Learning to Learn

The focus at The Village School is on building the skills and mindsets of a self-directed learner. 

The first year or so at TVS involve a young person learning how to learn.  For each studio, these starting points look different. In Spark Studio, it starts with learning how to do something as simple as staying focused for 10 minutes on a task or participating during circle time. In Discovery Studio, it looks like learning how to set smart goals consistently, or how to navigate the systems in a learner-centered studio.  In Adventure Studio, it looks like learning how to manage your time, or learning how to give and receive meaningful feedback. 

These are the things a young person is learning in their first two years in a self-directed learning community such as ours: 

  • Developing a growth mindset/(vs fixed mindset)
  • Learning how to respond to failure/mistakes 
  • Learning to take responsibility for their choices 
  • Learning to give and receive feedback from peers
  • Learning how to hold their peers accountable
  • Learning how to participate in discussions productively
  • Learning to work well with peers on group learning activities 
  • Learning to regulate emotions
  • Learning to advocate for themselves and others
  • Learning to set goals for a day, then a week, then a session
  • Learning to organize their belongings and their work
  • Learning to track their work accurately
  • Learning which systems to use when
  • Learning to operate a laptop
  • Learning to navigate their learning without it being micromanaged by a teacher

These are real-world skills that take a lot of real-world experience to master. 

But in order to learn these skills, they have to take a lot of missteps. These “missteps” can look like avoiding work, distracting others, or searching out loopholes. This is the “pushback” phase. Which boundaries can I push? How much freedom do I actually have? What will happen when I use my freedoms irresponsibly? Exploring and experimenting with these questions is a natural part of learning how to learn. It’s an essential component of truly seeing and understanding the connection between your freedom and your responsibility, which is critical to taking the reigns as a self-directed learner. 

As a community in our fifth year, I can quite clearly see the trajectory of a young person’s learning journey at The Village School- especially at this time of year. Learners are more comfortable with each other. The studio environment and its rhythm are familiar and predictable. Everyone knows what to expect and can easily navigate the studio systems. 

Look closely and you can see two distinct groups of learners at work in the studio. You can see the group of returning learners who have been through that pushback phase. They have failed, missed deadlines, and experienced the natural and logical consequences of their choices. They see the throughline between their freedom and their responsibilities. They are (for the most part) focused, intentional and disciplined, setting and achieving the goals they set for themselves, contributing to studio life, and kindly and firmly holding themselves and others accountable to their studio promises. 

You can see another group of learners, many of whom are in their first or second year at The Village School, who have not yet been through this phase. They have diligently followed the studio promises. They have tried their best to please the guide, their parents, or other more seasoned learners in the studio. Up until now, they have spent their time getting comfortable in a learner-centered environment. And now that they are in fact comfortable, they are ready to explore the limits of their freedom. These learners are often distracted and bold, or silly and unfocused, pushing back on some of the promises they made in September and seeing what happens. 

It’s important not to miss this part. This is the good part. Each learner will make choices and experience the natural or logical consequences. Some of them will feel good,  (Yay, I earned a badge!) and some of them will feel not so good (Ugh, I kept talking and had to leave the discussion circle). Through experience and reflection, every choice is an opportunity for learning how to learn. It’s what our learning environment is designed for. This is the foundation that will allow them to thrive as self-directed learners in our community and beyond when they set out to navigate the new world we now live in.

These are the skills of a life-long learner. They don’t develop overnight- nothing important really does.

Taking Play Seriously

Play is the ultimate teacher, isn’t it? Children can learn just about anything on the playground; how to interact socially, what their bodies can and can’t do, even how to read and write. Play is an essential component of social and emotional development.

But what happens if play doesn’t yet come easily to a child? Perhaps they are unsure how to approach a new group and feel excluded by others. Or, once they make friends, they have trouble sharing their ideas or incorporating those of others. It can be unsettling–even downright distressing!

Play and social interaction are among the most complex things we explore at the Village School. Part of learning to live together is learning to play together. But play can’t be “taught” with books and circle time discussions (though those can be helpful tools for troubleshooting). Rather, play has to be tried, tested, tweaked, and tried again. So at TVS, we play, and play, and play some more!

