Ask MC: Habits of Work

Dear MC,

Our school has been mastery-based for two years now, but we still struggle with habits of work. Right now we have schoolwide outcomes for work habits that account for a small percentage of students’ grade—“Professionalism,” “Communication,” “Leadership,” and “Community Building,” to name a few. These habits of work show up separate from academic habits on our students’ report cards.

We want to make sure we’re using these outcomes in a useful and consistent way, so we gave the whole staff a survey to ask: Which work habits outcomes do you understand? Which work habits outcomes do your students understand, and how do you know? How often do you assess each of the work habits outcomes?

We discovered that most of the staff regularly assess “Professionalism,” but almost no one regularly assesses “Leadership.” During PD we will present these survey results and have the staff tackle each outcome in breakout groups. We’ll use discussion prompts like: How do you explain this outcome to students? How do you use the outcome in your class?

What else should we consider? What are some “best practices” in regards to habits of work?


Working on Work Habits


Dear Working on Work Habits,

Surveying your staff is a great starting point for this conversation—it helps you to meet teachers where they are now, to highlight where staff is already in agreement, and to identify where there’s more need for conversation and sharing. Brava!

We suggest framing this conversation around basic principles of mastery learning—such as transparency, learner metacognition, timely/actionable feedback.

  • Transparency: Learners should know when they're being assessed on what. They should have the rubric, and it should include what each habit looks like, sounds like, feels like. A rubric with criteria for mastery will allow students to work towards independent mastery, and give teachers a grounding for providing actionable feedback. In the rubric, try to avoid "sometimes" "always" "never" language, and instead get more explicit about the look-for indicators of mastery for each habit.

  • Metacognition: Ideally, students are continuously building understanding of each habit, and where that learner is on the path to mastery. Students can reflect on their growth by using a rubric to self-assess and peer-assess their work habits. When teachers assess the habits, learners should be able to see their scores across time and receive feedback and coaching around their progress, perhaps in conferences. This sustained attention to growth allows students to be aware of their own learning process and progress.

  • TImely/actionable feedback: Ensure that all habits are explicitly taught and practiced in class. Unpack the rubric for these skills with students and model what mastery looks like through examples of student work, role play, or fishbowls. Give students timely and actionable feedback on their progress towards mastery so that they can continue to develop their skills. If you assess it, you should teach it!

Keeping transparency and student growth at the center of the staff’s conversation will help you to create a system that feels clear, fair, and helpful to students. Let us know how it goes!






By Meg Stentz

At NYC Lab High School for Collaborative Studies, a few teachers are taking on mastery-based teaching and grading. Spanish teacher Sarah Mirabile shared how she transitioned her classroom to reflect the philosophy of mastery.

Identifying learning goals

First Sarah looked over her curriculum and daily learning targets and simplified them. She identified 19 learning targets for her year-long course.

Example learning target: Yo puedo explicar (en inglés) la diferencia entre dos formas gramaticales en el pasado -el pretérito y el imperfecto. Translation: I can explain (in English) the difference between two grammatical forms in the past - the preterite (simple past tense: I walked) and the imperfect (I had been walking).

These learning targets are granular and assess through quizzes, which students are able to re-take at any time. In addition to identifying these granular learning targets, Sarah identified four more broad overarching skills that students gain in Spanish 1 and will continue to use throughout their Spanish-language education. She calls these high-leverage skills outcomes. There are four skill outcomes in her Spanish 1 course.*

Example skill outcome:Yo puedo identificar y distinguir entre situaciones en las que debemos usar el pretérito versus el imperfecto con referencia al pasado.
Translation: I can identify and distinguish between situations in which we should use the preterite versus the imperfect with reference to the past.

Defining outcomes is often the first step in transforming to a full mastery/CRE practice. Sarah notes that as she has made the shift to outcomes-based learning, her curriculum hasn’t changed so far, and for the most part her teaching hasn’t shifted yet, either. What has shifted already is that students now know what they’re learning, and they know how to monitor their own progress towards mastery.

