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Pro: Mastery Learning

The idea of a self-paced class probably sounds like a dream come true for many Deerfield students. Setting your own test dates, not having to do chemistry homework every night, and never having due dates might make the new Chemistry I curriculum look like a walk-in-the-park class where nothing gets done. But rather, “mastery learning” chemistry has taught me how to set my own goals and achieve things without having the presence of a forcing hand.

The idea behind mastery-learning chemistry is that we all proceed throughout the chapters at our own pace, completing multiple “checkpoint quizzes,” watching videos on our online reading, and completing a lab before taking a chapter test. Chemistry is cumulative, and if a student doesn’t understand balancing equations and ionic compounds, he could have a much harder time with subsequent topics. The mastery-learning model allows students to understand every concept well and build upon previous knowledge without feeling rushed along by the class pace or a looming test date. This allows a better understanding of chemistry in general, although students may not get through as many topics.

A few times a week we have a more traditional class, where the teacher will give a lecture on a topic that most students are struggling with. In my class, we all seem to be in generally the same place. In fact, we all usually take the test within a few days of one another.

Yes, it’s sometimes frustrating to be half a chapter behind everyone else in the class, or struggling to re-learn a concept for the exam that just never really “clicked,” but this has only taught me that I have to stay on task to keep up with the other students in my class.

Furthermore, taking mastery-learning chemistry puts students in control of how they learn. The class forces me to work on organizational skills as well as chemistry so as to manage a week of classes and the work I want to get done in all classes. How I spend my class periods is also sometimes completely up to me, so instead of daydreaming and losing 45 minutes of my time, I have learned to ask better questions about the material so that I can understand the material more fully.

Do I think that all classes at Deerfield should be self-paced? No. The self-paced format would only work for courses that aren’t discussion-based, like a math or science course. The mastery-learning model might also prove inefficient in a higher-level class. The Chemistry I level is just right, however. Ultimately, this class reinforces good student skills like self-motivation and time management.

But does Chemistry I have its shortcomings? Yes. Sometimes, when I’m considering watching TV or going to bed early, it’s hard to make myself do the work. There is a point deduction for falling behind, but for many, it hasn’t proved so punitive that it completely discourages not finishing a chapter of the course.

So while the fully self-paced model works well, a hybrid model of working as a class and working individually actually may work better.