Hi everyone. Thank you so much for coming and joining me today. I can't wait to dive into this interview. I am interviewing Jon Bergmann. He is a pioneer of flip learning. I've actually interviewed him previously on this podcast. He is a man I met at FlipCon many years ago. I was chatting with him in Adelaide and he is absolutely amazing with what he's doing. He is so just such a passionate educator and he gives a lot to to us to support us, to help teachers in the classroom. He's recently written a new book called The Mastery Learning Hair Books. So I'm gonna be talking to him about the mastery approach, which I found amazing. I learned it from some of his previous flip learning books. But he's gone and written a special book just on the mastery learning approach. And I can't wait. Let's just dive into this interview cuz I love chatting with Jon. Jon, thank you so much for coming and giving me your time to chat about your new book that's coming up, but also just to talk about the mastery model as an approach to education in general.
Jon Bergmann (00:58):
It's great to be with you, Dan, and to share. It's good to see you again. You know, it's been a long time since we've been in the same space together.
Yeah, I still remember when you came out to Adelaide for FlipCon and then I remember as well interviewing you. You, this is a second time you've been on this podcast with me . So thank you so much for you generosity. Jon, can you just start by telling our listeners or those of who are watching us on YouTube, what is mastery learning? Like, how is it actually different to what we normally do in the classroom?
Jon Bergmann (01:28):
Well, we, if Mastery learning's been around for a long time, so if you think about like if you ha you have to pass the driver's test to get a driver's license, right? The doctor has to pass the board exams to become a doctor and if they fail, they get a second chance to take the test until they pass or give up I guess. So the big idea of mastery is that a student works through the curriculum at a particular pace, not exactly the same pace as all the other students. And they get to the end of a unit of study or some, some marker for some summative assessment. They take the sum of assessment, if they pass, they move on. If they don't, they don't. And so the master model in education has been around for a long, long time, but it's been really difficult to implement really because of the logistics of how do you make that work. You've got 30 kids in a class and six classes a day, which is my reality here in my classroom. I'm sitting in my classroom right now for those who are just listening. I'm in my classroom. I just had students leave just, you know, 20 minutes ago and they're not all on the same page. They're on different pages, so to speak of the curriculum. But it works.
Yeah, I'm gonna say from my own experience, when I used to do a lot of flipping in my classroom and then I implemented a mastery model, particularly in my common class at one point, but it was like a senior class where I was teaching multiple subjects and I had students who were going through in a compressed model during one subject and another group that weren't doing the compressed model. And it was really difficult, but I found it helpful having read, you know, your flip learning books and flipping my classroom to be able to manage the fact that that students were at different places.
Jon Bergmann (03:00):
I think there's a message that we're sending to students that I really disagree with and I think this the message that education sends and it's not just a US thing or an Australian thing, I think it's a worldwide thing. We have made this, we've made this statement the way we've designed our educational system. If you learn fast, you're smart. And then the opposite is, if you learn slow, you're dumb. I believe that is the message we send to students. I don't agree with that statement. And in mastery learning I hope helps alleviate that because it allows students to move at what I like to call a flexible pace, not their own pace. That's, that's what we could talk about that too, at a flexible pace. And then what's to say if somebody who learns it slower might actually learn it deeper and then really understand it. And I think that's what that's certainly what I'm seeing in my classrooms and as I interviewed people for this book, that's what they're seeing too.
Can you explain what the difference is between learning at a flexible pace? Cuz you, you said you're gonna talk about it anyway, so it might as well.
Jon Bergmann (03:54):
Yeah, so it's not self-paced, but it sort of is. I mean this is the point I have found with my students, right? I teach regular students in a regular classroom that if I don't give them a pace, they, some students just a few of them won't have a pace . Does that make sense? I have to give them some directions on what they need to do. So for example, all my students are finishing up right now, level four. I've slightly gamified my class, not to the degree I'd like to, but that's down the road. So they're finishing up unit four, let's call it that unit four. And their test is next week, next week from today. And they know that, so they need to get to a certain place to have mastered that. So I've put a little fire under them that they need to get ready to take this test next Tuesday.