* Note: This is Sarah’s unique nomenclature for learning goals based around knowledge and skills. Other practitioners use terms such as competencies, learning goals, outcomes, learning targets, attainments, and others.

Communicating progress through grading

To help students make sense of what they’re learning in class, Sarah strives for transparency. She labels all her notes, homework assignments, and quizzes with the learning target that it covers. Students can see the connection between what they’re doing in class and how they’re assessed. In her grade book, Sarah labels each entry with the learning target or skill outcome being assessed.  In their gradebook, students can easily see that they’ve been assessed on each learning target two or three times in various ways, for example, on a homework assignment, on classwork, and on a quiz.

Sarah has devised a hack for the class’s non-mastery-based digital gradebook: To communicate students’ mastery on a learning target: she enters a “mastery grade” for each target. Here’s how she explains it to students:

For each learning target ("meta") that we practice this semester, you will be given a corresponding "Mastery Assessment" grade to indicate your level of mastery of that skill. If your average on assignments related to this skill is between a 90-100, your grade will be "M" to indicate Mastery. If your average on assignments related to this skill is between a 80-89, your grade will be "D" to indicate Developing. If your average on assignments related to this skill is lower than an 80, your grade will be "E" for Emerging.

Sarah Mirabile, Spanish Teacher

Sarah Mirabile, Spanish Teacher

Reaping the rewards

Sarah appreciates understanding in detail what her students know. “It’s harder for them to do well by luck because there’s three or four assignments for each skill.” She reports that it’s made her more organized as a teacher, too.

Sarah is also pleased that her students are “starting to think about the skills instead of the assignment.” Plus, “they’re taking up the wok of revision more, and are definitely less stressed out because they know what they’re learning at any given moment.” Most importantly, she notes that the way her mastery system messages progress to students clearly feels more equitable, particularly to kids who might feel like they’re bad at Spanish. She says her system flips the script: “You’re not bad at Spanish; you might need more practice with a specific skill.”

Thanks, Sarah for sharing your transition system with us!

How did you start implementing mastery in your classroom? We’d love to hear! Write to us at




Ah-ha Mastery Moments at Origins High School

By Meg Stentz

Sometimes the “ah-ha” moment comes from finally understanding the why of competency shifts, and sometimes they happen from seeing the how in action. Today we share some of the how’s we saw in action at MC Active Member Origins High School in Brooklyn.

Creating a supportive environment

Clarifying strategies allow students to access text and work even when they have questions.

Clarifying strategies allow students to access text and work even when they have questions.

“We know kids space out. We want them to be able to space out. They are allowed to space out; we just need them to come back.” —Dan, 9th grade ELA teacher

Simple ways kids are supported in refocusing:

  • In every 9th grade classroom, lessons all share certain identical visual components. On every slide in the lesson slide deck, the learning aim is in the top left corner, the task is in the top right, and there’s a timer in the bottom corner. Instructions or context are in the center.

  • If the students are working with a certain resource, there’s a photo of the resource on the slide. So, even if you miss the teacher’s framing of an activity, you can glance up and easily identify all the materials you need.

  • By November, students are comfortable with the cognitive routines to use when they encounter something they don’t understand. (See picture: “Clarifying Strategies”)

Guiding students in building metacognition

At the end of the year, students participate in round table discussions about their learning journey for specific outcomes. The whole year supports students in gathering information that could support them in their roundtable experience.

  • Students track their own mastery across time. (See below.)

  • Rubrics at Origins are often used across disciplines to give students more perspective about how to apply a given skill—and teachers spend significant time working with student to unpack rubrics criteria. Students understand that “more of a 3 is not a 4,” but that instead, they’re being asked to engage in deeper thinking. When students receive feedback, they immediately set a goal and action plan with next steps to improve their mastery.

