SDLAA Philosophy of Education
- Everyone has genius within and a unique purpose that they were born to achieve.
- The purpose of education is to draw out individual genius and purpose. All learning activities should connect to each student's genius or purpose.
- The role of the teacher is to create a safe and engaging learning environment that can foster a love for lifelong learning, build critical thinking skills, and inspire students as they progress along their personal path.
- SDLAA builds developmentally appropriate learning strategies throughout all stages of life and learning.
- SDLAA employs an "upside down classroom" model, in which live class meeting time focuses on hands-on activities, collaborative learning, interactive discussions, projects, and simulations. Background research and assignments are completed independently, with teacher support available.
- SDLAA strives to focus on teaching students how to learn, building skills that apply across all content and prepare students for future learning in future education, career, and life.
We offer classes, divided into 3 learning stages (rather than grade levels). These categories do correspond with ages & grade levels, but as a guideline rather than a rigid rule. Our classes focus on developing learning strategies and higher thinking with a developmentally appropriate approach. There is overlap in ages and grade levels, because learning stage is based on individual development. Below are general guidelines, but each student's placement is determined by parents, students, and teachers evaluation of the best fit for that student, at that time.
Foundational: These are classes designed for students between 8 and 12 years old, typically functioning at grades 3-6. These classes focus on: developing a love for learning, building students' confidence in their ability to learn, and teaching students a set of foundational learning strategies that they can use as tools throughout their life-long pursuit of learning. In the Foundational Learning Stage, instruction is focused on exposing students to a wide range of topics and in building skills that empower them to be self-learners in later learning stages. This stage focuses on the cognitive skills of knowledge and comprehension.
Preparatory: These classes are designed for students between 11 and 14 years old, typically functioning at grades 6-9. These classes continue to build a foundation of love for learning, confidence, and basic learning strategies, while introducing higher thinking challenges. In the Preparatory Learning Stage, instruction focuses on building advanced learning strategies, such as close reading, note-taking with the support of graphic organizers and concrete structure, writing to learn and promote personal thinking, effective oral communication and collaboration with peers and teachers, scientific observation and proper recording (lab reports), and problem-solving strategies. In this learning stage, students continue to build the cognitive skills of knowledge and comprehension, while expanding into more application tasks. Students also continue to learn about a wide range of topics in order to solidify a well-rounded foundation on which to build in Mastery Learning Stage.
Mastery: These classes are designed for students 13-18, who have a solid Foundational education. These classes are typically high school level, earn high school credit with most charter schools, and help students gain college prep knowledge and skills. Teachers emphasize personal ownership of education, time and study management skills, and sense of personal mission. These classes challenge students to evaluate ideas and begin to formulate their personal allegiances. Instruction is designed to develop higher thinking skills such as analysis, evaluation, and synthesis or creation through tasks such as: analytical reading, transformational writing & speaking, Socratic Seminars, simulations, in-depth science experiments and written reflection in formal lab reports. Content is more focused and explored more deeply than in previous learning stages. In Mastery Learning Stage, the focus shifts from general exposure to students' ability to demonstrate mastery of a topic or skill and transfer of learning to real life and personal mission.
What is developmentally appropriate education?
Child psychologists Jean Piaget and Erik Erikson conducted extensive research that demonstrate how people move through cognitive, emotional, and social stages of development and the impact that has on learning. Their research proves that methodologies used to teach young children should be different than those used to teach teens and adults. Elementary students need to learn concepts concretely, with application to their lives and the real world. Pushing elementary students to employ critical or abstract thinking is not only developmentally inappropriate, but can actually damage their ability to develop such thinking and skills at a later age. Around age twelve, children develop the capacity for critical thinking and abstract thought. For more about developmental stages and learning, check out these resources:
Piaget's Stages of cognitive development
Erikson's Stages of social & emotional development
Bloom's Taxonomy of cognitive development
How are SDLAA classes developmentally appropriate?
We do not simply teach easier content to elementary students and more challenging content to older students. The focus in our foundational classes is to foster a love for learning, build student confidence, empower students with basic learning strategies, provide concrete learning activities, and to develop the cognitive skills of knowledge, comprehension, and begin to explore application. The focus of our preparatory and mastery classes is to build on that foundation, teach scholarly skills, and develop the cognitive skills of analysis, evaluation, and synthetic creation. All learning activities are designed around these developmental learning goals. (No "busy work" here.)
What curriculum does SDLAA implement?