Jon Bergmann (04:40):
But the thing that they also know is that if they fail the test, okay, and we can define what that means in the mastery set. I mean, I, I say if a student is not scored at least 80% on this test, then they will take it again and then again to tell they until they achieve mastery. So the idea of master courses have to take the test again, it's not the same test. So I've found some software hacks that allow the student to get a different test every time they take the test, but yet it teaches or it assesses the same key objectives that are in the test or in the, in the unit. And so that's, that's, that's been a huge discovery of how to essentially have thousands of versions of a test so that I don't have to have three versions of a test. And if one kid takes a picture with a cell phone, then it's, you know, public knowledge and that doesn't, you know, then they're just cheating it.
Yeah, I like how you've talked there, Dave, because I released a book not too long ago at the end of last year about how to save time as a teacher, which actually applies like a lot of the rules still apply to students there. One of those things is Parkinson's law, which is about how the amount of time that you basically allow for a task is how long it will take. And so if you tell a student that you've got all year to complete this task, they will take all year to complete that task. Whereas if you tell them, you know, a deadline that's, they need a deadline to be able to make sure that they're actually keeping on some kind of a track. You're just setting that kind of basic pace of this is the pace we should be going at and if, well not necessarily should, but it's just about, yeah, this is, this is the deadlines we're setting to help make sure that you actually spur yourself on into action. That's fantastic. That, can you then explain to me how is the planning different when I'm planning for a mastery classroom compared to planning for a ordinary classroom?
Jon Bergmann (06:20):
So it's really important that you set things up essentially in modules you say, So I've got a unit that my students, here's a packet of paper I'll hand out to each student when they, when they finish this test. And so I spent some time and I said, What are the key objectives? So that in, in mastery, the first step is to always find what are your clear objectives, targets, whatever term you'd want to use. So in this level, and these are printed, so students can see there are seven different lessons or objectives. There are seven things they wanna learn. This is about, i, I teach chemistry and physics, this is my chemistry unit. Learn what holds a in co bonds together. So that's, that's number one. Number two, understand how co bonds work and distinguish between single double and triple covalent bonds. So I'm sure that this, those of you listening have got a list of, you know, learning targets, goals, objectives, we gonna call them that you have.
Jon Bergmann (07:12):
But then what you have to do is then I have to create learning objects around each of those. So in my cases, the vast majorities are, these are short videos that teach the students the concepts or teach, might be the strong word, introduce the subject to them. Then there's also other that, that's sort of the introductory stuff. But then there's also group space. In my ca case, there'd be experiments, there's gonna be other activities that the students are gonna do to accentuate their learning. And then they're gonna work through this unit of study at this flexible pace with some deadlines to get things done. So in, in an any given class, I will have students probably doing three or four different things. Some will be working on 5.1, some will be the 5.1 lab, some will be the 5.2. This will be like a, a formative assessment thing that they would do. And then between, so I you, you have to be really organized to do mastery. So you have a very specific list of, you know, tasks and things that they need to do in order to make it happen.
Okay. And is this something that you would encourage, like a new grad teacher who's coming out, would you get them to go straight into a mastery model of teaching? Or would you suggest instead that they kind of go through the process of teaching and learn a lot of other skills but then come to this,
Jon Bergmann (08:24):
The fact that it works so well makes me think you might as well just dive in. You're gonna work your butt off, let's just work your butt off and do it. Right? I don't know. I'm working with some schools right now and one in particular is wanting to move to mastery, but I'm taking them slowly through the process because many of these are seasoned teachers who have lots of ways they've done things and they're somewhat reticent to give things up. And so I'm actually moving them, starting to get them to a flipped learning model. And then after they move a little bit from flipped, I wanna move them to mastery. And it's a, it's like a two year arrangement I've got with this school to try to get them in this direction. And I'm, I'm, I, I know it's just gonna take some time to get them to that stage because it takes a lot of time and you know, especially post covid people are so busy teachers and they're burnt out. And so I get that. But if it's a brand new teacher, let's just, let's just dive in, Let's go. Yeah.