  • Before independent work time, students record on a google form what outcome they’ll spend their time working on. At the end of that work time, they’ll complete a google form exit ticket about how their work time went. When it comes time for roundtables, they’ll have a print-out that tracks how they spent their time.

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Engaging students with relevance & rigor

At Origins, these buzz words come alive as students engage in work that is related to their lives, tied to current events, and interesting to them.

Cross-curricular learning asks students to use background knowledge from History to demonstrate a skill they’re developing in ELA.

Cross-curricular learning asks students to use background knowledge from History to demonstrate a skill they’re developing in ELA.

  • Classrooms where the learning matters to students stand apart. At Origins, 9th grade history students are practicing research and writing with textual evidence by analyzing and reflecting on sources around race, gender, and immigration issues.

  • Cross-curricular outcomes allow students to hone their skills. In 9th grade ELA, Origins students are leveraging the same research outcomes as well as their understanding of pathos and logos to write speeches. Students self-select into topic groups based on how much background knowledge they have to tackle first amendment issues through the NFL’s stance on allowing players to kneel, the role of government in promoting gender equity, or checks and balances through the lens of immigration..

  • The Origins rubric asks students to synthesize multiple arguments. To support students in this complex task, students are asked write with “an open mind” and “a skeptical mind.” This explicit instruction supports students in working towards the highest level of mastery. (See below.)


Big thanks to Mohamad Awad and Dan Farrell, Social Studies and ELA teachers at Origins, for this enlightening glimpse into their classrooms!



Talking about Race & Mastery with Lonice

By Patrick Williamson

Every July, the Mastery Collaborative offers a Summer Institute to share strong practices with our community of practitioners and interested guests from the broader community of interested NYC public school educators. Participants dedicate a week of their summer to a deep dive into topics such as culturally responsive practices (CRE)—together with CRE and mastery-based curriculum design, facilitation moves, and grading policies. This year, we were honored to have Peer Collaborative Teacher Lonice Eversley from Careers in Sports High School sharing her CRE strategies and approaches. Here are some key takeaways:

CRE promoting critical consciousness


Students should see themselves as change-makers, which necessitates seeing themselves in the content. Period. Students being able to center themselves and their history in school leads to an increase in engagement and heightened metacognition about their journey as learners. It is essential to note that this is not just sharing a history of trauma, but a co-generative dialogue that positions students as change makers and resistors. Diving into courageous conversations is necessary for CRE. As educators, we have to do the heavy lifting, to truly embody CRE content and process. CRE happens when we leverage assets and let the students do the heavy lifting of identity development.

Media representations show up in the classroom and need to be addressed

Students will be engaging with media regardless, so instead of dismissing media as unscholarly, we, must engage and bring it into the content. Through what Lonice referred to as “symbolic annihilation”, students of color are constantly seeing themselves omitted, trivialized, or condemned in the media, only to feel further ostracized by our tendency to disregard media studies as inappropriate in the classroom. CRE is rigorous and requires overtly addressing, contextualizing, and analyzing current events. One activity that she has done in the past is to present images and articles published in the media, and analyze the contrast in language used to describe the situation from one news source to another. (Ex: In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, some news sources referred to white people’s actions as “finding” food or trying to survive, whereas other news sources characterized people of color—engaged in exactly the same activity— as “looters” and “thieves”.)

Addressing the “origins of invisibility”

Which leads us to the last highlight for this post: We need to analyze and push back on the stripping away of stories. Too often, our history is told by the dominant, without addressing the power dynamics at play. This lens leaves our students susceptible to an understanding history in which they are not active participants and change-makers. Depending on who is telling the story and how, people of color are robbed of subjecthood and become become objects in story, instead of leaders, visionaries, innovators, etc.

There has always been one most powerful strategy to respond to inequity: Teach it. As brilliantly stated by Lonice, “if [students] can problem solve, they can change the world.”

