by Ari Frede, Head of School
Ancona students are better equipped for the future because they learn how to make a group really effective. After reviewing dozens of progress reports and observing classrooms to get a “slice of life” perspective of the school, I understand why students here are motivated to make important social change by working together.
Recently, I watched a 3rd grade lesson in mathematics. Students who hadn’t memorized the multiplication table (as I had in school) worked in pairs to try to solve unfamiliar multiplication problems, and then apply them to a ratio table. Students had different strategies to accomplish this. Faced with having to solve a multiplication problem, one pair of students doubled and added one more. Another used a number line. When they returned to the groups, they explained their thinking using a poster presentation. As a result of those discussions, the kids didn’t often change their strategies, but they did find the strategy that worked for them at their level of understanding, and they could see the strategies they might grow into as they developed deeper understanding. Had they been in my childhood classroom, that conversation would have been shut down so we could just move on to the correct answer.
Why does collaboration work? Students share their own perspectives and then resolve differences together through productive argument, like 5th/6th graders. They represented different groups competing for voting rights in a simulation of the Constitutional Convention caucus. Students also learn to explain phenomena, be critics, learn from others’ strategies, and listen to each other.
What begins at the preprimary level as learning how to get each other up the dome or around the ropes course through sharing ideas and teamwork develops into the passion to help each other make change and find the “we” that is more powerful than “I.” I’ve had groups of students lobby me to make changes or host special events at the school, and they do it by banding together, and then – taking it a step further – considering the school’s perspective.
This is true grassroots organizing. We aren’t teaching kids to compete with each other for the best idea or the right answer. We don’t say that one side wins and the other must lose. We only solve difficult things with teamwork. Ancona prepares kids for the real world by showing them the strength of learning from others, of asking questions and pursuing the deeper meaning. This is one way that process is at least as important as product: A high school student who can think of several ways to solve something is better equipped than the one who knows only the way she was taught in class.
And a citizen who can engage others in collectively contributing to solutions will lead us all to better neighborhoods and better futures.