Mastery Learning Handbook

The book provides a complete set of study guide questions which can also be found on this page.

Balance with Blended

The book provides a complete set of study guide questions which can also be found on this page.

Learn Like a Pirate

 Learn Like a Pirate

Our surveys clearly substantiate one unsurprising observation: virtually all teachers want students to take more responsibility for their learning. Chapter 3 of Learn Like a Pirate invokes interesting reactions from educators: “That could work with some students but not others” or “How could you manage with all students interrupting all the time?” But the chapter does pose an interesting question:

If I want students to take more responsibility and leadership, what is my mechanism for giving ALL learners (not the typical select few) more responsibility and leadership opportunities?

The Give-Me-Five technique is not without hazards–students need to learn proper use and not abuse it. The author gives some good guidance how manage, particularly his explicit teaching of active vs passive leadership.

How could Give-Me-Five be incorporated into your classroom structures?

Improvement focus sounds like a no-brainer–what teacher doesn’t embrace this? But our practices often don’t support this thinking. The author talks about how our grading practices work counter to improvement focus:

“My belief is that grades shouldn’t earn rewards or privileges, nor should they earn negative consequences or punishments. Likewise, points, badges, and rewards can feel great—when you’re earning them. Winning feels wonderful. But not all students earn enough points or badges or rewards to feel like they’ve won. Some students struggle every day just to stay afloat. In a classroom filled with extrinsic motivators, these students get worn down. Despite all of their hard work, they never do better than even half the class. Sure, sometimes a teacher gives them a “Hardest Worker” certificate or a badge for “Perseverance.” But deep down, students know their effort rarely equates to what some other students receive without even trying. So, they eventually stop trying. Grades shouldn’t earn rewards or privileges, nor should they earn negative consequences or punishments.”

He continues:

“Every child needs to be encouraged to continue learning and improving. Assessment and feedback, rather than a focus on grades, pushes students toward constant growth…Students don’t receive grades on any of their work or projects either. They do, however, receive regular feedback. Skills and comprehension can be better assessed through observations while students are working.”

This thinking plays an important part of Unit 3 coming up later in this class.



I think the concept of silent day is fascinating. 

“Silent Day is pretty special. From the moment the bell rings at 9:05, to the moment it rings again at 3:35, I cannot say a word to anyone! I can’t speak to my peers at lunch. I can’t answer questions.”

 Most classrooms, mine included, would fail trying this. This takes work all year long to achieve this goal. I believe setting this as a goal  gives learners purpose for taking on collaborative leadership responsibility. It is also a great exercise for teachers/facilitators to structure long-term opportunities for leaner to develop skills necessary to achieve this goal.

As you examine a typical day in your classroom from beginning to end, what would it take to accomplish a Silent Day? What skills would it take for students to be successful for the day? What practice would you need to establish so your learners could operate on Silent Day?


What does it take to empower leaners in a student-led classroom?

“If you truly want your classroom to be student-led, I believe you need to make that goal explicitly clear from Day One…So, how do you get students to take control? It starts when you empower them to make decisions and address the entire class…In addition, be intentional about supporting any and all attempts at student leadership—especially those that fail.”

Empowerment must be a teacher’s top priority.



While our work as facilitators predominantly focuses on the classroom, customized learning cannot be accomplished within the walls of the classroom alone. For a Masters’ program on Customized Learning to be successful, it is important to look at the bigger picture of systemic change in schools. As you read the Five Levers book, pay particular attention to chapters 1 and 4. The book does a nice job of noting the importance of learner agency and its interplay big picture changes. For example, in Levers chapter 4:

Principle 3 clarifies the role of the learner as the active agent in the learning process. Ultimately, learning is not conducted through an external act by a teacher but, rather, occurs through an internal set of processes governed by the learner. Learning is a process of thinking about one’s own thinking.



The book Teaching Kids to Thrive focuses on many aspects congruent with Learner Agency:

Chapter 1: Mindfulness

Chapter 2: Command and Control Functions

Chapter 3: Self-Efficacy and Growth Mindset

Chapter 4: Perseverance Chapter

Chapter 5: Resilience and Optimism

Chapter 6: Responsibility

Chapter 7: Honesty and Integrity

Chapter 8: Empathy

Chapter 9: Gratitude


I often consider perseverance and resilience (chapters 4 & 5) as synonyms of the same concept, but note how the authors break them in to two distinct concepts with separate chapters.


As we work with learners’ ability to persevere, it very important to note these three points :

The good news is research indicates that perseverance is a malleable quality and certainly worth the effort to help develop in students despite their academic success or risk factors.


If students do not learn how to set goals, overcome obstacles, and push forward, they can become averse to risk taking of any kind. They develop habits of avoiding challenges and quitting anytime things get too difficult.


Research shows that high-achieving individuals draw upon “attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, and intrapersonal resources—independent of intellectual ability” (U.S. Department of Education, 2013, p. 1).


It has been my experience (as well as what I hear from other educators) that learners often rate themselves high in perseverance and resilience with their strongest areas, and rate themselves lowest in areas they are weakest–yet from the outside we educators see the exact opposite. This is an important concept to teach learners–that perseverance and resilience are not tied to their intellectual and academic abilities.  


Note in chapter 5 they reference connection,autonomy, and competence:

Developing Resiliency Through Competency

Edward Deci model (Deci & Flaste, 1996), students Thrive when they (1) feel a sense of belonging and connection, (2) have a sense of autonomy, and (3) feel competent.

