blog-848-mastery-based self-paced math

An Innovative Mastery-Based Self-Paced Math Classroom That Works

Joseph Manfre discusses transforming math education through mastery-based learning. He emphasizes the balance between self-paced and collaborative learning, ensuring every student feels empowered. Joseph shares insights on personalized instruction, formative feedback, and adapting to individual student needs, highlighting a teaching approach that fosters inclusivity and effectiveness in the classroom.

Self-paced mastery-based learning has many misconceptions and misunderstandings in how it is being implemented. Today's guest, Joe Manfre, a math teacher from Hawaii, has been using this teaching method and has seen a positive improvement in his classroom in terms of student learning and empowerment.

Joe clearly shares how self-paced learning is not about replacing the teacher with videos, but using instructional videos as a baseline of knowledge that can be accesssed both inside and outside the classroom. Joe also talks about formative instructional approaches in the classroom and the importance of balancing self-paced and collaborative structures in the classroom. Whether you're using this approach or just parts of it, you'll find benefits in listening to this episode.

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    This week's guest

    Joseph Manfre is a mathematics educator at Punahou School and has served as a tea

    Joseph Manfre, math teacher at punahou high school

    cher, coach, and mathematics educational specialist. He is a Distinguished Modern Classrooms Educator, Modern Classrooms Expert Mentor, and has a B.A. in mathematics, M.Ed. in instructional leadership, and graduate certificate in ethnomathematics. Joseph is passionate about advancing semi-autonomous learning, equitable and intentional classroom structures, student empowerment, and ethnomathematics. In 2018, he was co-awarded a Hawai‘i Innovation Fund grant for Student-led Heterogeneous Learning Communities (SHLC), an instructional routine designed to empower student leaders in a semi-autonomous classroom environment.

    Twitter: @mathmanfre

    Linked in:


    🎙️ Show Notes

    Resources Mentioned:

    • Modern Classrooms Project: A pedagogical initiative aimed at personalizing education to meet the needs of every student through a blend of self-paced learning, mastery-based grading, and blended instruction. Further details can be explored at Modern Classrooms Project website.
    • Peter Liljedahl's “Building Thinking Classrooms”: A transformative approach to teaching that encourages active learning and critical thinking among students. More information is available at Peter Liljedahl's website.


    • You will learn about the effectiveness of self-paced, mastery-based learning in providing an equitable educational experience for all students, allowing them to engage with content at their own pace.
    • You will hear about the balance between self-paced learning and collaborative learning, and how this balance can address the diverse needs of students, fostering a more inclusive and supportive learning environment.
    • You will discover the importance of creating your own instructional videos and how personalized content can significantly enhance student understanding and engagement.
    • You will understand the challenges and misconceptions of self-paced learning and how to effectively communicate its benefits to parents and administrators to gain their support.
    • You will gain insight into setting realistic expectations and goals for students, encouraging them to take ownership of their learning process and feel empowered to achieve mastery.

    📝 Transcript

    I used AI in either Premiere Pro or Riverside to help with this transcript. I did proofread it. If you see mistakes, just contact me and let me know. YouTube autotranscripts are not pre-viewed. Thank you!


    Vicki Davis (00:01)

    Today we're talking with Joseph Manfre who is a mathematics teacher at Punahou schools in Hawaii. He has so many credentials in math education. He's Math Manfre on Twitter. We will include his LinkedIn profile because you'll definitely want to contact him there. today we're going to talk about, some of the misconceptions, Joe,

    where we go self -paced and mastery -based learning. I've seen teachers who go all in self -paced, mastery -based learning, they're using videos. And I know of a classroom right now where the parents are up at arms because they say, this is not working and you're not teaching my child. And the teacher is like,

    Joe Manfre (00:27)

    Mm -hmm.

    Vicki Davis (00:47)

    I can't teach you anymore. You have to watch a video and work in groups. Is that what this is talking about? Like your classroom follows this approach, but that's not, is that what your classroom looks like?

    Joe Manfre (00:59)

    No, that's not what it looks like. So when we provide these instructional videos to for students to get this like baseline of knowledge that you want to share amongst all of your students, that's just the beginning. And now that could be accessed outside of classroom, inside of classroom for students. When you're in the class, when I am in the class as the teacher, I'm providing this formative instructional approach. When kids are working together in groups, I'm listening to how they are communicating with each other.

    Vicki Davis (01:02)

    Ha ha!

    Joe Manfre (01:28)

    and providing feedback on what their conceptions are. What they're sharing, I can then extend. If there's a misconception, I can address it. And that's just formatively assessing and instructing based on their group work. I also have more of that time for those one -to -one conversations. When students are turning in mastery checks, I can sit down, talk with students about their work. I'm not just talking in thin air, hypothetically, about how they might be doing. We're looking at their work together.

    and I can provide immediate direct feedback based on how they're doing. It's just more purposeful instruction than prior to having these self -paced tools.

