Acera BlogCourtney's Corner

Our focus on academic learning

By November 16, 2023No Comments

Dear Acera families,

Every year, our implicit goals for every student include that they make “a year of academic progress” in writing, reading and math, based upon their starting point. To date, we have not expressly written that goal in students’ ILP as that is presumed as a core part of school, in our highly differentiated academic growth setting. How does this academic learning actually happen?  

Rather than limit learning to common objective standards of performance, Acera teachers periodically reference Common Core or MA Frameworks standards in English language arts and math, to cross check and make sure students are moving towards essential academic expectations. Rather than being limited by basic age based focus areas, they can instead become a floor we stand on, while teachers focus on the horizon of what is possible for global student growth in academics, EQ, and habits of mind. 

As you know, a focus this school year is to deepen our sciences learning as we continue our multi year effort in Covid recovery. Since its emergence, we periodically review Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as we think about sciences and engineering. We are bringing that to the forefront this school year, and I look forward to a teacher-led report-out on that work in the spring. 

Sciences, social sciences, and history are core facets of our Upper School Program. These learning blocks (which we call “electives” since students have voice in which ones they take) are grouped around three categories: Natural Sciences & Maths, Humanities & Social Sciences, and Art, Technology & Engineering. Upper School students are expected to take at least two electives within each group every year.  You can read course descriptions of current and previous electives via the links on the right.

Soon, as we do annually, we will share with parents student performance in basic reading skills compared to Common Core standards through the NWEA Adaptive Assessment. (The math NWEA assessment happens in the spring.) Acera’s approach is to prioritize habits of mind – like complex thinking, systems thinking, emotional intelligence, critical thinking and problem solving, and emotional intelligence – over “knowledge acquisition.” Why? These capacities are built through concrete engagement with content and projects, the more meaningful, authentic, and linked to the real world, the better. This approach results in content acquisition that far surpasses grade level norms. It ensures that learning will be retained, because it is linked to a project that means something to the student. While a standard classroom lecture/listen model can generate quick “proof” of learning through a test, evidence shows that this does not result in learning that lasts. This approach to learning allows for authentic and concurrent growth in essential academic skills.

The 2023 Teacher Panel video gives more depth into how teachers engage students with direct instruction, coaching, assignments, and projects to grow essential skills in writing, and highlights learning approaches and student work as designed by teachers in physics, math, IMPp, and art. While only a slice of the myriad learning occurring at Acera, it is incredibly helpful to hear it directly from teachers!  

Finally, December conferences are a great time to ask more detailed questions about how your child’s core teacher is thinking about their academic and overall growth goals for the year. 

Wishing you all well, 


Courtney Dickinson is Acera’s Founder & Head of School.

See the full list of 2023 Trimester 1 Electives
See the full list of 2022-23 Electives