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A note from Patrick:

Dear MC community, as you may know I've recently transitioned to a new position with our friends at NYC Men Teach to continue the equity work we've all engaged in for the past few years. From anti-bias trainings, to presentations from rockstars like Lonice, to speed round chats at our events, I've learned so much from and with all of you. I will carry that learning with me as we continue to build community and advocate for our students, in the name of equity.

Respect and community always, PW




By Meg Stentz

Each fall and spring, MC schools host visits to spotlight strong mastery and CRE practices. You can register here for this year’s visits, which run November 19- December 5, starting at Frank McCourt HS where the staff will share how they make expectations clear from the outset and focus in on rubric design.

As we gear up for the learning and excitement of our fall visit season, we look back on some take-aways from last year’s spectacular set of visits.

MC community members chat with students about their work at the NYC iSchool.

MC community members chat with students about their work at the NYC iSchool.

1. Mastery supports positive learning identity.

In a mastery-based learning environment, expectations are clear from the start. Feedback is targeted to precisely what students know and can do--and provides key next steps to improve. This approach supports students in developing a can-do learning identity, and helps them to understand the learning process itself. These are practices that help students to experience success.

Flushing International High School science teacher Jordan explains it this way:

"I was talking to a student and he said, 'I'm really bad at math." So I said, let's look at what outcome that is, and the outcome was 'Writing with evidence,' so I asked: 'Are you really bad at math or did you not write with evidence?' And he said, 'Oh, I'm not bad at math.'"

2. Mastery-based grading increases transparency and includes students in the conversation about what their grades mean.

"We used to dread giving out report cards, because there were always kids who were totally surprised, no matter how many times you spoke to them throughout the semester. There were always tears or cheers, or whatever. But with outcomes, it's much more of a conversation. It's much more narrative. Instead of, 'It's a B,' there is written feedback that really describes what that grade represents."  -Grace, teacher at Flushing International High School

3. Mastery opens the door for students to demonstrate learning in multiple and varied ways.

At Pan American International High School at Monroe, the staff values how mastery learning allows them to see mastery in students who may come to school with gaps in language proficiency or past schooling, but who take on rigorous content nonetheless. The educator team at PAIHS-Monroe wants to be sure that language gaps do not act a barrier for students as they demonstrate progress and mastery of learning outcomes in disciplines such as math and science.

Principal Brigit Bye explains: "We think about all the ways they could demonstrate this outcome, and you start listing all these things, and any of that is fine."

Thanks to all the MC schools that host visits for the MC Community! You always do us proud, and we see you and appreciate you.

Have your own take-away to share? Drop us a line at


Ask MC: Rubrics


Ask MC: Rubrics

Dear MC,

I am struggling with grading my students’ work. I have been creating rubrics for every assessment, and it is quite overwhelming. Making all these rubrics is too time consuming. I teach algebra — are there algebra 1 rubrics that I can peruse to adopt in my classroom?


Buried in rubrics

Dear Buried in rubrics,

Thanks for reaching out. There's definitely no need to design rubrics for each assessment. If you have mastery indicators for each of the outcomes in your course, it's actually best to use the same rubric for the same outcome each time you assess, so that you and students can see/track their growth over time.

Let’s say your assessment is measuring students on three outcomes. Your rubric could include three rows, one for each outcome, so you’re giving feedback about where each student is. Using rubrics based on outcomes, not individual projects/tests, allows you to use the same rubric for the same outcomes over time, and allows you all to see progress as students’ mastery grows.

Here are a few example rubrics to look at, each with a slightly different take on outcomes and rubric design. Much thanks to the marvelous MC Living Lab Schools, who share so many resources with the community.

  • Common Core Algebra 1 rubrics from member school UA Maker

    • Notice: There are rubrics for both content (e.g. quadratics, equations and inequalities) and skills (e.g. precision, modeling). It’s possible that a teacher would assess or give feedback for more than one outcome on a given assignment.

  • Spiraled rubrics grades 6-10 from member school TYWLS-Astoria

    • Content-specific outcomes are tied to broader schoolwide skills, such as “be precise,” or “investigate.”

