Mastery Learning

At its most fundamental, mastery learning simply suggests that students should adequately comprehend a given concept before being expected to understand a more advanced one. The concept was developed by a progressive educator named Carleton W. Washburne in 1919 in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka and was predicated on the belief that all students could learn if provided with conditions appropriate to their needs; no one should have to be “held back” or put on a track that leads to academic failure; and the curriculum is structured not in terms of time, but in terms of certain target levels of comprehension and achievement. This is in contrast to the traditional education model that requires a certain amount of class time to be devoted to a particular topic or concept; when the allotted interval is finished, the entire class moves on, in spite of the fact that individual students will have achieved widely varying degrees of mastery over the material.

In the Mastery Learning system, which is a personalized learning concept, students with the help of self-paced exercises, proceed at varying rates toward the same level of mastery. Those who learn more quickly can move ahead or do “enrichment exercises.” Those who learn more slowly are helped along by individual tutoring, or peer assistance, or additional homework. Students learn at their own pace, advancing to the next concept only after reaching a prescribed degree of mastery over the previous concept. Teachers serve primarily as guides and mentors rather than lecturers. Peer interaction is encouraged; peers helping peers is of benefit not only academically, but in character-building as well. Some students might struggle, but none are given up on.

Children should be placed with peers that are academically at the same level, not the same age. Even the smallest schools often have more than 1 class per grade. If at math hour they were in a class with their math peers, then at spelling with their spelling peers, etc., there would be less struggles with those behind and distraction from those bored. The one room school house model worked well this way. Now that we have larger schools we should easily be able to follow this type of model, but of course we live in a politically correct world where we don’t let anyone excel, and yet we expect everyone to learn the way we tell them to without room for those who can’t without labeling them with some new disability. It’s called childhood, boredom, different learning styles or simply not being ready. (From Ómarsson, I. H. (2014) 14 things that are obsolete in 21st century schools; (2/26/2014)

Mastery learning techniques are being applied in various pilot programs around the country. One research paper concluded that “students in mastery learning programs at all levels showed increased gains in achievement over those in traditional instruction programs.… Students retained what they had learned longer under mastery learning, both in short-term and long-term studies” (Guskey, et al, 1986). Another study found that “mastery learning reduces the academic spread between the slower and faster students without slowing down the faster students” (Levine, 1985). Shifting the emphasis from students to teachers, yet another study recorded that “teachers who [used] mastery learning… began to feel better about teaching and their roles as teachers” (Davis, et al, 1995).

Technology has reduced the traditional resistance to using Mastery Learning because of the costs of the self-instruction “workbooks,” exercise tablets, other materials and teacher retraining. With the use of digital technology everything needed for self-paced learning is in the computer and the cost of delivery to the student is miniscule.

Khan (2012) and the Khan Academy is using mastery learning as the foundation for its online learning tutorials. Khan believes that there is a connection between mastery learning and personal responsibility:

Taking responsibility for education is education; taking responsibility for learning is learning. From the student’s perspective, only by taking responsibility does true learning become possible; studies of mastery learning dynamics make this clear. In one such study, it was observed that students in mastery programs “developed more positive attitudes about learning and about their ability to learn” (Guskey, et al, 1986). To use a contemporary expression, they were more likely to claim ownership of their educations. Another study concluded simply that “students who learned under mastery conditions… accepted greater responsibility for their learning” (Davis, et al, 1995). I stress this because I believe that personal responsibility is not only undervalued but actually discouraged by the standard classroom model, with its enforced passivity and rigid boundaries of curriculum and time. Denied the opportunity to make even the most basic decisions about how and what they will learn, students stop short of full commitment. (p. 42-43)

As Benjamin Herold wrote in an October 31, 2016, Education Week article “Tracing Personalized Learning Research Back to the 1970s,” in 1976, researchers James Block and Robert Burns reviewed what was known at the time about Bloom’s “mastery learning” approach and Keller’s Personalized System of Instruction. The features they highlighted in those two approaches are directly echoed in much of the conversation around personalized learning today:

  • In both models, it was seen as critical to give students a clear idea of where they were going/what they were expected to learn.
  • Each task was broken into smaller units of learning. Instruction would then focus on each individual step, with student understanding being tested at each checkpoint along the way.
  • Teachers were expected to provide immediate feedback to students upon the completion of tests at each step.
  • It was seen as critical that individual students were provided with the time they needed to learn each component task, even if they took more (or less) time than their peers (in other words, self-pacing.)
  • It was seen as important that students were provided “alternative learning opportunities” if an initial strategy was not working.

