What the Research Says

Putting knowledge into action.

How Do People Learn?

Here at the Mastery School of Hawken, we believe that schools should build around the discoveries and insights of cognitive neuroscience rather than the inherited traditions of the factory model of the 19th century. We are committed to using this knowledge for the benefit of students. 

You’ll see this commitment in how we employ the methodology of the Korda Institute for Teaching and in the ways we’ve designed our days, semesters, and program elements. It’s why we do away with grades and use Mastery Credits instead. 

We’ve found that putting the research into practice makes school a whole lot more fun and purposeful.

Start with Strengths

Here’s a sad fact: “In 2016, nearly two-thirds of college students reported ‘overwhelming anxiety,’ up from 50 percent just five years earlier, according to the National College Health Assessment” (Flannery).

We can point to a whole host of potential sources for this phenomenon, but clearly one is how schools often function in students’ lives.
Much of school focuses on deficits — what students don’t know, what they can’t do, what they need to fix — and, so is it any wonder that many end their high school educations convinced that they’re not ready for the world that awaits them?
Research points us in a different direction.
Learning endures when students are emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually engaged and when they feel safe, seen, and supported. Students who build on strengths rather than focusing on deficits end up with deeper and more enduring learning. (Lopez and Louis).
And this isn’t just about making teens feel better about themselves (though that is a noble and necessary goal as well). It’s that when we start with strengths, students are more capable of improving what needs improving.
At the Mastery School, we put these insights into practice in our various programmatic elements, including Wayfinding. We offer an individualized journey that allows students to weave their strengths into and work on their growing edges throughout their educational experiences.

Neuroscience and Real World Learning

“The brain becomes what it does,” says Dr. Lou E Whitaker, life-long educator and researcher. It turns out that the brain is malleable. It has what the scientists call “neuroplasticity.”

“Just as hedges are pruned to cut off errant shoots that don’t communicate with many neighboring leaves, the brain prunes its own inactive cells…By the time we enter adolescence, our brain has chosen most of the final neurons it will keep throughout our adult life based on which cells are used and which are not” (Willis and Willis).

What kind of education inspires the most neural growth? The answer: Real World Problem Solving. Just ask researcher Vasanth Sarathy.

Mastery vs the Assembly Line

The best learning experiences often use the oldest teaching method: apprenticeship. It’s how learning happens in the animal kingdom and how human beings learned before the industrial model that put kids in rows, preparing for tests distantly removed from the world.

Mastery-Based education returns the ancient model to school where trusted adults help students work towards mastery of specific skills, knowledge and habits described in the Mastery Standards. 

We’ve known for decades that this model encourages deeper, more enduring learning. Now, we’re building a school that puts that insight into practice.

Know Yourself

Research tells us that a key element of deep and enduring learning is reflection.

Metacognition, or thinking about thinking, allows students — and all of us, really — to “understand how we best learn and develop skills to think about, connect with, and evaluate our learning and interactions each day” (Poth). 

This kind of thinking is a skill that takes time, effort, and commitment to master, which is why it’s woven into our MacrosMicros, and Wayfinding

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