  • Math outcomes and rubrics from member school  Flushing International HS

    • Notice: Rubrics at Flushing are additive, meaning each level of mastery requires demonstration of deeper thinking.

You may also want to check out an earlier post by Co-Director Joy Nolan on the single-point mastery rubric.

Feel free to share with colleagues whatever you find useful, and send further questions as you dig in to this work!






By: Meg Stentz

At the 2018 MC Summer Institute, teacher leader Dina Klein of Marsh Avenue Expeditionary Learning School, shared her experiences with implementing culturally responsive practices.

Dina described that her understanding and implementation of Culturally Responsive Education (CRE) happened in phases. First, she examined representation in curriculum, then in her classroom management, and more recently, realized how much her whiteness permeates her experiences and how students might see her.


As a first step in learning about CRE, Dina looked at the texts she uses and asked: Will every student see themselves represented at some point during the year? When her curriculum came up short, she added texts and resources from more diverse perspectives. This additive method is often a first step, but ultimately not enough, she found.

Classroom management

Having a culturally responsive classroom means in part that the way you relate to students makes them feel safe, cared about, and competent. Dina noted that the way she related to and managed her students wasn’t as effective as she wanted, or maybe the effect she was looking for had changed. Dina put it this way: “The conversation I’d been having for six years, the phrases I always used—it wasn’t working anymore.”

Dina works with MC Summer Institute participants to infuse culturally responsive practices into their own classrooms.

Dina works with MC Summer Institute participants to infuse culturally responsive practices into their own classrooms.

Dina reports that her thinking shifted from: What’s the matter with them? to: What’s the deal with my practices?  In reflecting on how she interacted with her students, and seeking to shift the power in her classroom, Dina came to a critical realization.

“I learned that I am white.”

Dina reports that the realization that race was something she hadn’t had to think about: “Being white, coming from a traditional middle class family, and being a woman in a hetero-normative relationship, were all things that presented in the classroom and my practices and I hadn’t realized how that impacted others. I want to empower all my students, and especially the students who don’t always have access to that power.”

Her realization affected every part of her teaching—and she had to address it, since CRE isn’t a checklist of tasks to make school more equitable, but instead a mindset and an approach to teaching that can shift power to better serve students.

Big thanks to Dina for sharing her learning with our community, and for taking up this crucial work. Care to share your own journey to cultural responsiveness, or where you are on the path? We’d love to hear. Write to us at



Tune up your mastery grading practices

by MC Co-Director Joy Nolan

A warm (not to say muggy, at least here in NYC this week!) welcome back to a new school year, to educators across the MC community and beyond! We are proud that our community is deeply engaged in meaningful shifts meant to empower young people.

Are your grading practices keeping up with your diligent efforts to be clear, fair, equitable, empowering, and responsive to learners? As the school year begins, we're sharing a resource your school can use to troubleshoot and tune up your grading practices.

Note: It is a multi-page document so click the link to see all pages: Mastery Grading Reflection & Template.

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By Meg Stentz

Every fall and spring, Mastery Collaborative schools host visits to share strong practices with our community of practitioners, and interested guests from the broader world of student-centered learning. Participants at MC visits visit classrooms, talk shop about practices, get resources, and hear from educators and students at each host school. Here are excerpts from a Q/A session during a visit in April to MC Living Lab School Flushing International High School (FIHS).

Communicating a mastery philosophy to parents is something all MC schools need to do, but at FIHS there’s also often a language barrier. How do you explain your grading system to your parents? Do they understand them?

Students at FIHS participate in a "tea party" where each student is a character from a novel they're reading in class. 

Students at FIHS participate in a "tea party" where each student is a character from a novel they're reading in class. 

FIHS students & staff respond:
Naudia: My parents are always asking what I did in school today and what I learned. They might ask to see my grades and see how I am doing. I open Jumprope and show them, and they are satisfied. They might ask to look at the outcomes and they can see what grades I have, and then they don't need to come to the school from far away.

