MASTERY LEARNING using High-Frequency Verb Quizzes 

The 2021-22 school year provided me a chance to try out ideas with MASTERY LEARNING and a policy about retaking assessments until an 80% average was reached. I used this idea consistently throughout the whole year with both my Spanish II and IV classes, and I am very pleased with the results. One of the reasons I moved to an acquisition-driven model of instruction was to improve students’ long-term retention. With this, I know that acquisition takes a long time and will vary from person to person and I alone cannot control what students have learned and/or acquired in other levels of Spanish. Over the past few years I have developed a Top 20 High-Frequency Verb list and a Top 25 / 50 action verb list (that I have written up in different tenses based on high-frequency usage) that provides students with a core body of knowledge to help them communicate. Please note oftentimes in the TCI/ADI world we refer to the verbs from my TOP 20 list as Terry Waltz’s suggested Super 7 high-frequency verbs based on communicative language needs or Mike Peto’s Sweet 16 verbs – for more information about these verbs check out Martina Bex’s post here

There are many things that I did with these verbs to help all students be successful with the expectation of mastery learning. I really wanted students to get the information and not forget it. Of course we know that some students will study and others will not – so again I had to ensure I was working with these verbs throughout the year. These were all my TPR gesture verbs, ones that we used in PQA (Personalized Questions and Answers), stories and character development, ones in our interactive games like Quizlet Live and Blooket, and more importantly they are the words that are in most readings and authentic resources because they are all high-frequency verbs. In level IV, students also had to use these words in writing and speaking prompts as they expressed their thoughts and opinions to help develop proficiency at Intermediate levels. 

In both classes, these mastery learning quizzes were simply students giving the meaning of these words in English, and again, students had to retake these quizzes until they earned an 80%. 

What did this accomplish? 

This approach helped all of my students be successful this year. It provided a vast body of knowledge for review for all students and new content for others. For the first time, students did not “fall through the cracks” with these crucial building blocks of language (oftentimes there would be students in my level II classes who felt they could not learn language and stopped listening to Spanish in my class in November because they were lacking so many of these high-frequency words). But since students had to earn an 80%, my academic struggling students would come in and work with me individually and I helped them make connections and even devise study plans. I know we might not all agree on this, but I do think that part of my job as a teacher is to help students learn how to study for their academic futures (in fact, during this quasi-post pandemic year, some of my struggling students needed to learn how to learn and study more than ever). My hope is that if we continue to implement the practice of Mastery Learning content and 80% quizzes in all levels 1, 2, 3, 4, and AP – then students will have a stronger working memory and recognition of these high-frequency verbs when they confront them in context. Since this was the first time in my level IV class implementing this approach and we were just returning from remote and hybrid teaching for many, some students had a lot to learn and memorize this year. But again, I do not want this to be the case over the course of many years because these verbs would be the same ones from previous years but in different tenses as they continue their studies. 

Removing my Word Walls 

Another change has been to take these word signs off of my walls much earlier than in past years. Although some of the English words of my TOP 20 highest frequency words remained on the wall, so I could clarify comprehension, the Spanish ones did not remain and this year my students used them even more in their speaking and writing tasks. Removing this crutch helped move my students further along and helped them be more successful on their midterm and final exams that are given in other classroom spaces without any word wall support. 

Honestly, I do hope all of my students reach an 80% grade in their learning, performance, and proficiency in Spanish and most of my students did just that this year. The redo policy, as I have found in prior years, provided students a chance to fail and try again until they mastered the content and were ready. This year I pushed the mantra: YOUR FAILURE WILL NOT AFFECT YOUR GRADE – IT WILL HELP YOU GROW. THINK OF FAIL AS “FIRST ATTEMPT IN LEARNING.”

The redo policy and practice in my grading was really a perfect way to support this message, student growth, and their overall well-being. I am very glad that I implemented this approach this year, and I do plan on using it in the future.  


