The 2nd law of mastery


In the last lesson, we learned that what distinguishes expert problem solvers from novices in how their knowledge is organised. The second law of mastery offers some principles for turning content-focussed learning objectives into ones that are better aligned with developing expertise.

Have you seen the learning objectives in our 5-year plan, Blueprint?
Click the link to download the unit planners which you will need for the next activity. 
There are ways we have changed the learning objectives compared to typical schemes, and we will look at both in more depth.

Click to download


You saw in the video that our 5-year plan uses a model divided into stages: Acquire, Apply, Analyse. This model is designed not only to help you plan assessment, but also creates a learning pathway. It is based on a taxonomy of objectives.

You are no doubt familiar with Bloom's taxonomy. We based our model on a different taxonomy, created by Marzano and Kendall. We felt this one fits better with the 3 assessment objectives at GCSE. 

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The first level, retrieval, means recalling or recognising knowledge in familiar situations. This is similar to our Acquire stage. The second level, comprehension, captures what we mean by understanding. It's being able to describe how or explain why and, critically, involves identifying and use critical aspects of knowledge in unfamiliar situations. This is equivalent to our Apply stage. Analyse in the taxonomy and in our model means students going beyond what was taught to make inferences. This is higher order thinking. If you're wondering how Marzano and Kendall's taxonomy compares with Bloom's, click the link.

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The second key feature of the objectives is the way they integrate knowledge and skill. In many schemes, objectives are written in the form of a verb like identify, describe or explain and a piece of knowledge. These don't reflect our aim of making students into scientific problem solvers.

In Blueprint the objectives model the kinds of thinking that scientists use. Rather than spend their time absorbing facts from PowerPoints, they get curious about phenomena, create hypotheses, devise experiments and argue about the evidence. So that's what we want students to do while they're learning concepts - at least to the degree they can cope with.

What does that mean? Instead of hiving off investigations as something to do once in a while, we should integrate scientific thinking into all the objectives. Blending knowledge and scientific thinking like this is called an 'understanding performance' or a 'learning performance'. Click the link to read more.

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Writing objectives as learning performances targets both deep understanding, and also what students can do with the concept. Blueprint performance contain 3 components:

1) the abstract scientific model to be understood
2) the scientific reasoning process involved
3) a skill to be integrated: enquiry, maths or literacy

The new US science standards (NGSS) are similarly based on learning performances. Click the link to read more.

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Now you've learned the principles for aligning learning objectives, let's get you to reflect on the ones in your existing scheme. How well do they align with your long-term curriculum goals? Audit the learning objectives in one of your units. Use a table like the one below, and answer the questions.

Question: Do the objectives...Your existing scheme
Focus on deep understanding of an abstract model?
Require application in unfamiliar situations?
Integrate scientific reasoning processes?
Integrate enquiry, maths and literacy skills?
Challenge students to use higher order thinking?

Are there aspects of your current learning objectives you would like to change? Why not post a message on Twist in the Learning objectives thread to share your thoughts?

Ready to move on? Go to the 3rd law of mastery.