It's almost easier, isn't it, with a brand new teacher? Cause they're like quite don't know any other way and it's gonna alleviate some of those other issues anyway. Like when you think about, new teachers often struggle with behavior management and stuff, but often that's because their classrooms are not engaging, they're not as much fun and you're not hitting that zone of proximal development for the students as well. Whereas if you do start straight off with the mastery model, yes, it'll be a bit more work to set it all up to begin with, but they will actually have less other issues that they've gotta manage. And so life for them may actually be a lot easier Yeah. By doing that. Whereas, yeah, I know from experience teaching those more experienced teachers as well, how to do this kind of a process and then just like, no, I've gotta cover the content. I've gotta, I've gotta cover it before the end of the year. And just like, Yeah, but would you rather cover it and the students learn like 20% of it and then kind of ditch it because it's, you know, foundational understanding as they're building on? Or would you rather then you not cover a hundred percent of it and some kids might only get through 70%, but it'll learn that 70%, you know, it's a difference in our focus. And
Jon Bergmann (10:12):
That's a good segue if you want to, you're talking about the planning process. I'm staring right now at the mastery rubric that I created or the the mastery learning cycle in this. And the second step is the mastery rubric. And the rubric then says what, how I define what the definition of mastery is in a given unit of study. And so I actually in the book talk about creating three levels of mastery, a deep level of mastery, a clear level of mastery, and a basic level of mastery. So in this process, I look at my objectives, my clear objectives, and I decide which ones are most important, and then everybody needs to know, and then which ones are nice to know. And then ones that are awesome to know, like if they're gonna go deep. And so you create levels of mastery and differentiation.
Jon Bergmann (11:01):
And because one of the issues that you bring up is what if, and you didn't say this but I'm sure it was implied, is that what if some students get way ahead and some kids are way behind and that's a disaster if that happens by the way, you want them ish on the same page. So the what happens, for example, I talked about this test next week. My students who have a choice between different levels of tests to take based upon how much they have mastered. So those who have, who will go deep have covered in that particular set of lessons, there are six lessons. They will have covered all six if they are taking the deep tests on this particular test. There's only two levels of tests. And then for clear tests, they will cover four of the six objectives. And I, the sixth of the fifth and sixth objectives aren't as important.
Jon Bergmann (11:47):
I've used my, you know, professional judgment about what I think is important and essential versus what isn't. Another chemistry teacher might disagree with me on that, but that's how I'm distinguishing. And then when they take the assessment, which by the way has to be sort of designed ahead of time, I'm getting ahead of myself, then, then the students know which one they're gonna take. And then that way I can really meet the needs of my advanced students and not just my students who need to, you know, sort of just get by. So I mean, I'm rambling here, but one of the things I discovered in my research for mastery learning, and I've experienced this too, but when I read it, it was just like, well, this big like, ooh, light bulb moment was that mastery learning lurks works best. This research says for students who struggle or who are, you know, kind of average students, but it hasn't really shown great effectiveness for advanced learners.
Jon Bergmann (12:39):
That was my experience because what level do you expect them to master? You can't pick such a high level, nobody can reach it. And so I shot for kind of a medium high range and I got everybody to pass all their tests. That was awesome. But then again, in doing research for the book, and I talked to two teachers in particular and they basically gave me the idea of this, creating these three levels of assessments. And that's, that's how I can now, I can now really have advanced topics for the students who are ready for it. And I feel like I'm really helping and meet those kids these last two years since I've been doing this. The book came out, you know, just a week ago or whatever, but last year I was trialing everything that I, I had learned, you know, tweaking it and whatnot and, and it, it, this is so much better than my old mastery class. So
I gotta say, Jo, what you were talking about there in terms of like the effect that it has and the impact it has on those higher students. So, well, I tend to see a lot when we are looking at, you know, strategies that have an impact on our students and how much they're learning, that often talks about how things are way more beneficial, generally speaking for the ones who are struggling, who are at the bottom. And for me, I think that's partly because they actually have more room to improve. Like if you're going from only knowing 20% of a topic to their knowing 70% of the topic, like you've improved massively, but you, if you're already at 75%, you don't have that far to go. So you can't get the same kind of impact. And so the question then is, even if I'm not, like, it looks like what you are doing with your scaffolding of three different levels is you're actually allowing students not to cover the content faster, but actually to instead go deeper with the content.