Keller’s approach emphasized cooperative learning among students, rather than individual consumption of information from a teacher. It also emphasized that students not be penalized for any errors, and that lectures and demonstrations be used for motivation, rather than to provide information (a kind of descendant of the modern “flipped classroom.”) Neither approach relied on technology – they were founded well before the advent of the personal computer. But both were controversial, Block and Burns wrote:

“Critics…assert that mastery approaches to instruction are rigid, mechanistic, training strategies; that they can only give students the simple skills required to survive in a closed society; and that they do not appreciate the complexities of school learning.”

Such skepticism likely sounds familiar to many of the parents and activists raising concern about personalized learning now.

Based on their review of existing research at the time, Block and Burns concluded that yes, “mastery-taught students have exhibited greater learning, on the average, than their non-mastery-taught counterparts.” The researchers also held out hope that such approaches would be particularly helpful in aiding “slower students to learn more like faster students do.” It’s important, however, to note that the studies included in this review involved college students, not K-12 students. The focus was “lower-order cognitive behaviors,” such as understanding introductory textbooks.

And a decade later, a researcher named Robert Slavin aggressively challenged the findings, saying that most of the studies included in Block’s and Burns’ review focused on teacher-developed measures, not standardized assessments of student learning. Slavin also noted that giving some students a lot more instructional time may very well have been the factor that led to increased performance – not the nature of the instruction itself.

“Simply receiving frequent and immediate feedback on performance may account for a substantial portion of the mastery learning effect,” Slavin wrote.  Similar to Hirsch, Slavin maintained, his findings “do not support the [claim] that mastery learning is more effective than traditional instruction given equal time and achievement measures that assess coverage as well as mastery. “The debate continued for years, without a definitive resolution.

Over the past 40 years, of course, technology has changed things quite a bit. “Today, computers have the capacity to vary the pace [of material] and content, how much is presented, and, with adaptive [products], even the difficulty,” said Steven Ross, a research scientist and professor at Johns Hopkins University. “We now have intelligent systems in which computers can figure out what a student’s misconception is and present remedial material,” he said. But the underlying theory and instructional practices found in contemporary “personalized-learning” classrooms are often quite similar to those found in “mastery-based” classrooms of the ’60s and ’70s, Ross said.

There is still too often an emphasis on drill-and-practice teaching and rote memorization and regurgitation of information is still too often prioritized over deeper, more critical thinking. As Innovationism would hold, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – in some situations and circumstances, drill-and-practice still has a role to play in keeping the learning process in balance. And there’s some reason to believe – from research both old and new – that technology can make that process more efficient, personalized, and effective.

But limiting “personalized learning” to drill-and-practice isn’t enough, Ross said. “Most education applications work in certain contexts,” he said.  “They can provide additional tools that teachers can choose from.”

 Mastery Learning Application #1

Dillon (2000) describes an active application of Mastery Learning in her book, “Kids Insight: Reconsidering how to meet the literary needed of all students,” section on “responsive teaching” (p. 105) as she describes the balancing of “Planful teaching to a student-centered approach to teaching;” she states:

For example, when Joe Ruhl, a 9th grade Biology teacher at Jefferson High School in Lafayette, Indiana ( moved to a mastery learning approach, with cooperative groups working on study guides and multiple labs to learn biology, he quickly recognized that he was not going to be able to cover all the chapters in the textbook. Instead, he identified what he referred to as ”pillars” of biology, and he focused his attention on helping students learn a few key ideas well, rather than a lot of ideas in a superficial manner.

After analyzing videotape and audiotape data (e. g., the transcript of the group session in which students completed the study guide on the sheep liver fluke), Joe reconsidered how to best mesh his own agenda with students’ agenda for school (e.g., having fun and learning with others).

The results of this analysis were compiled in a matrix format (see Table 1). The table is broken down into ten segments that follows chronologically as the class progresses. Each section is broken down into three headings including:

  • What we learned about teaching and learning
  • Sources of learning
  • How what we’ve learned will affect future teaching and learning

The sources of teacher learning were accomplished by:

  • Observations of students during class sessions
  • Watching class session videotapes
  • Conducting structured student interviews
  • Reviewing and reflecting on session field notes and lesson transcripts
  • Entering teacher findings in journal
  • Conducting conversations with students during class

Segment One:

It was found that students want to be recognized and treated as persons and need individualized attention; and to know that teachers care about them. Session conclusions included the need to continue to spend time in/out of class building relationships with students; continue to spend time constructing a risk-free environment in the classroom; and the monitoring of student affective development along with their cognitive development.

Segment Two:

It was learned that students have their own agendas for school/specific classes and that they must be persuade to “buy into” the concept of biology. The class observations resulted in the recognition that students have personalized agendas for schools and learning; teacher and student agendas need to be adapted so common ground is reached; and teacher consideration of broader issues inspired by the continuation of observation of student actions.

Segment Three:

It was observed that students want and need to have fun during the process of learning and that they appreciated and responded positively to humor from their teacher. This observation resulted in the teacher revelation that it is necessary to continue to make learning fun by interspersing humor into content learning activities; take risks as a teacher by being unpredictable and an entertainer at times; allow student humor; consider whether the assigned tasks are interesting and fun; and reflect if the task can be completed in a fun way?

 Segment Four:

It was observed that students need to be active learners; they need to move around the room and participate in several different types of activities within one class period; and to individually manipulate materials even when working collectively on group tasks. It was determined that the teacher has to continue to allow and provide opportunities for student  movement in the classroom; structure individual lessons so they will include several activities ranging from whole-class – to small-group – to partners – to individual work. The teacher noted that he should observe small-group work to see which students manipulates materials; and to provide opportunities for all students to become actively involved in lessons.

Segment Five:

It was found that students do not like anything that slightly resembles a lecture (whole-class activities) even if the presentation included active student involvement and was provided on multimedia presentations. It was also observed that students for the most part can’t discriminate effective lectures and/or presentations from ineffective ones. The teacher reflected on what works and what doesn’t during lecture presentations and realized that many students can’t distinguish and/or appreciate well-prepared teacher presentations and/or lectures because their needs for social agendas can’t be met as well in small-group work.

Segment Six:

Students recognized the purposes for, and rationale              behind the Mastery Learning approach; and they appreciated the opportunity for a second chance to earn a higher grade.    The teacher decided to continue to use Mastery Learning approaches despite colleague/peer pressure to discontinue its use; continue reflecting on the observations and questions about how students interpret and use mastery learning; and to monitor each step of the process for possible adaptation and/or improvement.

Segment Seven:

It was observed that students see practice activities, to be completed in preparation for test B, as helpful and not as punishment; and they do not believe they are viewed as dumb by those students who pass Test A. The teacher studied students who practice activities verses students who do enrichment activities for affective differences between groups; examined and revised practice activities; allowed students who finish practice activities to do enrichment activities if they so desire; and monitored student-teacher interactions as students complete practice activities.

Segment Eight:

It was learned that students like group work, but with self-select groups only; and when asked to reflect on their favorite activity or memory of biology they mentioned the fun they had working in groups and believed they   learned better in small groups. The teacher learned that he should allow all students to self-select their groups and to honor requests from students to switch groups; monitor small-group activities to understand further how students construct meaning together; help students to work cooperatively; continue to study to social academic agendas of students and how these interact during small group work; and to examine student roles during group work and how these roles are related to learning.

Segment Nine:

Students found labs and simulation games fun and useful for learning which reinforcing biology concepts; and they found that these activities were useful for learning how to do science. The instructor continued to spending class time doing lab work and simulations; continued to restructure lab guides; and observe students as they did labs to determine what tasks and/or roles students assign themselves and each other and why.

Segment Ten:

It was observed that students tend to focus on task completion as opposed to the process of understanding biology concepts. The teacher, in revising study guides and labs, continued to set up road blocks that made students focus on the process of doing biology and understanding biology concepts; working with students one-to-one in small groups to be aware of their goal of getting answers (products) from the teacher; and to setup verbal “roadblocks” and activities that make students accountable for the process.


The Affective Dimensions of Learning

 I like Mr. Ruhl’s class – it is fun and interesting. He makes us do our labs and everything right.

We work in study groups and we can have four different conversations going on and still get it [work] done. It’s weird you know, you can be sitting there talking about schoolwork and about answers to one question and then we flip off the subject and go to another one… and then flip back and we get it [the study guide] answered.

Carolyn, interview from biology class

Students’ affective and emotional perspectives about learning as indicated in Carolyn’s comments, also influences how they construct meaning and how they act and interact during classroom lessons. Recent literacy research has focused on students’ motivation to learn and their engagement in various activities. It is important to note that this definition of genre is different than literary genres such as fiction, nonfiction, poetry, folk literature, and pictorial forms (and subcategories within these major groups).

Elliot Eisner’s (1994) notion of multiple literacies is useful as we think about new definitions of literacy and ways to assess learners’ knowledge. The concept of multiple literacies includes the idea that people can encode and decode meaning using many different ways or forms of representation in our culture to convey or express meaning. Eisner’s definition reminds us that we should not privilege print and numeracy literacies, but honor and embrace the use of art, drama, music, and other forms of representing knowledge.

Let me share an example of the use of symbols and drama in Joe Ruhl’s biology class as a form of literacy to explain science concepts. In late September the students were studying the structure of DNA. This was a difficult concept for them, so Joe developed an activity to help. He asked several students to come to the front of the class and physically move around with a paper label identifying their role (e.g., molecule) as they built DNA. The rest of the class participated as well, helping the volunteers by calling out directions.


Excellent! Excellent! All right, a phosphate molecule and a white sugar molecule and an orange thiamin (the students form into the molecule making an “L” shape). Now the thing about these three molecules is that they like to hang out together – they like to be clumped. They travel around like this (Ruhl dramatizes the action of the molecules by moving about the student volunteers) and there’s this strong force of attraction between the phosphate and the sugar called a covalent bond or bonding, and so they stay in a group of three like this (he bumps into the students who are helping him simulate the demonstration – they laugh as does the rest of the class. Joe looks around the room and notices Heidi with her nose scrunched up, (p. 135) exhibiting confusion. He moves to the board and continues the demonstration with magnets that have labels on them, manipulating them and providing the explanation in a different way).

OK, now in pairs I want you to work together on this next activity – these are your nucleotides right here (pieces of paper to manipulate). (Students begin working, a few raise their hands; Joe walks around the room helping out). Ah ha, we have a start – wait, I’m glad those enzymes aren’t working in my cells! (He teases the two students about their formation and then helps them adjust their model).

Joe asked students to use drama as a way of learning and assessing understanding in his science classroom, particularly when concepts presented in typical textbook formats were difficult to understand. The structure of DNA came alive for students and many of them were able to explain the concepts using this form of literacy instead of traditional written or verbal explanations. The discussion of the concepts and writing about them came after the support provided by a new literacy.

“It’s not just about changing kids’ beliefs it’s about giving them opportunities to experience it.” Teachers should encourage multiple attempts at problem solving, they shouldn’t offer unsolicited help to students, and they should provide opportunities for students to resubmit their work.


Mastery Learning Application #2


By Katrina Schwartz

October 24, 2016

At Luella High School outside Atlanta principal Jerry Smith wanted to make fundamental changes at the traditional comprehensive high school. He was appalled that the current system prioritized churning out graduates, many of whom weren’t actually “college and career-ready – life-ready,” as the school’s mission statement boldly pronounces. And, the school certainly wasn’t doing a good job by its gifted students or those who were struggling, Smith said.

Diana Laufenberg, Executive Director of Inquiry Schools is currently working with Smith on a school transformation that includes the adoption an inquiry-based framework; building systems for modern learning environments; designing a student-centered daily, weekly, and annual calendar; and organizing alternative programming within the school day. ‘If we don’t match our minutes to our mission, [teachers are] not going to shift.’ Diana Laufenberg,

He and a team of teachers set out to try to reconfigure how this big high school could structurally put student relationships with teachers at the center, and value mastery of content above all else. The school ultimately won a Next Generation Systems Initiative grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to jump-start their efforts. I t soon became clear that one of the biggest obstacles to instructional changes of the sort Smith and his team were trying to engineer was the school schedule itself.

Comprehensive high schools like Luella offer a wide variety of classes, everything from Advanced Placement courses to art, band, career and technical courses. All the choices is one of the strong suits of high school right now. But the variety of classes and the teachers required to teach them, along with contractual barriers to how many periods a teacher can instruct in a row without a break, and things like lunch and bus schedules, make altering the schedule a huge challenge.

“Our schedule is a function of what we’re trying to create,” said Laufenberg, who is working with schools across the country to transform pedagogical models toward more inquiry-driven approaches. She says what Smith and his team in Georgia are trying to do is some of the hardest work in education. There are plenty of charter networks and magnet programs gaining acclaim for their innovative teaching models, but most school-age children go to existing public schools.