    Vicki Davis (02:06)

    So Joe, why did you move to this approach and describe for us what does learning look like in your math classroom?

    Joe Manfre (02:13)

    So prior to the Modern Classrooms project, my expertise was in collaborative learning. I create ways for students to be able to learn from and with each other in a class. I like to tell my students they might not have me next year, but they will have each other. So if I could teach them how to learn from and with each other, those skills will carry from year to year. But what I noticed is if you just rely on.

    these collaborative settings, students also can become dependent on each other. They won't necessarily form their own independent thought. And it's kind of stifling for the students that want to move ahead a little bit and explore more content. Or if they're students that are really struggling and they need more time, it's hard when you're just working with a group to be able to honor that variability of processing time.

    And that's where the Modern Classrooms comes in because it really provides that equitable approach for kids when you're working with these self -paced structures, kids can engage in new content, explore new content, or take a little bit more time in processing things, revisit videos, revisit those self -paced resources so they can understand it more for depth and not worrying that some of their peers are ahead in more content because they're focusing on their own learning.

    But, I kind of talk about balance, right? This idea of balancing between those self -paced structures and collaborative structures. We talked about like the detriments of collaboration that if you solely rely on collaboration and you don't have self -paced elements, you have kids that become dependent on each other. They're not forming their own independent critical thought. Also on the other side, if you solely rely on these self -paced structures, you can have the negative effect of.

    kids forming these narrow views of content where they're only seeing their own way of solving something. There's this one way and they're not receptive to alternative processes, which is something we need in today's society. We need students to be able to respect diverse opinions, alternative opinions, and understand that they contribute to a more holistic understanding, which is why I'm so grateful for the Modern Classroom project because from the collaborative structures that I previously had,

    Vicki Davis (04:06)


    Joe Manfre (04:27)

    to now the self -paced structures. It's a beautiful balance of learning with each other, engaging content at your own pace. It's really wonderful when you optimize it.

    Vicki Davis (04:29)

    Mm -hmm.

    Yes. in my classroom, I very often go to a self -paced approach when I'm teaching, difficult software, for many reasons, but having those videos there's some kids who just get it right away and some kids need to replay the video four or five times and to practice it and to do it. And it just works so much better.

    sometimes teachers say, I'm going to go self -paced, I'm going to go collaborative and put my classroom on autopilot. I know in my classroom, and it sounds like in your classroom, I wouldn't consider this autopilot, would you?

    Joseph Manfre (05:19)

    No, I would say you're using a more purposeful approach to in class time. Your time in class is not consistent on class to class, right? Because if you're providing your teaching and feedback in accordance to student thinking, no student is the same. So how you run one class might be drastically different than another one based on what the students are doing

    Are enough student conceptions showing that maybe you need to reteach a segment and then you have a small group on the side? Are the kids really working well and now you want to be able to extend their thinking by putting another challenge in and setting more rigorous goals for certain students that you can see are kind of coasting and have the opportunity to engage maybe a little bit faster in content. And then you're having these one to one conversations with students. It's really just.

    Vicki Davis (05:52)

    Mm -hmm.

    Joseph Manfre (06:12)

    honoring the individual learner. You're not treating the entire class as being at the same pace, understanding the exact same amount, because that's not true. Every student has their own unique understanding. And what we want to do is reach it, provide feedback on it, extend it, so that every kid can walk in and out of a class and say, I learned something new. by leaving this class today, I am the smartest, most intelligent version of myself. That's what we want to have happen.

    Vicki Davis (06:41)

    I love that. So how many years have you been using this self -paced mastery approach?

    Joseph Manfre (06:47)

    I want to say I started four years ago, but I didn't make my own instructional videos four years ago. I was using other videos that were made and three years ago, once I saw that it wasn't nearly as effective as making my own videos when students can hear things based on my perspective and then I can extend upon that in the class. That was three years ago I made my own videos and I was all in.

    Vicki Davis (06:55)


    Joseph Manfre (07:11)

    since then and I'm going to continue doing this for the rest of my teaching life.

    Vicki Davis (07:17)

    Oh wow, so you're all in then, huh?

    Joseph Manfre (07:20)

    I am very much all in. I love how I can support students maybe coming from more dependent learning environments and bridge them towards this independent and understanding how they learn best. Because this is also how we learn as adults, right? We access content via the internet, via videos, podcasts, like what we're doing right now. People can learn from this.

    Vicki Davis (07:31)

    Mm -hmm.

    Mm -hmm.

    Joseph Manfre (07:48)

    and then maybe have a working group where you can collaborate around it, right? Like this is how we learn in life. So why don't we just create these experiences for students while they're in K through 12 or 16

    Vicki Davis (08:00)

    how did you sell your administration on moving to this approach?