And so you're actually allowing that space for the students who are at 75 to actually get up to you at 120% or 130% because you've extended them beyond what's necessarily demanded by your state or by your, your curriculum that's given to you. You're actually going, well, let's go a bit deeper with you because this is what's, this is where you're at. Right? And I think that's something for us all to, to remember when we're looking at research in general is that if you're, if you're capping a level on the students with their depths, then you're not gonna have that great impact, so to speak on those higher achieving students. And so even if I don't, let's say I don't do the three levels and I don't excel my top students, is it detrimental to those students? Like, are are they actually not achieving as well as they would in an, in a traditional
Jon Bergmann (15:04):
No, you just didn't see as big of an increase in their score. So it's not detrimental if you don't do that. And, and you may not want to start right away with the three levels of differentiated assessments or whatever. Like I've done my first few years, I just said, everyone's gotta get an 80 and you know, and then, but eventually I, I saw that I was not reaching my high achieving students as much, but they weren't being hurt by it. They, they've gone on to university and done very well. So that did, yeah, they're, they're fine, but there's still ways to engage those students more and having these options have made a big difference for me. So
That's fantastic. I've got my next question here that I've, I listed as I was planning for this was how, how do you manage the classroom and if the students are progressing at different rates, but it sounds like they're not necessarily progressing at different rates, but they might be pushing at different depths. So how do you manage that? Which you do have, you still have students who are at different points in their learning. How do you manage that as a teacher? You've got 30 students in your classroom.
Jon Bergmann (16:04):
So what I'll do is at the beginning of a week I will say, Hey, by the end of this week you need to be done with this, this, and that. And then you basically need to plan how that's gonna work. And as a science teacher, I'll say, and this particular experiment is only gonna be set up for, you know, two more days. So you need to make sure you do that. That's gonna take you about 30 minutes. So you need to plan for that. And by the way, who wants to do that today? Right? You, you, you and you, right? Meet me over here. We'll do a little short pre-lab discussion and then we'll have a convo about that and then we're gonna get you started on the experiment. And then there's some, someone's doing another experiment. The logistics of it really is, I like to call it the first five minutes is the most important minutes of a mastery classroom because you're doing triage.
Jon Bergmann (16:42):
So if you remember in medical terminology, if some, if, if a doctor comes across a disaster scene, he or she is gonna take some time and decide who is hurt the most and who needs the most attention. Well this person, they just twisted their ankle, they'll be fine. This person is bleeding profusely. I need to deal with them first. And so I need to decide who do I need to give my fu first few minutes to? And very quickly in the course of a year, you realize who you need to talk to first because it's your students with like ADHD or whatever. Because if I say, you know, everybody gets started on whatever you need to get started on. If I don't actually go over and tell that student what they need to do, they won't have done anything by the time I get there.
Jon Bergmann (17:21):
So they oftentimes are my first stop on my tour around the room. So I'll walk around the room and I'll have a conversation. I have also kept track, I keep track of their progress on a clipboard. Here's my clipboard. There's names of students and the assignments, here's the students, the missing assignments that they had not done previous week. There are students that are ahead and behind and I'm keeping track and I know what's going on. And I'll say, Now, have you gotten that done? What's the next step? Alright or like today, there's one particular assignment that students have really struggled with and there was, it was, and these were like only four students still had not completed this, but it was kind of a foundational assignment that was early on. And I said, All right, who, who hasn't done this? I quickly checked each of their progress and it was my usual suspects, the students who struggled to get stuff done, I said, All right, we become an instant group.
Jon Bergmann (18:10):
We hopped over to one of the tables in the exterior of my room, you could see them if you're watching on the YouTube. We jumped over to one of these tables right here and then we became an instant group. We talked, I gave 'em a little help, I walked away, I came back, I gave the little help. So they were all kind of stuck on the same thing and they got it. Meanwhile, and the other side of the room, the more advanced students, they, they did that last week and they were moving on to something else. And I sat with the advanced group for about 10 minutes and helped 'em on the advanced topic, the topic that isn't in the, the, the clear test and worked with them for 10 minutes. And then I worked, you know, so I was just bopping around the room. I mean, I see my job as a rover, but I've also gotta make sure I get to, especially my slow learners, my students who need extra attention first before, you know, I get to my high achieving students. I'm not saying I'm ignoring the high achieving students. I got, I got 10 minutes with my, in this one class, there were five-ish, I wanna say maybe five or six of my high achieving students. And we became that instant group to talk about the more complex topic that they were wrestling with.