The pandemic took away so many opportunities to play with others. Many children are still catching up. In recent years we have seen more tentativeness and anxiety around play, especially when a learner first arrives at TVS. 

To counter this, we talk a lot about taking turns, voicing a desire to play, and including everyone in the studio. Whenever guides or other learners see a lonely-looking child, they gently ask how they are feeling and help them figure out what they would like to do next. They often invite them to play or give them space, depending on what they prefer. 

Sometimes learners need more help. If two of them disagree all the time on the playground, guides might group them together to collaborate on a fun project so they share positive experiences. And as this Pedagogy of Play paper points out, what is playful to one learner may not be experienced as playful by another. We frequently revisit the ways to know someone else is having fun.

Occasionally, when nothing else works, we get a little metacognitive. One learner came to Spark last year and spent weeks trying to fit in on the playground. They yelled to be heard, fought over toys, and or declared that they were no longer friends with so-and-so because they were “so mean.” Despite our best efforts, other learners started to exclude them to avoid these angry outbursts.

We took one of the more senior learners aside and said quietly: “We need your help. Our new friend is still learning how to play. We can teach them! If you tell them how they can play so that you both can have fun, I wonder how their actions will change?”

She got the message. In ten minutes, the veteran learner had a quick huddle with the new learner, left her original group of friends, and the two spent the rest of the afternoon playing restaurant. It wasn’t necessarily smooth sailing from then on, but this was a significant turning point for that learner.

There are countless other ways we coach learners to learn the more difficult lessons of play:

“I hear you say you are feeling left out. I wonder what would happen if we went to ask them to play? I can go with you.”

“They said no? Hmm, I wonder why they said that. Let’s go talk to them together and try to figure this out.”

“What do you think we could do differently so that everyone has fun?”

“Do you want to join in on their ‘family’ game or would you rather find someone else to play football with you?” 

All this to say, navigating play, friendship, and learning to live together is a TVS signature learning experience that sets us apart from most schools. Rather than outsource “social emotional learning” for a 15-minute lesson once a week, we intentionally include long periods of playful learning experiences and unstructured outdoor free time every day. We also walk to the park and library once a week and go on frequent field trips. These present countless opportunities to interact. There’s no better way to teach social skills than by diving in and trying them out. The opportunities are well worth of everyone’s time, energy–and yes, a little uneasiness–to get right!

Session 5 Sneak Peek

Spark Studio

How can we celebrate individuals of the past who’ve made a positive impact in the world while looking towards future leaders of tomorrow? We will start the session learning about people, places, and things that have positively contributed to our society. Learners will examine the choices these individuals made through stories and artistry. Learners will discuss how their choices have guided the outcomes of the world.

Learners will then research an artist, pioneers, or an entrepreneur who inspires them. We will document their journeys, create autobiographies of learners’ future selves, and dress like these innovators of tomorrow. Learners will also create a business plan which will highlight the problem they would like to solve, the one main idea they will create to solve it, and how to inform the targeted audience about the product or service. 

Learners will explore different states in the USA and countries of the continent of Africa. In some cases, they will hear about a problem faced by that place, look at the available resources, and think about ways to improve the situation. In projects this session, learners will plant food and flowers, design a state of their own, and make a no-sew stuffed animal.

These projects will help learners see and celebrate themselves as part of history as they act as makers of their future.

Discovery Studio

In the Making Space for Change Quest, Discovery learners will work in teams to redesign a local public space to be more sustainable. We will start the session learning about what sustainability means. Learners will then explore different sources of renewable energy, water management practices, and building materials before determining the most important sustainable design principles for their public space. Learners will then create a model of a local public space that they have redesigned to use resources more responsibly. 

In Writer’s Workshop this session, learners will learn more about young people who are tackling some of our environmental and sustainability issues and dive in to the (not yet lost) art of letter writing! Learners will write a long, formal letter to an environmental trailblazer of their choice. In their letters, learners will express gratitude, find common ground, and try to seek a response. The goals of this Writers’ Workshop are to encourage learners to discover more about individuals who are making a positive difference in the world and to explore the different backgrounds and origins of these trailblazers in order to further understand that heroes come from everywhere- and can be any age!

