Multi-week, interdisciplinary Quests designed to develop 21st century skills are a core component of the Acton approach. These Quests consist of a series of challenges embedded in a compelling narrative. Quests usually require learners to collaborate. Learners are always expected to publicly exhibit the knowledge they acquired and the skills they honed throughout the Quest. Quests are more relevant than most conventional school work and require learners to engage in higher order processes.
Learners master core skills such as math, language and grammar on adaptive learning platforms, such as Kahn Academy, Duolingo or NoRedInk. These platforms present content to the learner when he or she is ready for it and cater to the individual’s performance and interest. In other words, this instruction is intimately personalized for each and every learner. Adaptive learning ensures that the student remains in the zone of proximal development (the region that exists between easy street and the valley despair). Students are less likely to be bored or frustrated and tend to move through the content far more quickly and effectively than they do in the one-size fits all approach.
Socratic discussions are used to analyze a variety of issues and explore essential questions. Open-ended questions are posed and learners are prepared to actively listen to the thoughts and ideas of others, critically examine the topic at hand, and share their own relevant thoughts and feelings. These exchanges provoke rigorous inquiry, deliberation and reflection rather than rote recall or right answers. These discussions enable students to think critically, question intelligently, interact cooperatively and converse more powerfully.
Literacy is emphasized to ensure that learners become skilled communicators capable of powerful expression via a range of media. Writing workshops, extensive free-reading and frequent presentations are some of the activities that will develop these essential abilities.
Structured goal setting permits learners to decide what their priorities will be and to establish what they will accomplish and when they plan to accomplish it. SMART goals keep students focused and motivated throughout their learning on a daily, monthly and annual basis and prepare them to strategically manage their time and allocate their resources. Members of the learning community regularly check in with each other to determine where they are at in terms of their goals and provide feedback, support and/or affirmation as needed. This practice boosts our growth mindsets and creates an achievement-oriented culture.
Acton Academies are student-led and self-governance is a critical component of the Hero’s Journey. Learners draw from historical examples and exemplary models of civil society and governance to build a framework and implement processes that protect individual rights, cultivate the common good and sustain a productive learning environment. Systems that have been developed to achieve these ends are: Studio Contracts, Running Partners and Squads, Councils, and Town Halls. Contracts establish the rules, roles, responsibilities and consequences of the studio. Running partners and squads are comprised of fellow learners that focus on specific issues such as contract enforcement, facilitating weekly meetings, problem solving, or providing peer support and trouble-shooting, The Council is a governing body, comprised entirely of elected learners, that leads the implementation of Studio systems and upholds standards. Town Halls are meetings led by the Council and used to solicit feedback, offer counsel to Guides and other adults within the learning community, and reinforce and modify the contract as needed. Survey data indicates that learners often consider self-governance to be one of the most important and rewarding elements of the Acton experience.
Older learners at the middle school and high school level spend increasing amounts of time engaging apprenticeships. The apprenticeship process equips Heroes to find and secure apprenticeships with little to no assistance from adults. Apprenticeships are one of the most powerful experiences at Acton Academy. Heroes learn to work hard in the real world; try out possible “callings” at a very low cost and, perhaps most importantly, land upon an exciting next adventure.
Art is an integrative field that runs throughout Acton’s Learning Design. Elementary studios will have Art Guides lead exploratory art challenges on a regular basis. Artistic challenges will be frequently interwoven into various Quests as well. In middle school and Launchpad (high school), art is integrated into core skill challenges and Quests, with one Quest typically dealing predominantly with Art. Those serious about art are encouraged to utilize independent studies with professional artists and apprenticeships to delve deeper into the arts. The ultimate goal for all the Heroes is to discover one’s own artistic gifts and share them with others in order to make the world a better place.
Physical education is also an integrative field that spans our Learning Design. Structured exercise and plenty of outdoor play regularly occur. P.E. activities may also be integrated into various Quests. Physical education is often supplemented with Socratic discussions to address sportsmanship, competitiveness, endurance, dynasty, and the like. Eventually, a P.E. Olympics will be held and annual awards for sportsmanship will be granted. The freedom to physically move a lot during the day is also very important at Acton Academies. In the studios, Eagles always are free to move around or even take a walk outside so long as they don’t distract others while doing so.
Social and emotional development is, most likely, the defining characteristic of the Hero’s Journey. At Acton, we place a high importance on Learning to Be. This skill is foundational for developing relationships, learning self-discipline, gaining courage and resilience. It trains one’s attention and focuses abilities, increases emotional balance, promotes a sense of well-being and reduces stress.