Yeah. And I think what you were saying as well earlier when you were talking about how you were kind of coaching a few schools through these and you were saying that it's a few year pro process cuz you wanna actually help them to flip first before they then hit the mastery stuff. Is flipping key aspects of being able to do this. Like do you have to be flipping?
Jon Bergmann (19:36):
I don't know that you have to, but it makes it easier because the problem is, is that if you have any kind of direct instruction, that's where the flipping comes into play. Because you can have, I mean even in a mastery classroom, if a, if the next thing the student needs to do is to get some direct instruction, they can pull out their device. All of our students are issued a device. They're issued a device, they pull in some headphones and they can watch, you know, video five while another students watching video three and they're working on assignment three and in other words, doing experiment four. And all these things are happening simultaneously in the classroom at the same time cuz they're getting just in time what they need in their learning process. And it's different for different kids. But don't feel like I have 30 different learning processes cuz that's unmanageable. I've probably got four groups, right. So I try to clump them into groups so that they, it's not like they're all doing something different. That's crazy. Yeah. Logistically, so again, you might have four or five things happening in the classroom at the same time.
Yeah, I definitely found when I did a mastery approach that my kids just kind of naturally ended up in those kind of groups cuz kids do their, like to work with each other and they support each other and you know, they end up teaching, teaching. A lot of peer teaching happened in my classroom, at least as I used a kind of a mastery approach as they were going through things. So That's fantastic Jon. Is there anything else that a teacher desperately needs to know as they're getting ready to implement a mastery style of learning? I know we can't cover everything in your book .
Jon Bergmann (21:04):
One thing I would recommend that has also transformed my whole process, we talk about planning, is that I really adopted a backwards design process. So I start with clear objectives, then I build the rubric and then I plan my assessments even before I plan my activities. And so I want them, I wanna know what I want them to know and be able to do when they leave a particular unit of study before I designed the lessons. So I, that has been very helpful to me. You know, the work of Jay Macie and
Jon Bergmann (21:33):
Grant Wiggins, thank you. Just escape my brain. So those two guys in the work that they did doing Backward Design, that seems to really help. And I think it's made me more efficient. Cause one of the biggest issues that I have struggled with is the assessment and how do I assess 'em. And I've now got, I use my, my learning management system Brightspace. So it delivers, you know, different tests every time to the students in an electronic fashion. And that seems to really, that really helps. But finding good quality questions. I, I've even bought questions online from other physics teachers and chemistry teachers because they've got quality questions. Cuz I mean, the, the trick is, is I need, you know, on a particular objective, I want to have eight or 10 questions and then the software's gonna pick one of them for them to get of the same level.
Jon Bergmann (22:18):
So I have to look at the questions and determine the level of that question. And if it belongs in the, the, the, you know, the deep test or the clear test or it's above my students or it's below my students. And so I, you know, to try to make these assessments, it requires like huge banks of questions. And that's been something that has taken a lot of time. But I, I have a, a colleague next door, a chemistry colleague, he is better at chemistry questions than I am and he's been sourcing lots of questions for our team and that helps too. That's especially something that's helpful to have another person to walk with, you know, and help you on this.
You're obviously science based. Does this kind of process, cause you're talking about multiple different assessments and stuff, is that still the same kind of thing that you would do with English and history? Like where they're really normally writing extended kind of pieces of writing as a assessment of some kind? Does it just end up a math?
Jon Bergmann (23:12):
No, there's totally, totally. So it, you know, it's not just task orientated. I mean, I, I, I mean, Andrew Swan, who I interviewed for the book at some great length, he's a, a middle school, you know, middle years, I forget what you would call it history teacher. And so he has done the mastery model and he's broken down different things that students need to learn about history. I think he's teaching the United States history and he breaks that down in a very similar process. He was the one who came up with the idea of the three levels of mastery that really helps. So, totally, totally works. I mean, I mean, you do still wanna reserve some days, so there are days where you're all on the same page so that you could have a deep conversation as a whole class. I think there's a lot of value to that where they're all doing the same thing on the same day.