4 thoughts on “MASTERY LEARNING using High-Frequency Verb Quizzes 

  1. On Facebook Lake Mathison posted these great questions:

    This was interesting, I feel like the idea of a mastery quiz is somewhat familiar. Can you say more about what the quizzes looked like and how they differed between levels?
    Was it lists of isolated verbs or used in context? I’m assuming you counted accuracy in person, since they were conjugated? Was it the same list every time or reordered? Did they do it on paper or digitally? How often did they retake, and did they have to do anything to show effort in between retakes? Were retakes in class or outside of class (if in class, what did the Ss who had previously passed do during the retake time)? What percentage of Ss needed to retake multiple times?
    Haha, I don’t want to sound like I’m grilling you, I’m just very curious as to how you implemented this practice and how it worked out


    1. These are all great questions and ones I did not know would be of interest – so here are my responses. Thanks for asking.

      Can you say more about what the quizzes looked like and how they differed between levels?
      -The quiz format was “I give the Spanish like TIENE” and they write in English: s/he has. There were usually 25 or 40 questions.

      -The quiz formats were the same in level 2 and 4 but my level 4 students had more of them based on a variety of tenses and some other content throughout the year.

      Was it lists of isolated verbs or used in context?
      -They were isolated verbs and doing this was a big decision because I do think students may have performed better with even word chunks in context. Ultimately I did want to see if they could just recognize these words as they were like tiene = s/he has

      I’m assuming you counted accuracy in person, since they were conjugated?
      -I did so for the first time the students took the quiz, if the person was not correct when they gave me the meaning in English I took off a full point. As a way to differentiate and after multiple tries, I started to understand their thinking process. I moved toward only taking .5 off for the correct person.
      Was it the same list every time or reordered?
      -I made 4 different versions of each quiz. Again to make this as simple as possible I just used Quizlet test maker to do it.
      Did they do it on paper or digitally?
      -Since we were back in person we did all of this on paper and I much prefer it.
      How often did they retake, and did they have to do anything to show effort in between retakes?
      -I think the most a student retook a quiz was 4 times. They did not have to do anything with me to take a quiz a second time but after a second time I did recommend/require that they come meet with me and almost in all cases it took the one on one experience for my level II students to improve. That was not necessarily the same with my level IV students who really just needed to study more.
      Were retakes in class or outside of class (if in class, what did the Ss who had previously passed do during the retake time)?
      -In Spanish II, I scheduled the first quiz and then I would usually leave sometime the following weeks during a longer block period to redo a quiz but most students would come in on their own time to redo their quizzes. In Spanish IV students had to do a lot of quizzes this year and for them we dedicated 30 to 45 minutes of individualized proficiency work and quiz time every 90 minute block day which happens once a week. Spanish IV students were able to take the quizzes at any time for the semester (which resulted in a mad rush of panicked kids at the end of the quarter.) For second semester I gave recommended days that kids should take the quizzes so it would help them plan better and for the most part this was successful. For my overwhelmed Juniors taking three to four other AP classes there was flexibility for them and this did help them overall. I am now reflecting on how I want to structure the practice in Spanish IV this coming school year.

      What percentage of Ss needed to retake multiple times?
      -I would say 20%, which also reflects the number of students who tend to struggle, and 10% more were students who wanted a perfect/higher score. I let students take it until they earned the 100% if they wanted to.


  2. Tanya W

    This is a great read. While proficiency and acquisition based learning/CI are no doubt ideal in the language classroom, the reality for me in my school’s WL curriculum is that students need to master some core content to feel successful and progress along the levels. The double edged sword is that often schools push through the content and if a student didn’t “master” it, we move on. “You don’t know the verb tener?…oh, well, we have to move on”. No! We need to be able to give them the time they need! I like the “everyone needs to master this core content at at least an 80%” concept. Then you don’t get to November with a kid who has lost hope and you are just patching them along to get them to May.


  3. Pingback: Reflection 2021-22 Spanish Level IV – My Mosaic of World Language Teaching

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