Adventure Studio

Learners will jump into Session 5 with a field trip to the Lincoln & MLK memorial to launch the Session 5 Communications Challenge: I Have a Dream for My Community – a TVS Adventure Studio tradition. Learners will spend time researching issues that are important to them, studying the persuasive techniques of other passionate young people, and developing a ten minute speech. Learners will end the session by sharing their final speeches in front of an audience of our community in the Kennedy Room at the United States Capitol.

What does red hair, blue eyes, freckles, dimples, toes and ear lobes all have in common? The Genetics & Bioethics Quest will ask learners to develop a basic understanding of the biological concepts of genetics, as well as consider some of the greatest bioengineering ethical dilemmas of our lifetime. Learners will spend the first half of the session delving into 6 mini-genetics challenges focused on Mendel, Punnett Squares, Di-hybrid crosses and more. Each completed mini-challenge will earn learners additional argument time in the bioethics debate that will take place the last week of the session. 

These two projects will require learners to delve into research skills, hone their persuasive techniques, and step out of their comfort zone in several ways: developing arguments that challenge their own perspectives, or deliver a ten-minute speech in front of a crowded room. Each experience will prove to themselves that they are ready for the ultimate challenge that will come next – a real world apprenticeship. We’ll be cheering them on each step of the way – Adventure Studio, we can’t wait to see what you’ll do next!

Health & Wellness

“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” ~E.E. Cummings

Session 5 will be a time to embrace curiosity and what it means to have a growth mindset. Our study of “learning to be” will continue with learning to be curious about ourselves, our inner dialogue, our imperfections, who we are as learners, friends, and individuals in our community. 

Curiosity will be explored through questions about ourselves and the world around us. We will analyze the questions we have and embrace the unknown. We will also discuss curiosity vs. judgment and why this is an important tool to use today. Remaining curious when others express value differences is a life skill. We will discuss how we can remain curious in these difficult moments. 

Do you know whether you have a growth or fixed mindset? Did you know that there are several different types of mindsets? We will be reflecting on who we are when we face challenges and tough moments. What type of person do we want to be? How do we view our imperfections? What can we do to embrace who we are and see ourselves as a whole person? Imperfections and all! The learners will be challenged to embrace who they are and continue on their journey to discovering their value and how they make a difference in our world. 

Advice From a Self-Directed Learner

Over a year ago I partnered with a TVS learner, who is now an alumni, to write an article with the hopes of getting published in a well-known educational magazine that had a call for proposals focused on Self-Directed learning. Our purpose was to raise the voice of a young person, a self-directed learner, in a magazine full of what we assumed would most likely be adult voices. Despite the fact that we failed at achieving our goal, we’d like to think that the experience was still valuable: we learned about each other, we considered different perspectives, and, once again, we confirmed our belief that a self-directed learning environment is rich for all those involved.

Advice From a Self-Directed Learner

by Emy Fase & Elizabeth Dean

A self-directed classroom where students follow their own intrinsic passions and emerge as life-long learners is every teacher’s dream. Most teachers themselves would call themselves life-long learners. For many of us, seeking out our own learning opportunities is the best part of our job. We are constantly reading articles, buying new books, and crowd-sourcing inspiration on social media. What we often overlook is the most valuable source for professional learning is right in front of us: our students. When I wanted to know more about how to create a self-directed learning experience for my students, the first thing I did was find a self-directed learner and have a conversation. Conversations with my students have been some of the most meaningful learning experiences that I have had as an educator. When I have made the effort to really listen to how a learner experienced the learning process, I’ve learned so much more than I could from any book. The following is Emy’s response to the question: What should teachers know about what it’s like to be a self-directed learner? Emy’s response taught me – and can teach others – quite a bit about what it’s like to be a part of a self-directed learning community. 

