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A Teacher’s Journey Toward Personalized Learning

Updated: Jan 25

By Kumu Dan De Mattos

Kumu Dan shares his journey of learnings about teaching for personalized learning along with haumāna successes.

Background and Context

My journey toward a more ‘Ōiwi Edge Mathematics classroom has been a slow and deliberate process. However, this process, much like Galileo Galilei’s proclamation, “And yet it moves,” has indeed moved. Throughout my tenure in diverse educational roles at Kamehameha Schools Hawaiʻi (KSH), I have witnessed and participated in various initiatives. Beginning with our campus adoption of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS-M); the Tri-Campus Tactical Plan to become a world-class Hawaiian Culture-Based Education (HCBE) system; the launching of E Ola! Learner Outcomes; contributing to the research in the KSH Math Content & Course Progressions (MCCP) Task Force and Math Hui; and through Alaukawai 9 and 12, experimenting with elements of the ʻŌiwi Edge Learning & Teaching Expectations (ʻŌEL&T Expectations), relational equity/equality, and Mastery Learning by teaching summer school, to name a few. Lessons learned and experiences from these explorations and experiments created pivot points that moved me closer to the ‘Ōiwi Edge Mathematics classroom envisioned by E Ola! for personalized learning. This brief narrative focuses on my Alaukawai 14 inquiry while serving as a Math Kumu for Papa ʻEono during our pilot testing of an interdisciplinary teams teaching program.

Building an Interdisciplinary ʻŌiwi Edge Kula Waena

During the 2022-2023 school year, KSH Kula Waena implemented an ‘Ōiwi Edge pilot program with our Papa ʻEono Math, Social Studies, Science, Physical Education (PE), and English Language Arts (ELA) Kumu. Our goal was to develop interdisciplinary units that would achieve ʻŌEL&T Expectations for student achievement. Six support Kumu, including myself, were tasked with classroom instructional responsibilities for the sixth-grade students so that ‘Ōiwi Edge Pilot Kumu could have time to meet and plan. While I worked with sixth-grade students for eight days during the first quarter, in quarters two, three, and four, I taught a Statistics unit to sixth graders. This was a total of 22 days, or two sets of 11 blocks, identified as Extra Specials-Math classes. This opportunity to teach a unit directly related to our NWEA MAP assessment allowed me to apply my learnings from previous pursuits and extend specific strategies into the Papa ʻEono ‘Ōiwi Edge pilot rather than a focused Math summer course with few students. 

The Papa ʻEono pilot gave me an opportunity to intentionally implement mastery learning strategies to better engage, motivate, and empower 116 students over the school year using varying strategies of personalized learning. In this novel sixth grade Kumu role, I applied mastery learning strategies that could engage haumāna self-identified readiness to demonstrate knowledge and skills at their own pace. Similar to a previous Alaukawai inquiry, I provided haumāna opportunities to access diverse resources such as readings, videos, and open-ended tasks, designed to facilitate independence. I provided consistent and clear feedback through Kumu-developed formative assessments that informed haumāna about their progression toward mastery of the statistical concepts and skills. My teaching was also individualized for students who needed more direct instruction to those who could easily grasp the concepts and move forward independently with lighter supports. This allowed haumāna to take control of their own learning and determine for themselves, readiness to move to the next concept or lesson. These efforts set preliminary conditions for a foundation in personalized learning.


One of the measures that I used to assess the extent to which these mastery learning strategies were impacting students, was the “Statistics & Probability” strand of the NWEA MAP Growth assessment. Via a Google Form, I also wanted to understand haumāna feelings and attitudes about using the mastery approach specifically related to math education. My earlier experiments in mastery learning resulted in haumāna reporting positively about its value as a learning strategy and finding appreciation for Math as a subject. I was hopeful that these 116 students would also find value and appreciation for the instructional strategies that I employed specifically during their learning of statistics as well as show evidence of growth in Statistics.

Standardized Assessment

NWEA MAP Growth data in the Statistics & Probability strand showed that students who performed at the “Low” level during the winter 2022 administration, decreased by 20% (five to four students) when assessed in the Spring 2023 administration. At the Spring 2023 administration, there was a 21% (28 to 22 students) decrease in students who performed at the “Low Average” category during the Winter of 2022. Performance in the “Average” category reflected a 3% decrease (38 students to 37 students) from Winter 2022 to Spring 2023.  

There was also a 55% (22 students to 34 students) increase of students who performed in the “High Average” category, but there was also a 24% decrease of students performing in the “High” category. This data indicates that haumāna moved up from and through the “Low,” “Low Average,” and “Average,” to “High Average” performance categories and moved down from “High” to “High Average” categories. Table 1 illustrates the change in performance categories from Fall 2022 to Spring 2023.

Table 1

Changes in Students who Performed in Each Category

Performance Category

% Change in Performance 

from Fall 2022

Spring 2023




High Average






Low Average






Haumāna Attitudes and Feelings

Ninety-four percent of haumāna felt that the mastery approach either very much or quite a bit helped them to learn Math, 94% were very satisfied or quite satisfied with the way Math was taught during Extra Specials-Math classes, and a majority of haumāna indicated that the mastery learning approach was very valuable or quite valuable in helping them recognize their mistakes in Math, obtain feedback about Math, make corrections to their Math, and make improvements to their Math.

Reflections and Learnings

The following are just a few “aha!” moments from which I continue to build upon in creating conditions for personalized learning: 

  • The definition of mastery learning is a clear set of competencies that need to be understood in order to be mastered.

  • Standards and competencies are not the same thing.

  • I may not have been implementing a true mastery learning approach, but, instead, I was instructing students to master certain standards or skills. 

While haumāna felt positive toward mastery learning approaches and MAP scores overall indicated growth in performance, I continue to learn about the elements of personalized, competency-based learning such as: assessments, learner supports, flexible learning paths, equity, and competencies.

Although I employ a variety of assessments, both formative and summative to measure student progress and understanding, including different types of products, conversations, and observations, I plan to revise them and ensure they are relevant as well as facilitate student agency. Mastery learning allows for haumāna to receive support that meet their individual needs. My implementation of mastery learning did not fully provide haumāna different pathways that facilitated agency and choice. I would like to learn more about how best to do this as it relates to personalized learning.

Equity is a large part of ‘Ōiwi Edge and an area that I continue to explore. This includes the culture, structure, and pedagogy of our school and our system. More experimentation is needed to understand how this might be done within our context and in an ʻŌiwi Edge Math classroom. Lastly, aligned with Kula Waena’s identification of standards and learning targets, we developed a set of Mathematics competencies during June 2023. My next step is to work with the Middle School Math department to build understanding of, implement, and gather data about these competencies and how personalized learning can facilitate conditions for building skills toward mastery.


During the summer and regular school year, students indicated that they enjoyed the mastery learning strategies and felt it helped them to learn Math. However, because mastery learning allows for individualized self-pacing, students commented that this prevented them from collaborating. I also noticed this about my teaching. Students had less opportunity to discuss problems and work together to solve them. Based on their comments, I would like to incorporate activities that allow for student collaboration and self-pacing. In addition, blended instruction is an integral aspect of mastery learning for which I offered students various types of resources: readings, videos, open-ended tasks, etc. However, based on my observations, students did not use these resources as effectively as I had hoped. This is another area I would like to explore specifically as it applies in an ‘Ōiwi Edge Math classroom.


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