Learning to Think for Yourself vs Learning How to Follow Directions

Acton Academy is a learner-driven school. To be “Learner-driven” means that when we do our core skills, the Eagles can choose their own pathway of education. This approach is beneficial for the students not just while they are young, but also when they grow up and face real-life challenges.

For instance, they can choose either Khan Academy, Aleks or Dreambox for Math. To earn badges in Math level 1, Math level 2, and so on, there are different goals depending on the program(s) they choose.

In our first few weeks of being open, we have noticed a big shift happen. Once the students had their plans in place, we noticed a lot of complaints starting to happen. Many students are drifting around the room, unable to focus and wondering what they were supposed to be doing. At one point they actually asked our Guide to tell them what to do and please set their goals for them. That was when it hit home to me that in a traditional school environment, everyone is taught to follow directions. No matter the task, they are given a worksheet or a list of step by step directions. Every moment of the day in a traditional environment is scripted. 

Here at Acton, on the other hand, we do not give directions. We tell students to choose their own path instead. There are directions in the badges, but nobody is constantly reminding and asking them “What badge do you want to work on now?”

Do you think it is better for your child to struggle with learning how to set goals and how to figure out what tasks they need to focus on to reach those goals at an early age rather than after they go to college and start a career? Imagine an employer asking your child to get a task done, but your child will answer “How do you want me to do it? Can you give me step-by-step directions?” Certainly, this is not what the boss wants to hear. It doesn’t matter how your child does it (we are all individuals and do things in different ways), what matters is to simply get the task done and reach your goal. This is the real-life skill we are teaching to our students while they’re young! In that way, their mindset will change so that they know they can handle anything that somebody throws at them. They will have confidence in setting their own plans in action.

Students want specific directions, but that’s not what we do here at Acton. We only encourage and guide. We let learners think for themselves. By engaging in that process, they learn how to learn. What a priceless gift we can give our children by helping them become lifelong learners.


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