I have been a self-directed learner for the past four years. My name is Emy Fase, and I attended a traditional school up until fifth grade when I became one of the founding learners at my current school. I’m currently 14 and am passionate about psychology, debating, and anything to do with history from books to fashion. I chose to switch to a self-directed school because at my old school I was doing fine educationally, but I was very reserved and needed to be in an environment where I couldn’t just hide in the crowd and would have to develop my voice. When I switched schools I was the oldest at my new school and had to leave my comfort zone and take on more leadership roles. My fourth-grade stomach churned at the idea of even speaking up when something was wrong, so If I told myself then that in 4 years I would be giving a speech at the senate building, I truly would not have believed that it would be possible. Over my four years in a learner-driven environment, I’ve watched myself, and others fail, succeed and grow. I’ve also seen what has and hasn’t worked in a learner-driven environment. So as someone who has been in both a traditional and a learner-driven school, here are three things all educators should know about what it’s like to be a student in a self-directed learning community. 

1. Everyone learns in different ways. During my time at a traditional school, I saw myself and many of my peers struggling with some of the work we were given. At the time I always just assumed the reason I was having a hard time was that the work was just too hard. Looking back, I realized that it wasn’t that the work was too hard, or that my peers and I weren’t smart. We were having a hard time because the tools being provided weren’t fit for our individual learning needs, because while the tools were right for some, they weren’t for others. In traditional schools, the curriculum is very one size fits all, which leads to kids who don’t learn in that particular way feeling frustrated and often with gaps in their learning. For example, everybody has to learn algebra, but not everybody learns algebra the same way, and everybody has to learn to read, but not all kids learn to read at the same pace or in the same ways, or want to read the same books. If you aren’t learning the right way for you, it will often leave you feeling frustrated and the information will only be remembered short-term, if at all. From my experience at a learner-driven school, being able to learn in a way that made sense to me, my overall understanding and interest in topics went up, and I found myself excited to go to school every day instead of trying to fake sick to get out of it. For all students to reach their full potential and enjoyment in learning, they need to be able to learn in a way that makes sense to them. 

2. Learning curves are real – and emotional. For many students switching to a learner-driven school, there’s usually a learning curve that takes a bit of getting used to. However, those learning curves aren’t always strictly academic. I remember when I first started out at a learner-driven school after being in a traditional school for six years. I had always been a very quiet kid, and switching schools was quite intimidating to me. For my entire first week at my new school, I didn’t talk to anyone. And in turn, I had no idea what I was doing, however by the next week, I had begun to open up, and with the help of my peers, we all slowly began to get in our groove and figure the new system out. My mom’s approach at the time was to let me be for the first few months while I adjusted. She didn’t ask to see my work or try to check in on my progress. To her surprise, when she finally decided to ask about halfway through the year I had been ahead of the track. Now, if she had decided to check in on me in that first month of being there, this would have been a completely different story, because from an outside perspective on that whole first month it would have appeared that I was making no progress. In reality, I was making progress, not on my designated work but on figuring out this new system, how I learned and how I could motivate myself. Learning curves can be very different depending on the person. Some could be a week, some could be months or even most of the first year. Some emotional, some academic, or some both. I haven’t only noticed this curve in my own experience, but my peers as well. After a few years, I became more aware of these starting learning curves in others. New students would often take a few weeks to a few months to adjust and figure everything out, and like me, would often get nothing done in those periods of time. But once they became comfortable with the new learning model and environment, they would quickly meet and exceed their initial learning goals. 

3. Community is key. One of my favorite parts of being in a learner-driven school is the community. Community is important to each class, because even when you’re teaching yourself, sometimes you still need others to fall back on! And when you have a strong community of learners, they are always there to lift you back up, and help you start going again. In a community of peers when there’s no teachers to intervene, everyone has to hold each other accountable, and when it’s coming from a learner similar to you, that feedback is often taken more seriously and helps everyone be their best self. Everyone always is able to connect with everyone through shared experiences, we’re all trying to figure out this learning thing ourselves, and together. Whenever someone was struggling with something, there was always someone willing to help them try to figure it out, because if you have a good community, everyone will want each other to succeed.