    Joseph Manfre (08:04)

    I don't think I needed to sell my administration. My administration has a lot of trust. They trust the expertise of the teachers to be able to put the best learning experience possible for their students. The important thing was to make sure that it's not like students are learning different content. I'm one of four seventh grade teachers. So the important thing is to make sure all of the learning outcomes, what the students are supposed to be learning.

    in seventh grade pre -algebra in all four courses needs to be the same amount of mathematical content. How we get there could be different. One thing I would say, though, is I let students tell my story,

    Vicki Davis (08:42)


    Joseph Manfre (08:47)

    Students are the ones that provide the most useful feedback if they're saying that they're not learning You need to be communicating with them and asking. What do you mean by you're not learning? What are you not learning and talk about the learning experience? I have some students that when they first start out they're like wait. Am I learning from the videos? I'm not really learning. I'm like, what do you define as learning? But you need to be standing at the board and I'm writing down everything that you're writing now Oh, so you're defining learning as direct instruction where you're just?

    copying the stuff that I'm doing. You're defining learning as mimicking and I'm glad for Peter Liljadal and building thinking classrooms because he really talks about like, no, it's not about having kids mimic. It's about having kids learn, think critically, form their own conception, not just repeat what you're doing. at the end of the day, I have my students tell the story of what their learning experience is like.

    They value learning. They understand how they learn best and from their positive experiences and learning. I can continue doing what I'm doing because it leads to positive learning results and also positive perceptions about learning. It's much more freeing for students when they learn in this modality because it doesn't matter if you're a quicker processor, slower processor, you can engage content at your own pace. You know how fulfilling that is?

    Vicki Davis (10:04)


    Joseph Manfre (10:12)

    for students that have always gone lockstep with everybody else, that they're slower to process. So when you provide direct instruction and you're doing a check for understanding, it's always the slower processors that are the last to raise their hand, and they always feel like they're behind their peers. When you provide these structures, Their learning pace is honored.

    and then they take the mastery check, not when you tell them, but when they're ready. And then they do well because they're not doing it based on when you think that they're ready, they're doing it based on when they think that they're ready. It's so empowering for students.

    Vicki Davis (10:34)


    but you still have your standards, you still have your content you have to meet. And what do you do with those students who really kind of push the backward boundary of like, okay, we've got to get through this amount and they just hold back and they don't ever want to take that test or demonstrate mastery. What do you do? Do you have a lot of one -on -one time with those students or how does that work?

    Joseph Manfre (10:49)

    Mm -hmm.

    There's two pieces to that. I think the first one is what you talked about one on one time goal setting. Goal setting is huge. Setting realistic expectations for when they have the opportunity to engage in the content, what they should be doing during the content to get to where they need to be to feel confident. But the other part of that is the collaborative activity. So you can't let collaboration happen accidentally. You have to structure collaboration.

    Vicki Davis (11:36)


    Joseph Manfre (11:37)

    So at the beginning of class, I have opportunities for students to learn from each other and then with each other. So even if there's that student that's not confident, maybe they didn't even watch the video yet, but to be able to engage with others and learn from each other with each other, then they can go back and gauge the video and they can connect the video to what they did with their groups. So that can help them as well, build up that confidence towards mastery. So it's.

    It's two things. It's one, the individual, right? Setting those goals, trying to understand what you're capable of, being able to get to where you need to be. And two, the environment that kind of moves them along as well when you have these structured collaborative activities at the guided pace, at the pace that you expect students to be working at or would hope them to be working at.

    Vicki Davis (12:22)


    I love what you're saying. and I hope even though we see some of the pedagogical approaches changing for us as teachers, for all of us teachers to know that we are still the orchestrators of a beautiful learning experience. I love how you're now creating videos. You know, I started using other people's videos, but now I always make my own because hearing my style and my voice, it's like I'm cloning myself,

    Joseph Manfre (12:35)

    Mm -hmm.


    Vicki Davis (12:55)

    it adds a different level of interactivity. And now you can record on Google Slides. Like you can record inside anything, PowerPoint, Google Slides, Canva. All of those tools are available for us to record and easily and add those to our platform. So Joe Manfrey, math expert and mastery -based learning.

    Joseph Manfre (13:03)


    Vicki Davis (13:18)

    Collaborative learning, self -paced learning, these are things that you can do and it can be a struggle as you get started but once you start this approach, as I often do in my classroom depending on the unit, it's just how I teach now. I mean it just works, it makes sense. So I hope you'll follow him on LinkedIn and thanks for coming on the show, Joe.

    Joseph Manfre (13:44)

    Oh, Vicky, thank you so much for having me.

    Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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    Vicki Davis

    Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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    Sam March 21, 2024 - 9:52 am

    Hi Vicki- Samantha here! I personally think that the self-paced math class is a wonderful and new idea! I have never heard of someone using this approach, but I’m sure its amazing! Using videos I don’t think replaces the teacher, but can broaden what the teacher can do, and gives some students in need a more personalized experience. This way students learn at their pace, when they finish their video etc, instead of quickly moving away from a lesson that they may still be left questioning!

    Vicki Davis April 2, 2024 - 10:57 am

    Exactly, Samantha!! The teacher is still so important in this approach!


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