining confidence and enjoying reading. Thanks

Stephanie

says:

Can’t wait to try this!

Amy

says:

Sounds like a fabulous curriculum.

Linda S

says:

Mastering a concept or a skill before moving on to the next is what education ought to be – that is just plain common sense!

Nicole c

says:

Make sense. That’s why many of us homeschoool so we can meet the needs of our kids

Melanie Hollstein

says:

We are loving mastery-based lessons versus grade-level lessons. We recently found out that one of my children has double vision as his eyes aren’t working together. So, after the addition of glasses and vision therapy, he is enjoying learning to read. He and his younger brother are doing the same reading lessons at the moment without any negativity that would be caused by grade-level lessons. We are looking for mastery and success at his pace.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Melanie,
“We are looking for mastery and success at his pace.” That’s an excellent way to put it! Thank you.

Kathy

says:

This makes so much sense!

Christy Maloney

says:

Love this! This is one of the reasons I love AAR and AAS! My son can go at his pace. He has no clue about grade level. If he’s having trouble in the level 2 AAR, we go back and review concepts in the Level 2 AAR or we read the level 1 AAR books. This builds confidence to try and succeed. LOVE this program.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Christy,
Yes! Allowing students to progress at their own unique pace is a wonderful way to learn!

Suzanne

says:

I definitely agree with you on your mastery-based curriculum. My 8 year old boy has struggled learning to read, but is doing well with AAR. We are taking the lessons a little slower than the plans and he is coming along. He is embarrassed because most children he knows from public school (we homeschool) are way ahead of him. Just the other day he said, “I am ever going to learn to read?” I reassured him that he is reading already and he will get better as we go. Thanks for your great curriculum!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Suzanne, and thank you for sharing how your son is doing. I’m sad that he is embarrassed, however. Poor guy.

Julie A Hord

says:

I am so glad God gave me the courage to buck the system! My third child had been our most reluctant reader yet; no matter what I tried he just wasn’t interested. I finally found AAR and began with level 1, even though he is 10 years old. And he has definitley “blossomed”. This program is so wonderful. He’s not only learning fast but he’s loving it…and mastering the skills almost effortlessly. We are all so happy with his progress! Thank you AAR!!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Julie,
Thank you for sharing your story of courage with us!

KIm

says:

Yes and Amen.

Allison

says:

This makes so much sense!

Amy

says:

Just what I needed to hear. Thank you!

Coral Pimm

says:

When my daughter was in grade 4 I ordered the level 4 book. It was very clear that she was not at that level and so we started with level 1. She is now in grade 6 and almost finished the 3rd book. Some lessons take 1day some take 3days – but as long as she is progressing that’s all I’m after!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for sharing your daughter’s story, Coral. That backward looking, seeing how far you’ve come, is a wonderful way to assess your child’s progress. We discuss that in our blog post Avoiding the “Big Pit”.

Yvette

says:

I’ve taken a mastery-based approach. I did attempt grade-level but it was clear that we needed to go down a level.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Yvette,
I’m happy to hear you were able to place your child where he or she needed to be for the best success. It will definitely pay off.

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