What's in a Badge?
Sending your child to Acton Academy Lincoln means that they’ll be developing skills that can’t be easily quantified — things like self-management, self-governance, character, high-level communication skills, learning how to learn and taking opportunities to dive deeply into areas of your greatest passions and gifts.
Badges (rather than traditional grades or report cards) are a way to showcase this work. It is their most important function.
Additionally, badges at Acton allow us to translate accomplishments into a traditional transcript so that our learners can compete with their peers in “college prep” environments if they so choose.
Check out this quick 2-minute video to see what a group of learners at Acton main want parents to understand about badges!
HERE IS A PARENT’S “CHEAT SHEET” TO BETTER UNDERSTAND THE BADGE SYSTEM AND PHILOSOPHY AT ACTON:
So… what is a badge?
While the size and scope of the complete badge plan varies in size & scope from our Spark Studio to our upper studios, the basics of a badge itself doesn't change!
Think of it as a long-term effort focused on a particular discipline. Each badge is a process. There’s a large quantity of work to be completed (usually broken down into a number of "challenges") and a process in which that work is reviewed several times by several people. (This review process becomes more important and a lot more intense in the upper studios!)
In traditional academic language, a badge is comparable to completing a course. But, instead of getting a grade, a badge is awarded only when excellence is achieved.
How is a badge earned?
We are a competency-based learning environment. Mastery is the goal. Lions work until they master their learning goals. Then, they progress to the next level. If a badge is not completed, the grade is “Incomplete.”
This is why (especially in the upper studios) that last sprint to compile their work after completing the requirements of a badge is so critical to the Lions. It is the final step and is the proof of their hard work.
And this is where our parenting support comes in most fruitfully.
The place where we can give the most encouragement to our children is in the compilation stage of the badge experience.
For example, when all the required work for a badge is done, the badge is not yet achieved. It must be compiled and submitted. Ask your Lions about whether or not they’ve planned time to compile this work for badge approval; then check in on their progress; ask if they are excited about the work or worried they missed something. Finally, celebrate the hard work of compiling the badge.
What about transcripts?
Translating the work of a completed badge into traditional course content is necessary and is part of our learning design. For example, a traditional school’s “English 9” in high school equates at Acton to 6 communication projects, 4 deep books and 1 No Red Ink badge (yes - that's 11 badges!). Each Lion at Acton has a badge plan that clearly maps out a learning plan that far exceeds the core requirements of high school graduates for acceptance to competitive colleges.
To be clear: At Acton the completion of a badge = mastery = A.
What's more, if a college admissions officer were to ask to see the work behind a letter grade on a transcript, our learners would have the opportunity to truly shine!
Beginning in the Adventure Studio, each Lion begins creating a portfolio - a collection of excellent work from each and every badge achieved. This work goes above and beyond what is required from traditional courses in middle schools and high schools across America.
What else do Badges show?
Unfortunately, the most important accomplishments at Acton such as Apprenticeships, Leadership, Project Management and Quest Creation don’t translate easily under traditional academic subjects like Math, Science, History and English, but badges present an important way to both see and celebrate this kind of growth.
In order to move up (to the next studio or to graduate), every Lion at Acton is expected to earn a certain set of badges. This "badge plan" covers traditional academic subjects (For example they might have badges for reading drawers, badge books, Khan or Beast Math) but it also includes a certain set of quest badges, leadership-focused badges and various other types. This means that some badges have very straightforward requirements (for example - complete the yellow reading drawers or achieve 100% Mastery of Algebra on Khan) but others are more nuanced - Lions might need to earn a certain average of weekly points over the course of a session, be elected to a leadership position, or lead a certain number of discussions. (In our studios using Journey Tracker, all of this is spelled out in detail in each individual badge!)
At Acton, we don’t believe that everyone must do this at the same pace or level. We know that it will take a unique amount of time and growth for each person to be able to hit these standards. But we believe that every child is a genius, and fully capable of doing the work in order to earn more freedom. That’s what Acton is all about.
Progress in each of the learning categories (learn to learn, learn to do, and learn to be) will be reflected in every Lion's badge plan. In addition, all learners work within a badge plan that typically spans 2-3 years of work. This approach offers choices and empowers them to work more effectively at their own pace. It also helps eliminate the illusion of “I am done with all of my work” - there's always the next thing to move on to!
Badges are about excellence and taking the time to unlock true potential!
Some people believe that instead of requiring every learner to complete the same amount of work with the same level of quality, some should be allowed to do less work and lower-quality work. But what this mindset is really communicating is that ‘You are incapable. You are lesser. You aren’t required to do this because we believe you can’t do it.’
According to this idea, if a learner struggles with math, or has a lot going on outside of school, or says they are a ‘bad writer,’ or just doesn’t care, they shouldn’t have to do the work required of others. Let's face it, in today's public school system, you can essentially go through middle school and high school turning in poor work or doing very little work at all and still graduate.
But this is not how the real world works. If we want to be prepared for our true Hero’s Journeys, we cannot be accustomed to being pampered or making excuses. In the real world, success depends on getting the job done well. You have to be willing to work hard and hit standards. Results matter. Badges and badge plans allow us to both hold extremely high standards for our community while at the same time recognizing that individuals develop at different rates.
By Laura Sandefer
This blog post was originally post on Laura Sandefer's blog - On Being an Acton Parent - and adapted for our use here at Acton Lincoln.
Current Families are encourage to check out/ take on the Leonard Mastery Badge for a deeper look at Mastery based learning: