Mastery vs Completion: Working to Finish or Working to Learn?

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Mastery vs Completion: Working to Finish or Working to Learn?
"My only regret is that I didn't start with Sonlight sooner! At least our youngest daughter, Haven Grace got to start Sonlight from the beginning with preschool."
—Teresa S. of Allendale, MI

What's more important to you in your homeschool? Finishing the curriculum or mastering the concepts? Checking the boxes or seeing your kids make mental connections?

When I considered my goals for my homeschool, it decided I wanted to prioritize mastery and high-quality work even when that meant moving more slowly through the curriculum.

Clever homeschooled students may discover a certain truth: “The faster I complete all of my school tasks...the sooner I have free time!” Once they make this realization, they begin to speed through books and worksheets. They complete assignments faster than you thought possible. Then you sit down to assess their learning. Just as you suspected, they weren’t truly learning as much as they could have. They were more focused on finishing than learning.

When Completion Is the Main Goal

Young students often jump to the conclusion that the best way to do schoolwork is as quickly as possible. They race through their tasks in order to reach their free time.

When quick completion of the day’s school schedule becomes the main goal, the parent is met with shoddy results:

  • Math worksheets with many problems done incorrectly
  • Written assignments completed...but so messy as to be nearly unreadable
  • Errors on assignments caused by not taking the time to read instructions
  • Students who can’t remember what concepts they covered in science or history

Clearly, these are not the sort of results we are looking for!

What can we do when we are dealing with students who are aggressively tackling their day’s assigned tasks, but are regularly making errors, failing to write neatly, and lacking the ability to recall what they’ve learned?

We need to change our homeschool’s culture and shift the focus away from completion to mastery — true learning.

When Mastery Becomes the Goal

We need to teach our kids that learning isn’t over simply because they’ve completed a book or project. They have learned something once they know it. They have mastered a particular topic 

  • when they can explain it,
  • when they can demonstrate knowledge of it, and 
  • when they can complete assessments to the best of their ability.

They will learn that assignments are not acceptable unless you can tell that they tried their best. Your kids will understand they need to turn in neat and accurate projects.

We need to teach our kids to value quality in their work. During the transition process, you as the parent will need to be extra firm, even when it inconveniences you. There will be times when you would much rather say, “We’re done with school today!” It's hard to extend the school day ans ask your child to redo a sloppily done handwriting page or error-riddled math worksheet.

The fantastic thing is that, as their parent, you know better than any other teacher when your child is and isn’t giving their schoolwork their best effort. When mastery of the material is our homeschool goal, it doesn’t mean that every assignment turned in will be perfect. It does mean that we are teaching our children to value a job well done rather than a job quickly done. We should work towards giving them the skills to identify for themselves whether they’ve actually learned the material.

When our family comes to adopt mastery of the material along with high-quality work as the  primary goal in our homeschool culture, we can expect these sorts of results:

  • Students who know when they need to repeat a lesson or a chapter because they didn’t comprehend the material the first time
  • Finished assignments that more closely resemble a polished final product than a disorganized first draft
  • Worksheets that are mostly correct, because students know they need to take the time to check their own work for errors

Changing Your Homeschool’s Goal

It is no small challenge to teach our children to value subject mastery and high-quality work. Our culture is moving ever faster toward surface-level learning where smart technology does all the real work. But this counter-cultural value is worth it.

Children who learn this value are able to press on even when learning is hard, rather than whine about getting schoolwork done faster. They know when they don’t know something—a most precious skill, indeed!

Creating a mastery-driven culture in your homeschool will not only lighten your load of everyday frustrations, but also hones your children's character.

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