Trusting students is the throughline to all of Emy’s reflections – and believe it or not, for us adults, it might be the hardest part. Our country has a history of not trusting young people. It is no mistake that the United States is the only nation that has yet to ratify the most rapidly ratified treaty in the history of the United Nations, the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The CRC advocates for children’s rights, and specifically advocates to place trust in children as active decision makers and leaders alongside adults (United Nations, 1989). 

Over thirty years since the CRC was ratified, young people in our country face the most severe mental health crisis of a lifetime. Between reports of depressive episodes and anxiety screening for eight year olds, we face a national emergency (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2021; U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, 2022). Not to mention, students are leaving our schools more disengaged and disconnected to their learning than when they started (Quaglia, 2016). 

Despite the grim outlook, there is hope. Emy reminds us of all of the benefits of trusting students, and her experience is confirmed by research. When students are trusted in school they are more engaged in their own learning (Camino, 2000; Flutter & Rudduck, 2004; Rubin & Silva, 2003), report confidence in their mental well-being (Murphey, Lamonda, Carney, & Duncan, 2004), and believe in themselves to be a positive force in the world (Quaglia, 2016). 

Emy reminds us to trust young people to discover how they learn best, trust them to navigate the emotional aspects of learning, and to trust that often, young people can teach each other more effectively than we can. Learner driven spaces are built on trust – and so are healthy communities in and outside of schools. Emy and I challenge you to take the first step to creating a learner-driven experience: start a conversation. We recommend the question: What do you wish adults understood about what it’s like to be a student here? 


  • American Academy of Pediatrics. (2021). AAP-AACAP-CHA Declaration of a National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health. 
  • Camino, L. A. (2000). Youth-adult partnerships: Entering new territory in community work and research. Applied Developmental Science, 4, 11-20. 
  • Flutter, J., & Rudduck, J. (2004). Consulting pupils (1. publ. ed.). London: RoutledgeFalmer. Murphey, D. A., Lamonda, K. H., Carney, J. K., & Duncan, P. (2004). Relationships of a brief measure of youth assets to health-promoting and risk behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 34(3), 184-191. 
  • Quaglia Institute for School Voice and Aspirations. (2016). School voice report. New York, New York: Corwin Press. 
  • United Nations. (1989). UN general assembly, convention on the rights of the child.
  • U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. (2022). Screening for Anxiety in Children and Adolescents. https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org
  • Rubin, B., & Silva, E. (Eds.). (2003). Critical voices in school reform: Students living through the change (1. publ. ed.). London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Creating Self-Awareness: Cultivating Our Learners Inner Value

“We desperately need more leaders who are committed to courageous, wholehearted leadership and who are self-aware enough to lead from their hearts, rather than unevolved leaders who lead from hurt and fear.” – Brenè Brown

Learning to be is an essential pillar of The Village School’s Portrait of a Graduate. This session, our community has taken a reflective approach to understanding one of the important components of learning to be – self-awareness.  Self-awareness, as defined by CASEL, “is the ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. It also includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose.” With this definition in mind, we set out to better understand our emotions, the perspectives of others, our actions, our support systems, and the value each of us brings to the world.

Cultivating self-awareness in each of our studios looks and feels different when we account for the different stages of human growth and development. At TVS, we truly value that each learner, each studio, is in a different place in how we can nurture self-awareness. In Spark Studio, we began by making a connection to a recent emotional experience that many of our learners understood, fear. Our learners had recently felt fear before getting on stage for an exhibition performance. Many described “butterflies in their tummies” or were concerned that they would not remember their song in front of their parents. Some of our learners were too nervous to step on stage. We harnessed this moment as an opportunity to develop a plan for how to recognize fear within our bodies and create a plan for how to approach our fears. Developing self-awareness around this emotion supports our learners on their journey to being more mindful of how they are experiencing emotions, coping with those emotions, recognizing them in others, empathizing, and building a positive relationship with themselves and others.

In addition to identifying our emotions, becoming more self-aware means that we can recognize when change is necessary in our lives and discover ways we can progress towards change. This skill requires a person to be able to identify their strengths. In Discovery studio, we took time to reflect on our strengths, what each of us brings to our community that makes us feel connected to each other. Then, we built a strengths chain together. This project was full of excitement, hard work, and determination. The learners enthusiastically wrote down all the qualities they were proud of and helped each other build our chain. The chain hangs in our hallway so each of the learners can remember that they each have important qualities that they bring to create a thriving learning environment.