Jon Bergmann (24:00):
And so, you know, a discussion about, you know, the causes of, I don't know, something, I'm trying to think of an Australian example. I, I don't know my Australian history very well, but there was a big gold rush there at some point, wasn't there? And so what were some of the effects of the gold rush on the Australian world? What did that do? I don't know. I'm thinking of something that might be, and again, I'm no Australian history person at all, . So those are the kinds of questions you'd wanna do in a big group. You know, I mean, I guess analogously today I did do an assessment with my physics class, but it was a lab assessment. I put them into two groups and they had to shoot something across the room. They put a little disc on the floor that was this big, and they had to hit it and they did without on their first attempt with the physics and the math.
That's fantastic, Jon. Thanks so much for that. I think often, like I talk to my sister who's an English teacher about stuff like this, and she's like, Yeah, but for an English teacher, it's just so much extra work. Like if I have to create multiple different levels of assessment and then go through, but I'm like, you can do, like, I feel like with the longer writing stuff too, you can also have a same kind of question, but you're actually assessing at a deeper level for those who wanna be at that higher level of writing.
Jon Bergmann (25:16):
But clearly one thing that's gonna work in the, in the teaching literature and stuff like that, is you're trying to teach 'em how to write. And there's a lot of skills in writing, right? There's, you know, what's the best use of an alliteration? What's the best use of you know, different ways to write, you know long sentences, short sentences. Do you have topic sentences? I mean, there's, there's ways, there's a, there's a structure to writing and some of those skill sets would work. Or I mean, think of a, a primary teacher who's teaching students that, you know, what is a summary or, you know, the proper use of punctuation. I mean, there's all these skills that are necessary so that you can become, you know, an effective writer at whatever level you're trying to teach them how to write. So definitely any skill this is ideal for. I mean, and at some level, I believe almost every person is teaching skills, even if it's a high level literature class. Some of the skills are writing skills. I mean, I wanna evaluate a piece of literature and I want to, you know, there's deep ways to look at literature. I'm not sure there's categorizations. I don't know what they're called now, but, so you can read that literature from that lens. That's a skill set. So that's a perfect thing to do, a mastery type of an arrangement.
Jon, thank you so much for giving up your time to come and chat to me and to share some of the stuff that's in your book. Can you tell people where can they go and find your book? Where can they come and connect with you?
Jon Bergmann (26:42):
I've created just the website, the mastery learning handbook.com. So if you go to the, themasterylearninghandbook.com, that'll take you right there and you can see all, there's also resources downloadables that you can get from the book, images, templates rubric guides or those kinds of things that you can get at the website. So that's, I also, you can find me JonBergmann.com and Jon is spelled with no H and Bergmann with two n, so j o n b e r g m a n n.com. Also Amazon. You can find it on Amazon and, and, you know, all kinds of bookstores and stuff right now. So
Thank you so much, Jon.
Jon Bergmann (27:19):
Awesome. That's been great being with you.
Well guys, how great was that conversation with Jon? He had such wonderful insight into what's happening in the classroom, and I would highly encourage you to go and get a copy of his book. Before you go, I wanna also encourage you to head over to teacherspd.net/conference because I am running the Effective Teaching Conference in January. It goes from the 16th, the 20th of January. It's gonna be five days of presentations from amazing people. In fact, Jon mentioned Jay mct, the guy who wrote Understanding By Design, and he is responsible for the whole process of backwards mapping. Jay is gonna be presenting at this conference along with a bunch of other fantastic presenters, including Jon Hattie. So make sure you come, you can learn more. Go to that league teacherspd.net/conference and check that out. I would love to see there, I've kept the conference cheap as it's online.
It's just $2 for you to come. So go to teacherspd.net/conference. If you're watching this on YouTube, there's a link underneath the video that you can click to go and learn more. I can't wait to see you there. And to kick 2023 off with a bag with some fantastic learning from amazing educators that are internationalists is available for everyone all over the world. I've tried to pick the best time slot I could so that it actually meets up, you know, have to be up late in the night or early in the morning, and you can come and attend, you know, if you're in the US or anywhere, hopefully around, almost around the world. Obviously some places that it's gonna be a middle of the night, but come and check it out, teacherpd.net/conference.