Kevin, AP: The color-coding for grades in the JumpRope platform has really helped us. We do a workshop with the parents, but they can also see at a glance if it's red (not yet at mastery): that's clear.

Yesen: I can speak to that, too. One of my parents doesn't speak English, and sometimes he checks Jumprope, but also every three months or so, the school sends home a progress report, and the color coding is clear. If it's yellow (approaching mastery), he will force me to translate what the outcomes say, and then he'll tell me I need to go and talk to my teacher and learn what I need to do to improve my grade in that outcome.

How is school and grading here different from how they were in your first country?

FIHS students respond:
Yesen: In Egypt, you just get a 300 page book or so, and you study it. You take a test one time, and you have no chance to revise. You pass or you fail and have to take it again in the summer.

Gloria: Can I connect that to my experience in my country? I am glad to have JumpRope here, because in my country, the only way to know your grade is to go and ask the teacher. In Korea, they do not tell you what your grade is, and so you have no way to figure out what you need to improve.

Naudia: I agree with you. In my country, Bangladesh, there is just a pile of books you have to read, and you don't know how you're doing. At the end of the year they just hand you a report card and you see your grade and think, Oh my gosh, how did this happen?


Learning is hands-on and project-based. Here students explore cause & effect in a living environments class by studying diseases and im

Learning is hands-on and project-based. Here students explore cause & effect in a living environments class by studying diseases and im

What growth do you see in yourself, maybe on a specific outcome or in your learning in general, after being at this school for a few years?

FIHS students respond:
Gloria: I grew in the outcome “Challenge yourself.” When I first got here, in 9th grade, everything was not happy for me. I missed my friends, and I had just gotten here. I didn't know how to challenge myself. But then my teachers encouraged me and I learned how to challenge myself. College life will be more challenging, and you have to be able to do more.

Yesen: In 12th grade, the expectation is higher. What would've gotten a 4 in 9th or 10th grade is not enough in 12th grade, so it's important that you think more deeply. Also, using your time. In 11th grade I did not do well in this outcome. I would usually do the assignment, but I would submit it late. Now I am more careful and am submitting everything on time. I even sometimes am submitting something one day early.

Erika: I agree with what Gloria said, but for me it was different. I have been here for five years, and so I am more used to challenging myself. When I first came here I was very scared and was challenged, but the outcomes help me to see what I need to do.


Thanks so much to the wonderful students and staff at FIHS for hosting the MC community and sharing their mastery system with us! Do you have a question for the MC community? Write to us at




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By Joy Nolan and Meg Stentz

This month we’re sharing posts about the Mastery Collaborative community's explorations at intersections of culturally responsive education and mastery- based teaching and learning. This year, 141 teachers and administrators from MC member schools attended anti-racism trainings facilitated by Border Crossers, an organization that educates educators about race and racism.

We ask educators at our trainings to problematize traditional education in these three realms: grading practices, facilitation, and curriculum—and to bring their knowledge of race, racism, and cultural responsiveness to bear on reaching for more equitable practices.

Here are ideas from our community about how to make curriculum more responsive to and empowering for students. Have suggestions or questions? Drop us a line:

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Talking about Race (and Mastery): Part 2


By Meg Stentz and Joy Nolan

In our last post about takeaways from trainings with Border Crossers and the Mastery Collaborative team about race, racism, and mastery, we shared members’ ideas about equity issues in traditional grading. In this post, we share participants’ ideas about how race can play out in our classroom dynamics in inequitable ways, and how we can plan for more just, and equitable, and effective facilitation moves.

Developing the skills to address racial incidents and engage in learning moments around race and racism is just one powerful facilitation strategy that MC community members bring to their classrooms and school communities. Here are a few of their ideas. Please read with an eye to what’s happening and can happen in your own school and classroom.

We also welcome your ideas and input about how this work can go further. Write to us at with a strategy you use, or ask a question for us to tackle in an upcoming “Ask MC” mastery advice column.


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