Towards the end of our session, all learners have been reflecting on values. This entails expressing gratitude to the important people in our life for supporting us in our journeys to becoming who we hope to be. Understanding our values and the values of others helps us to understand more about our emotions and actions. From this, the learners discussed their value, what each of them brings to the world that is unique and special. Each one of us has the capability to make a difference in our community, we just need to cultivate the self-awareness to be able to recognize it within ourselves and make steps towards creating the difference we want to make.

At TVS Learning is an Experience

“Learning is an experience. Everything else is just information.” – Albert Einstein

Published authors (and sisters!) share what it was like to write and publish a book while still in high school.

Learning at The Village School is an active experience that connects young people to the community in which they live and beyond. Since September we have invited over a dozen Community Partners and guest speakers into all three of our studios and taken over 9 field trips out into our resources-rich community to learn from experts in their own environments. 

Learners have welcomed entrepreneurs and experts into our school including guests from Breaking T, Wealth over Now, Sloppy Mamas, The Stark Lab, Headrush, and Northpond Ventures. Three published authors have spent time in our studios including two local teens who published their first book when they were still in high school. 

Learners have also ventured out into the community for a total of 9 (and counting!) field trips to the Natural History Museum, Hirshhorn Gallery, National Gallery of Art, the National Geographic Museum, The National Zoo, The Botanical Gardens, local nature preserves, and even the movie theater. In addition to field trips learners travel off-campus each week and head to the public library, the neighborhood park,  and who could forget the local ice cream shop for an end-of-session sweet treat. 

Adventure learners exploring the local community and all that it has to offer on the metro.

Experience is one of the three main pillars of the The Village School learner experience, and as you can see, we are loyal to our design. As our learners enter middle school, the experiences we create have an even broader purpose: to grow each learner’s individual social capital – or what we like to call, their “village.” Since the pandemic and the renewed focus on young people’s social-emotional health, the idea of a young person’s social capital has caught the attention of education researchers. 

The research defines social capital as “the resources that arise from a web of relationships which people can access and mobilize to help them improve their lives and achieve their goals.” In a recent virtual Town Hall hosted by Getting Smart, educational thought leaders and researchers discussed social capital as relationship mapping. The discussion focused on two questions: 

  • Do you know who your learners know? 
  • What if schools could authentically engage with all of the people learners already knew beyond the classroom? 

At The Village School we have always believed that young people are capable of more than the world gives them credit for, and our commitment to that belief is enacted through developing their social capital through our middle and high school Apprenticeship Program. The experience-based Apprenticeship program places trust in a young person to learn about themselves, explore interests, and develop passions through active participation in the world of work. A Village School high school graduate will leave our community with an expansive web of connections that reflects 7+ Apprenticeship experiences, and a sense of self and community support that will far exceed their peers. 

This session middle schoolers will be challenged to begin thinking about their own social capital and mapping their own relationships. Their goal will be to identify potential apprenticeship placements and arrange a job shadowing experience to walk in the shoes of a professional for a day. We challenge middle school families – and all of our families to consider the question: Who do you know who might help one of our young people discover their passion?

What makes Montessori unique in Spark Studio?

Imagine peeking into an early childhood studio window and seeing a learner working with tiny pitchers at a table. Your eyes focus as you watch blue colored water flowing from one pitcher to another on a miniature tray. As an individual looking in, you may see this pouring work and wonder if the learner is working. In fact, this practical life activity is work. Learners learn through manipulation of hands-on materials and through their experiences.

In our prepared studio lie materials that pique the learners’ interest. This is where they can build upon their foundation and plant seeds of greatness within themselves. The areas of the studio feature a plethora of Montessori materials that support the learning design. They embody key beliefs of how a learner can learn and grow throughout life. Montessori is unique as it promotes independence, social skills, and a sense of self and community.