In the educational context, existing schools need system-level change if the system as a whole is going to shift. “When you are trying to do a transformation, if you don’t have some kind of major lever, you have varying levels of success of your program,” Laufenberg said. Changing the master schedule, while difficult, is a major signal to everyone connected to the school that pedagogy is shifting.

At Luella High, three teachers of the same subject, sophomore English, for example, all teach during the same period. The students in those three sections can then rotate between teachers, depending on their individual needs. For example, one teacher might lead a literature discussion with a larger group of students while another teacher helps a smaller group with their writing and a third is working with students applying their knowledge in a project.

“What’s different for us is that we’ve designed a model that is basically a rotational model, but it doesn’t look the same in math as it does in foreign language, as it does in English,” Smith said. It’s like the “station rotation model” in elementary school, but it changes depending on the grade level, content, discipline and the needs of the students in that cohort. “What we’re not going to do is say we’re a personalized learning school and say one model works for everyone,” Smith said. “That’s crazy.”

He has designated personal learning coaches moving between cohorts to help teachers identify student needs and to think through how the professional learning community of teachers working together might improve the model. “The rotational model is meant to give kids some choice and to let them be in different settings, because we all know we perform differently in different settings,” Smith said.

The other big part of the model is constant formative assessment to determine how well students are picking up knowledge and skills. And every four weeks students take a summative assessment designed by teachers and tied to the standards. That assessment gives the instructional team a snapshot of where each student stands at that moment in time and where students need more work. The rotation and groups can be adjusted accordingly.

“It’s sloppy, but hell, life is sloppy,” Smith said. His team is slowly changing the instructional approach grade by grade. They started with ninth grade and are now working to modify 11th grade. Smith says this model requires that students take ownership of their own learning, and that transition has been one of the hardest to make at Luella. “That’s probably the most difficult and weakest area we have because society has taught children to be spoon-fed and if it doesn’t work out someone is going to rescue you,” Smith said. “Well, we’re not doing that.”

In addition to a schedule that allows for the rotation model, Smith also wanted to create opportunities for interdisciplinary work and was trying to be mindful of how many exams students would be taking at the same time. He also wanted to keep all of the 19 AP courses Luella offers, including the section of BC Calculus that only had eight students enrolled. To achieve a schedule that accommodates all these competing priorities, Smith has had to give up some things, and he’s planning to hand schedule the entire building next year. Existing scheduling software isn’t designed to handle the priorities Smith wanted and would “break the pedagogical model” if relied upon to do the scheduling.

Leading a school transformation like this one is hard work and requires constantly pushing toward the vision. When Luella started this work Smith said he got reactions from across the spectrum.  Some parents were distrustful of the changes, while others thought they sounded like a good idea.  Some teachers left because they didn’t agree with the new pedagogical focus, but others have thrived and led the changes.

“The systems of schools are so habitual, shifting practice has to be as concerted as quitting smoking,” Laufenberg said.  “You need to have a plan for your bad day.” She said there are days when even the teachers most committed to inquiry-based teaching are going to want to lecture.

Changing is hard and when people get tired they will want to return to the status quo. She’s worked with teachers at Luella to develop inquiry-based lessons to keep in their back pockets when it gets tough. Laufenberg has watched many schools start a school transformation project with energy and vigor, but when leaders run into outside pressures from the district or can’t pick their way through the complex system they run out of momentum.

It’s a common story, so common that many teachers expect new programs and approaches to fail in a few years, or to die out when the superintendent takes a new job.  And, since change is uncomfortable, many just wait it out. That’s why it’s important not to toss away good teaching practices just because they’ve been around for years. “I see a lot of people really turning into everything that’s new is better and everything that’s old is bad, which it’s not,” Laufenberg said.  For example, inquiry is currently in the spotlight, but it’s not a new idea. Similarly, advisory is an old idea that works. It’s always a good idea to provide a care structure for kids as they move through school. “We don’t need to get rid of that just because it’s old,” Laufenberg said.

For his part, Smith doesn’t expect this work to ever become easy because it revolves around people, and people are messy. “What we see as order is really chaos and what we see as chaos is really order,” Smith said. He doesn’t want it to become orderly because that’s not the natural state of human systems.

Individual success stories of students are what help keep him going.  He’s seen an uptick in ACT and SAT scores, attendance is better and discipline referrals are down. Those are all traditional markers of school improvement, but Smith isn’t kidding himself that those things necessarily mean students are leaving school prepared for college, career and a good life.  Every year he surveys seniors about how prepared they feel for those three things as they leave his care. On a five-point scale, 30 percent of seniors rate life preparedness as a one or two. While some people might just see that as a matter of perception, Smith sees that as an indicator that he and his staff need to keep working to do better by students at Luella High.


