How Acera differentiates learning across the entire Acera experience
By Courtney Dickinson
How is each student’s experience at Acera uniquely suited to them?
A core part of Acera’s approach, from our founding day, is that all students have an individualized learning pathway which fits them, academically, socially and emotionally.
A part of each students’ individualized learning pathway includes a concretized ILP – Individualized Learning Plan. Generally, the ILP focuses on facets of students’ growth goals and needs which are not already going to be addressed within our highly differentiated academic educational experience in reading, writing, math, creativity, electives and passion projects.
The ILP captures deeply customized goals for students’ growth as whole people. Some examples for growth include:
- a goal to shift reactions to difficult situations
- skills to persist even amid adversity
- collaboration abilities to participate in a group project
- self awareness and self confidence, and an ability to lay claim to who they are and advocate for themselves.
The ILP might identify unique areas within Acera’s core capacities where students can even more fully bloom or areas where growth is really needed. Why is this so important to call out? In many cases, achieving academically in most school settings does not necessarily mean a person has developed capacity as a divergent, open-ended problem solver.
ILPs for students can never include all the ways teachers and counselors differentiate for Acera students; if teachers were expected to document all the ways they plan in advance to and adapt in the moment to differentiate, they would not have time to actually create curricula and facilitate their classrooms!
ILPs do capture facets of parents’ hopes, which are shared in listening conferences and teachers’ observations from start of the year. Most often, ILPs focus on areas of development in social and emotional topics and in core capacities, and these plans are referenced during December and May parent/teacher conferences and progress reports.
ILPs are a private part of a students’ record; they are not shared with other schools when kids transition out. They are an excellent way that we can partner together as school and parents, serving as at least a partial roadmap for goal setting and goal evolution during a school year, and across multiple years.
Beyond ILPs, Acera enables each student to learn and grow in a way which fits their abilities, and in ways not limited by curriculum or age.
We individualize learning through our program design, through empowered educators who customize learning experiences and curricula for students in their classrooms, and through start of year assessments and conferences which translate into differentiated instruction and elective selections along with each student’s written ILP.
There are a tremendous number of facets of how students’ learning pathways are made manifest at school for every student, every year. The ways these customized pathways for learning look also differ at different stages in development. Here are some of the key areas:
Reading & Writing:
Especially in the early years, yet all through schooling, a key part of customization is around literacy. Students get reading and writing instruction and coaching in ways that fit their needs, across all classrooms.
- Especially in lower school, start of year assessments (with no stress, untimed, teachers observe and engage with kids in ways that build relationships) define reading group placements and differentiated instruction plans.
- All students get access to reading materials which fit what they are ready to read, and the intent is that this also takes into account students’ emotional readiness for the literature and nonfiction they read.
- Particularly in the earlier years, reading instruction, coaching and book groups are built around students’ reading readiness.
- Over the past four years, we have added and enriched our knowledge and skills to weave in identification of and support for students with dyslexia; this is a particularly difficult population to identify in gifted students.
- Over the past six years, we have invested substantially in growing the executive functioning coaching and writing instruction skills within our staff.
- Math “snapshot” assessments, input from prior years’ teachers, and discovery from start of year draft placements and math grouping moves (as needed) help students have a challenging and growth-oriented mathematical thinking and learning experiences during our math block.
- Year-to-year the specific courses designed and offered flex based upon student needs. Yes, this is very complex to manage but is an iconic facet of Acera’s program and commitment to gifted education.
Multi-week Wednesday sessions offer students a chance to choose projects and focus areas they are excited about and want to try. Every child’s journey through creativity stations through Acera will be different.
Electives & IMP / Passion Projects:
As students move into Upper School, they transition to have more voice into their electives across social sciences, sciences and engineering, and arts/design electives as well as kicking off their experiences to define and partake in their own Inquiry, Maker & Passion Project.
Of course, every step of the way, adults are part of this process to help assure students are getting their needs met, that changes occur as needed, and that students are able to both dive deeply into topics of unique strength and love, as well as assure that every student has balance and breadth in their experience!