As independence is being fostered in the learning environment, it provides the learner freedom to choose lessons that they would like on a given work. They work toward their goals of mastering a specific work. The knowledge gained from reading, writing, math, geography, and household activities helps learners to gain skills needed to live a competent life.

In preparation of cultivating a whole-child experience to live an independent life, learners are continuously reshaping their thoughts to other learners and guides. Many opportunities are available to perfect their social skills as they navigate the process of recognizing their individual needs. Sharing during morning launches, community meetings, and at outdoor play helps to nurture their innate ability of inquisitiveness.

As the year progresses in Spark Studio, learners become more aware of what they like to do, how to do tasks independently, and as a group. As they continue to practice a sense of self, they learn to take care of their environment. This leads to an increase in their awareness and pride as they are on their own paths of learning about themselves and the world around them.

In the words of Dr. Maria Montessori, “the education of even a small child, therefore, does not aim at preparing him for school, but for life.”

What is Self-Directed Learning?

If you google “Self-directed learning” you will get many different definitions- enough to make your mind swirl. As a learning community, we’ve settled on this definition, as we feel it encompasses our why and mission at TVS the best:

When learners—in the context of an interdependent community of peers, trained educators, and caring adults—choose the process, content, skills, learning pathways, and/or outcomes of learning, with the guidance, accountability, and support of others, in service of finding a calling that will change their communities and the world.

Institute of Self-Directed Learning (From “Self-Directed Learning: A Landscape Analysis“)

There’s a lot packed in this definition. It’s a good one. But what does it really mean? Does it get us any closer to understanding all that self-directed education is? All that it promises? What it actually looks like in practice?

Maybe. But, I think to really understand self-directed learning we have to ask the learners. Earlier this week, as we kicked off a new session of learning and a new year in Discovery Studio, this is exactly what we did. First, we asked: What does it mean to be a self-directed learner?

Then, they were asked: What is the best part of being a self-directed learner?

Finally, learners were asked: What is the hardest part of being a self-directed learner?

I don’t know about you, but seeing self-directed learning through the eyes and minds of the young people who are experiencing it directly, does make me feel closer to understanding what it actually is, what it looks like, and what it feels like.

In regard to what self-directed learning promises, I think their answers speak volumes. In their responses (in addition to what I see every day in the studios), I see and hear young people who exude confidence, self-awareness, a strong sense of personal responsibility and agency, passion, and curiosity- among many other things.

I also see an awareness that the very best things about being a self-directed learner are also the hardest. Freedom and choice are wonderful things, but wonderful things are often found on the flip side of easy. As they say, with great freedom, comes great responsibility.

But of course, just dig a little deeper and our learners could have told you that.

Session 4 “Sneak Peak”

Spark Studio

“Animals, we are doing this for you!”  -Spark Learner

At their end-of-session field trip to a nearby creek, Spark learners were excited to clean up plastic waste in the creek–even if it meant getting their feet wet! In session 4, they will expand on that passion for cleaning the environment and saving animals’ habitats. They will learn about how watersheds work, what kinds of animals live in the creek, and other ways to clean our creeks, bays, and oceans. 

Spark learners will also study the continent of Asia in Session 4. They will explore materials from Asia in the classroom, view videos, and hear stories from the continent, and have the chance to join a Saturday family field trip to the National Museum of Asian Art on February 4. They will also start a weekly science series, where learners do hands-on experiments with evaporation, rainbow making, and color mixing.  

Discovery Studio

This session, Discovery learners will step into the shoes of physicists, working through experiments, testing hypotheses, and completing physics challenges to learn about work and force. Learners will explore the six different simple machines, discovering how each type of simple machine makes everyday tasks easier to perform. They will end the session by learning about Rube Goldberg and making their very own Rube Goldberg machine!

The wonderings Discovery learners have about the animal kingdom will inspire this session’s writing workshop. Kicking it off with a trip to the National Zoo, learners will choose an animal to explore, research and write about. As an extension to their studies, learners will have the option of creating a scientific drawing of their animal to accompany their research. At the end of the session, Discovery learners will share their informative writing projects with an in-house gallery walk exhibit for Spark and Adventure Studios to explore. 