Sometimes students’ feelings of incompetence lead them to a sense of futility rather than one of success. They have trouble mustering the initiative to overcome even small setbacks because they believe that basically they are incapable of making substantial improvement.


Note for future reference that this ties very closely with our next book in the class, Drive, by David Pink. These three concepts are key to any success with customized learning! We will revisit this later in the course


The importance of these chapters is that we as facilitators need to explicitly teach these concepts:

Most importantly, though, as with all social and emotional learning (SEL) skills, it is flexible and can be strengthened through modeling, instruction, and practice. Perseverance training should incorporate the tools, strategies, and mindset skills that promote a drive toward success. It should be embedded in everyday classroom applications throughout the student’s educational experience.


That is our goal for this unit: to target specific “thrive” skills with our learners and build it into our instructional planning.


Note that each chapter has a section called “Thrive Skills in Action” listed below:


Thrive Skills in Action

Activity 1.1: The Five-Minute Mini-Meditation

Activity 1.2: Musical Drawing

Activity 1.3: Blowing Wishes

Activity 1.4: It Bugs Me, but I Breathe for Three

Activity 1.5: Up in the Air

Activity 2.1: Brain Guide for Kids

Activity 2.2: Be Your Own Time Manager

Activity 2.3: What Will You Take With You?

Activity 2.4: What is This?

Activity 2.5: My Name Is, and I Like to

Activity 2.6 Bandleader

Activity 3.1 Attribution Theory Assessment Questions

Activity 3.2 Me Me Me

Activity 3.3 Failing Isn’t Final

Activity 3.4 Rolling From Fixed to Growth Mindset

Activity 3.5 Fabulous Fails

Activity 4.1 Ladder to My Success

Activity 4.2 Perseverance Teach and Trade

Activity 4.3 Keep Swimming (or Shaking)!

Activity 4.4 Everyone Has a Story: Personal Interviews

Activity 4.5 Dreaming and Planning the Road to Getting There

Activity 5.1 Eggsample of Optimism

Activity 5.2 Dear Me, Erase the Negative and Replace it With the Positive

Activity 5.3 Building Tribes

Activity 5.4 Resiliency Reminders

Activity 5.5 The Path to Overcoming Challenges

Activity 6.1 A Responsibility Challenge: One Pencil

Activity 6.2 Four Types of Responsibility

Activity 6.3 A Year With a Buddy

Activity 6.4 Social Action Projects

Activity 6.5 Excuse Goose

Activity 7.1 Find Your Inner Superhero!

Activity 7.2 Integrity Graphs for Literature and Current Events

Activity 7.3 Integrity Chain

Activity 7.4 Discussion or Journal Prompts: “What Would You Do?”

Activity 7.5 You Are What You Do, an Orange Is an Orange

Activity 8.1 Empathy Walk Journal

Activity 8.2 Empathy Role Play

Activity 8.3 “How Does it Feel?” Game

Activity 8.4 Peace Table

Activity 8.5 History Empathy

Activity 9.1 Count Your Good Things

Activity 9.2 Savor the Flavor

Activity 9.3 Grateful Share Jar

Activity 9.4 Silver Lining

Activity 9.5 The Twenty-One-Day Challenge

Book Whisperer

The Book Whisperer

There are probably some who are asking “Why should I read The Book Whisperer when I don’t teach reading?” The author tells an interesting about her transition of instruction style from whole-class to individual. While reading the book, substitute “reading” with your own content.

Do understand, I do believe there are some lessons or activities that are best served as whole-class instruction. Unfortunately, most of us as educators depend too much on whole-class instruction because it is most convenient for the teacher. It is the most efficient method for delivering content. 

“The unit was a work of art, a culmination of everything I had learned about good teaching, and I was proud of it. It was a disaster. … As often happens to well-intentioned teachers, my plans fell apart when my students showed up…I realized that every lesson, conference, response, and assignment I taught must lead students away from me and toward their autonomy as literate people….I began to see how independent reading and student choices could coincide with my curriculum. I never taught a whole-class novel unit again.”

The intent of this unit is for us to reflect on how we approach whole-class instruction and transition to a customized environment. One of the big hold-outs for teachers is class discussion–“we have to all read the same content in order to discuss it, otherwise in a customized classroom I give up discussions completely.” Look at the approach of this author and how she organizes discussions and collaboration without everyone reading the same content at the same time. Then look for ways to do the same with our own content and learners.

Chapter 4 she address discussions. The author also examines the type of work we assign students:

“That I expect my students to read forty books a year is not the chief concern for many students. They usually want to know what activities I will ask them to do with the books they are reading, because worksheets, vocabulary tests, and book reports have always been the goal for every book they have ever read in school; never has it been for their pleasure or engagement. They have a tough time believing that I have not tied their books to a lot of teacher strings, so they quiz me, looking for the catch…When I took a closer look at those folders, it became clear to me that they were simply time wasters, busywork, and, in some ways, punishment for students who were capable. Students hate those supposedly fun folders.”

The author asks us to examine current instructional practices:

“My principal often asks us, his teaching staff, to examine traditional practices and question whether these practices are what educational policy leader Richard Elmore calls “unexamined wallpaper”—classroom practices and institutional policies that are so entrenched in school culture or a teacher’s paradigm that their ability to affect student learning is never probed…Let’s unpack some of the tried-and-true (they have definitely been tried, but are they really true?) language arts standbys and examine their intended learning goals”

What practices do we assume are necessary for our content?