At SDLAA, we create our own curriculum rather than rely on text books or packaged curriculum. We may use text books and other resources to supplement students' learning, but the learning objectives of any course and the methodologies implemented are aligned first and foremost with our educational philosophy. All SDLAA teachers contribute to the creation of curriculum for their classes. This ensures that each teacher knows and loves what he or she is teaching.
What is liberal arts education?
Liberal arts education integrates all learning to focus on thinking rather than content memorization. Our teachers seek to pull in learning from all sources, regardless of whether it strictly fits into the "subject". We do not believe that learning can occur in isolation. The deepest learning occurs when students make connections, and our teachers seek to facilitate such connections. We implement teaching strategies modeled by great institutions such as Oxford University, such as small-group collaboration, Socratic Seminars, and integrated projects.
What about Common Core?
SDLAA recognizes parents as the highest authority on their own children, and we work directly with parents to provide the education their children need to develop personal genius. Many of the learning activities in SDLAA classes meet Common Core Standards, but our primary goals are the developmentally appropriate learning objectives described above. There is much misunderstanding surrounding Common Core. Simply put, it is a set of generalized learning objectives and does not dictate content or teaching methodology. These general objectives allow us to meet standards on paper as required by the many charter schools, while still meeting the individual learning and developmental needs of our students. SDLAA does not administer standardized tests, nor do we design learning activities to align with any standardized tests. However, as a result of developing learning strategies and critical thinking, many of our students perform well in a variety of testing situations. One of our roles is to provide a bridge between families and their charter schools, supporting families in fulfilling requirements while obtaining a quality, individualized education for their children.
How does SDLAA balance a solid academic foundation with individualized learning?
Our classes meet once a week, during which time students have opportunities to engage in collaborative learning activities carefully designed to achieve learning objectives. Parents follow up at home with additional teaching, individualized for the needs and interests of their student. In this way teachers and parents work closely together to provide fundamental learning that is also personalized for each student. Teachers seek after rich, quality content, but view this content as primarily the vehicle through which foundational learning strategies and later scholarly skills are developed, rather than an end in itself. Thus, when needed, individual students can substitute reading and other source material at home and still participate fully in class activities.
How does SDLAA teach a range of ages and ability levels together in the same class?
We believe that peer collaboration is a powerful key to unlocking individual learning and genius. Many of our class activities are done in small groups, with a mix of ages and abilities. This allows all students to be more engaged in the learning activity as well as receive support in a low-pressure environment. For example, a student who is overflowing with creative ideas is not hindered by a weakness in reading or writing, as another group member can serve as scribe. This also builds students' confidence in their ability to learn and make a meaningful contribution to a peer group. We accommodate a wide range of ages and abilities through individualized at-home assignments. Over the years, SDLAA has successfully included students with various special education needs, including Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Autism, Asperger's, Turrets, auditory and visual impairments, and more. Communication is key between parents and teachers, to create a positive learning experience for each student.
What do our families think about our program?
"We have taken several classes now from SDLAA. This team loves teenagers and bring a very unique flavor to learning—all the classes have been engaging, well-planned and fun! Teachers are knowledgeable and well-educated in their respective fields, seasoned with youth, and are approachable by parents. There has always been a strong communication each week regarding assignments, upcoming assignments and a recap for parents on what their youth have learned that day. Learning modalities are their specialty and they are willing to tailor learning to meet individual needs. We have been very pleased and can confidently recommend SDLAA classes."
"My 14-year-old daughter loves attending literature. They read wonderful books and have amazing discussions. She is always excited to go and has shown such growth over the course of the class. I have been very impressed with the way Amy implements videos and articles to get her point across. I highly recommend it. My daughter also loves going to Science class with Peter. She is always excited about their discussions and tells me everything she can remember about it when she gets home. This has been a great experience for our whole family."
"SDLAA is full of my kids' favorite teachers! Their project-based approach to education combined with their sincere interest in each student's success has helped inspire my kids so they look forward to class days. I have appreciated the quick response when one child is struggling with her chosen workload and their willingness to adapt assignments to be a better fit for her. My only complaint is that we didn't find them sooner! We absolutely love SDLAA!"
"I love these classes!! I've taken them every year since I started homeschooling, and not once have I wanted to stop :) They aren't just teachers; they become your friends. They always bring a fun (and often quirky) viewpoint to the room, and are my favorite teachers I've ever had! Even my mother admits it ;) Not only do you learn about whatever the main subject they're teaching is, on any given day you could learn about pop culture, geek culture, a new movie review, a random thing about dance, or a cure for cancer! The end projects are fun, and boring lectures are few and far between - if they even ever happen. I love the people, the teachers, the classes, and would recommend them to anyone and everyone."