Adventure Studio

“What if, every time I started to invent something, I asked, ‘How would nature solve this?'” – Janine Benyus

Adventure learners will consider this question and more this session as they continue their quest to contribute to solutions to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with nature’s superpower: Biomimicry! Learners will use the expertise they built in Session 3 to continue their exploration of the solutions to some of our planet’s most dire problems that can be found right under our noses – in nature. Learners will take a field trip to the Botanical Gardens to explore examples of biomimicry, interview biologists working in the field of biomimicry from Villanova, UVA, and George Washington University, and create submissions to the Biomimicry Youth Challenge 2023. 

Biology will also inspire the Session 4 Communications Challenge, Biologist Biography. Learners will identify a current biologist whose contributions to their field are worthy of being documented. Learners will consider the great responsibility they have as writers, especially as writers of someone else’s story. Whose stories should we have more of in this world? What stories would make the world a better place? What can we learn about ourselves through the stories of others? 

The Session 4 Exhibition will feature final submissions to the Biomimicry Youth Challenge and inspiring Biologist Biographies. 

That’s the Community Spirit

As I reflect on Session 3, our time was filled with laughter, connection, reflection, and a strong sense of community. I set out with the goal of keeping things light and enjoyable, not profound but simple. What I found in each studio has been anything but simple. The heartwarming experiences lived through the lens of “healthy choices” were a testament to the community we hold so dear at The Village School.

During our last outdoor school day at Ms. Jenny’s, the Spark learners were given a task, to build a fire. Many learners had not had experience with how to build a fire, what to do, and what even goes into a fire to get it started. A few of our fellow experts, including an Adventure learner, stepped up to the plate. They shared how we needed to clean out the fire pit, what materials to gather, how to create a structure that would yield the best fire, and how to stay safe. Our experts gave each learner a job. Some learners gathered kindling, others shoveled, and a few enjoyed the role of leader, making sure everyone stayed on task. The goal was clear, if we wanted to enjoy something together, we all had to work to make it happen.

The result was a memory that will be enjoyed for years to come. Each learner was a part of our team. Each learner had a responsibility and worked hard to build something beautiful and enjoyable for all. We drank hot tea together around our finished campfire. This community building activity showed how the Spark learners have come to appreciate each other. Each learner is an important member of our community.

The Adventurers! Words cannot encapsulate the meaningful way in which we spent our last session together. During the Rite of Passage. Adventure learners hiked to watch the beautiful sunrise, enjoying hot tea and coffee together. The quietness of nature and the sounds of laughter filled the air as each adventurer wrote a quote of what they wanted to bring into the new year. On our hike back to the park, we tied our quotes to a tree, grounding our commitment to earth.

Then, it was off to the park to enjoy two activities meant to appreciate each other. Laughs were dominant as they had to work together to cross a field and identify missing objects, all while blindfolded! Their memories and communication skills were tested. The learners excelled at working together to figure out the missing objects. Walking together, well, they may have needed some guidance to make their way back to the starting point. Needing guidance did not take away from the happiness expressed through this team building adventure. There was a true sense of joy and gratitude expressed by each learner through their Rite of Passage.

The community in Discovery has been evidenced by their strong relationships. Rallying around those that need support is a common theme in the studio. When a learner is struggling, hurt, or upset, many (if not all) come to the rescue, offering ice packs, help, and advice. They are truly there for each other, always wanting to be a support to their fellow teammates. The bonds of friendship that have been created in Discovery are examples to our whole community of how to be there for each other, of how to show care in a time of need.

As we wrapped up session 3, we discussed goals for winter break. Formulating goals around the dimensions of health were not done in isolation. They worked together, bouncing ideas off each other, sharing what they noticed (in a kind way) about their fellow learners and what they could each work on. They also complimented each other, saying how they wanted to be more like their friend in one way or another. Discovery studio emulates what it means to work together as a community.

The experiences witnessed in session 3 were truly gratifying. Our studios have grown since the beginning of the school year. The foundation of community has been built and we can see this through their trust in each other, belonging, safety, and caring friendships. We can’t wait to see how the rest of our year together unfolds.