Old habits die hard. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The only person that likes change, is a wet baby. There are millions of catchy phrase lines expressing the sentiment that change is hard. I have pondered the question of whether transitioning into a different learning style was harder for a student or their parents. My assessment is that in all likelihood it has been hardest for us parents.
In a society that touts the importance of good grades and excelling at school, it takes courage and deep faith in your child to join a learner driven community. Believing that ultimately it is your child’s responsibility to learn is huge and can almost feel like walking off a cliff! Parents feel pressure from society to encourage/cajole/will/force/bribe/ or otherwise discipline their student to succeed in school. At the end of the day, our responsibility is to provide children with the opportunity to learn but what they do with that opportunity is up to them. The beauty of Acton is that it creates a safe environment where children can learn how to problem solve, overcome fear of failure, and take responsibility for their education and behavior.
Navigating the Acton learning model with your child takes time and eagerness from all parties involved to be open minded. I have bounced ideas off Jeff and Laura Sandefer for their advice and guidance as I navigate through this process. Based on their feedback and my own experience over the past few months, I have prepared these Frequently Asked Questions.
Q Help! My student is stuck on a particular subject and is getting frustrated and wants to be “taught”.
Watching your child struggle with a subject can be painful (I know I am there). Our knee jerk reaction is to “help” them overcome their objection. However, often “help” can circumvent the learning process. Part of the Acton philosophy is allowing children space to explore problem solving techniques. When a child hits a brick wall, reactions can often be fear of failure, anxiety, blame someone else, ignore the issue, wallow in self-pity, get angry, or they just want to quit. None of these reactions are life giving or productive! Allowing the student the opportunity to process those feelings and develop a plan to overcome the obstacle is a huge life lesson. Learning to go around or through the brick wall is the goal of the Acton environment. As a parent, you can encourage your student that they are not alone. You can share with them a time where you struggled with something and how you either failed or overcame the obstacle. You can ask them what resources or methods they have tried to solve the problem.
In the classroom, we have a board called the Collaboration Board with three columns; Name, Area you are stuck in, and column for fellow eagles to sign up to offer assistance. During a certain time of the day, students can collaborate. When students feel stuck, we encourage them to use the 3 B’s – Brain, Buddy, & Books. After a student has exhausted the collaboration board and 3 B’s, they may brainstorm with the guide on other resources.
Q Help! My student got a strike or an eagle dollar was taken away. What does that mean?
The overarching belief at Acton is that of a growth mindset. We respect a student’s decision to comply with the student contract they signed or not. Students are treated with deep respect and are always encouraged to consider the outcome of their choices. Experiencing consequences of a negative choice is a wonderful opportunity for growth. I encourage you to review a recent blog post that goes into a deeper discussion of the eagle dollar and strike process. I would also encourage you to ask your student about the rules the classroom has voted on and what the consequences are of being in debt to the eagle buck bank. As a parent it is easy to feel embarrassment or shame when your child makes a bad choice. Please know that our school philosophy is always positive and eager to partner with parents.
Help! What is a badge and how does that correlate to grades.
Each student at Acton Academy has badge requirements for graduating from their current grade. Our goal is mastery so a badge is the equivalent of an A. Until the student has demonstrated mastery, they do not receive the badge. We want students to not just “slide by” but rather master the topic. I encourage you to read this blog post that outlines this process further.
Q. Help! How do students learn science at Acton?
“Repeating lame experiments and memorizing terms has little to do with real science. I would stay as far away from traditional school Science as possible.” Jeff Sandefer We study science through quests. Currently the students are wrapping up the forensic science quest. Later this year we will have a rocket quest as well as horticulture quest. We encourage parents to read with their children if there is a specific area of science a child wishes to study. Personal interest, tinkering on a project, or exploring a concept is what will lead a child to unique scientific experiences. Students, once in the soaring freedom level, can add an independent study to their schedule which could focus on an area of interest.
Q. Help! How do you regulate the class and create a quite learning environment?
Quite simply the eagles regulate themselves. When they grow weary of chaos, leaders rise up and learn to respectfully advocate for a quite learning space. Children use headphones as well as box dividers to help limit distractions as practical solutions. “One of the benefits of the Acton experience is learning not only self-management and how not to distract others (which comes with time and dealing with Eagle buck infractions) BUT how to work with all distractions! I love to see a young learner just tune out the noise and get to work. We have discussions about the value of not being overly sensitive to noise – try to ignore others and focus on yourself. And we encourage Eagles to ask for Eagle bucks if someone is breaking the studio norms. This is all part of the learning journey and coercing them to be quiet is too shortsighted for us. It’s going to take patience but we trust they will work this out.” Laura Sandefer
Help! I log into points tracker and see my student isn’t meeting deadlines?
This is where parents become very tempted to cajole/will/force/bribe/ discipline or get tutors to force their student into compliance. Having the fortitude to ask questions and offer a listening ear will be a positive influence on your student. Give them space to let the system work. Parents intervening in an authoritarian way can cripple the learning process and power of the Acton model.
Q. Help! How does the 2-6 grade class work and is my older student being challenged?
“Over time, the mixed age setting benefits all ages: maybe the oldest age group the most as they get to practice leadership, group management and end up gaining a level of empathy that is quite stunning to see. But it takes time. The trick with the quests is the variance of challenges and giving the older Eagles more responsibility over their teams. Their work should challenge them and the work of the youngest should challenge (but not overwhelm) them.” Laura Sandefer
I encourage you to read this article that outlines the many benefits of a multi aged classroom.Thank you for joining us on this journey! As anticipated, it has not been easy. When I step out of the day to day operations of the school to look at the big picture I am reminded of the magnitude of our mission. Our mission is much bigger than helping a student learn math or writing. Our mission is learn to learn, learn to do, and learn to be. Essentially our mission is to help children become equipped for their hero’s journey.