Global Gambit

Covington (1998) portrayed a ninth-grade social science class participating in an international conference on global warming project-based instructional unit game called Global Gambit. Six teams of students, each representing a different nation at risk, are poised, eager to make the case for their particular needs in a world of limited resources and dubious prospects. Every student had to demonstrate a common, minimal level of mastery before his or her team could proceed with the negotiations. This assignment was highly engaging, not only because of its ghoulish appeal to adolescents – the imagined (fantasy) destruction of everything they are rebelling against anyway – but also because of its curiosity value, which depended largely on uncertainty and controversy. By entrusting students with a real, authentic problem that alarms us all the supreme source of motivation for all human beings – being respected enough for one’s counsel that others seek out our advice on urgent matters – was unlocked.

The aspects of Mastery Learning that created motivational equity for the students through positive reasons for learning included:

  • The act of acquiring information itself was the payoff.
  • Students learned that knowledge creates opportunities.
  • The reward for learning was the opportunity to apply what one had learned in a stimulating context of uncertainty and controversy.
  • Knowledge buys power.
  • Earning extra credit for one’s team was a built-in incentive for learning more than just the minimum amount of information.
  • Success was defined in absolute, merit-based terms.
  • Students knew in advance how well they must do in order to pass, and everyone was given sufficient opportunity to reach these minimum standards through extra practice, corrective feedback, and, when necessary, remedial assistance.
  • Remedial help was provided to slower learners by those team members who satisfied the mastery requirements on the first try, a feature of “team-assisted instruction” (Slavin, 1983).
  • Contingency contracting was used to create a match between the student’s current skill levels and his or her aspirations, thus avoiding either the frustration of working beyond one’s ability, or the boredom of being unchallenged.
  • Clear expectations were provided to make learning more task-oriented (Helmke, 1988) and, as a result, less threatening to anxious, failure-avoiding students who would otherwise expect the worst in the absence of feedback and judge their performance as unacceptable (Butler & Nisan, 1986).
  • Payoffs under a mastery system serve an informational, not an arousal, function. For instance, grades or credit become meaningful because each heralds a specific accomplishment – a study unit turned in on time or a term paper adequately completed or the experiment conducted exactly according to instructions.
  • When grades signal a disappointing performance in the context of a mastery goal, they carry direct implications for how to improve. Contingency contracting and mastery learning have the potential for making the teacher an ally of the student, where the emphasis is on accomplishment rather than on avoiding teacher disapproval (Knight, 1974).
  • Cooperation is for the sake of the team and for continued game play (Slavin, 1983, 1984).
  • Cooperating is rewarded among players within a country, when students tutored one another.
  • When each team member passed the mastery test all those with whom the individual was cooperating likewise achieved the common goal of moving onto the negotiation stage.
  • Each team member contributed to the group welfare by supplying specialized (expert) information about the consequences of global warming which strengthened student beliefs about the multidimensional nature of ability, and recognition that there are as many different approaches to a task as there are problem.
  • Cooperative learning equates the opportunity for everyone to feel successful both as individuals and as members of a group so long as each person maximizes his or her effort and shares in the risks of failure (Harris & Covington, 1989).
  • The individual’s accomplishments take on meaning because they add to the welfare of the group and promote a sense of belonging (Cooper, Johnson, Johnson, & Wilderson, 1980).Because mistakes are subject to correction, they are likely to qualify for what John Holt (1964) has referred to as “nonsuccesses,” events that reflect the vast middle ground between outright perfection and abject failure.
  • Game play changed the meaning of help seeking from implying incompetency to testimony that sometimes problems are so demanding that all of us, even experts, need all the help we can get. When children ask for assistance on tasks that interest them and on which they freely choose to work, help seeking is seen as a positive action.
  • A competitive element of winners versus losers can serve a constructive purpose as an instrument of instruction of an important reality and its dynamics that must be understood, not denied, in light of other legitimate realities such as the possibility of personal goals that have little to do with winning over others, goals such as recovering from mistakes, improving self-control, and mastering new skills. The presence of competitive dynamics can be used to promote positive values such as winning, losing, success, failure, anxiety, rejection, fair play, and acceptance? What better place to help children become aware of their own feelings and the feelings of others?” (Orlich, 1982, p. 102). (Covington, p. 150-160).