Learning How to Learn
The Concept School students benefit from smaller, more personal learning environment
by Jocelyn Murray

Everyone has had that moment in grade school when they had a question in class, a moment of clarification needed, yet were too intimidated by their peers, teachers or curriculum to raise their hand or ask for help. Problems such as these arise all too often for students, regardless of their academic level or achievements. And, it is from this moment that many find themselves immersed or even lost in this system, resulting in a variety of negative effects including misunderstood material, unprepared class promotion and, of course, failed tests and classes.

However, schools such as The Concept School in Westtown, are changing the education experience for students, catering to those who flourish in smaller class sizes. “Most of the students that come to The Concept School have fallen between the cracks,” explains school director Jim Symonds. “These are the kids who benefit the most from a small class environment.”

While many public and private schools have standard curricula and methods of teaching, The Concept School uses differentiated learning methods and learning profiles to cater to the individual needs of students to identify what work best for them.

“We follow state-mandated curriculum, but we’re able to adapt that curriculum to suit each student’s learning style,” Symonds says. “We differentiate instruction in all our classrooms and, when the need arises, we can work individually with the student.”

With class sizes no larger than eight students, this individualized teaching allows students and teachers—through a variety of teaching methodologies—to focus on students’ weaknesses in different subjects, allowing them to constantly move forward with their strengths while receiving the proper assistance in areas in which they need more help. “One of the things that is imbedded into our program is the idea that students need to learn how to learn,” says Symonds. “We use different methods depending on how they learn best. We find that the best way for them to learn is if they are interested.”

To enhance the success of this structure, each student also has his or her own learning profile, a document in constant revision as students move through each year of education, evaluating their continued progress so teachers can determine the next best course for each. In turn, instead of keeping students in their classes according to grade or age, throughout the lower school (grades five to eight) and upper school (grades nine to 12) a student will be placed in a class according to his or own ability, resulting in classes of mixed ages to help each student learn best at his or her own pace.

Symonds finds this to be one of the keys to the success of The Concept School. “It may take a student longer to master a certain skill, and we allow for that before they move on to the next level,” he says. “We think that’s really important because that’s kind of what happened to them in their previous experiences; they were passed over and promoted, put into another class without mastering the skills, and they found that they we lost.”

With these specialized aspects of the education process, students are able to feel more relaxed in their learning environment. “The teachers really get to know the students,” explains Symonds. “Almost every kid that comes in here has had a bad experience in school and so gaining their trust and building confidence, understanding their learning difference is really crucial for their educational success.” 

An added distinction of the school, in addition to the state-mandated curriculum, is the curriculum driven purely by student interest. Not only does this mean that the students help teachers decide the most effective methods of learning, but the classes that are offered to them each year change based on their interests. A small but devoted team of six teachers and support staff enables the school to offer a variety of elective classes for students—including astronomy, mythology, probability and statistics, world cultures, world religions, etc.—that can be determined according to their popularity, with teachers being certified in a variety of areas.

However, the focus of the school is not only on progressive academic achievement, but also on developing social skills. Because so many students feel intimidated by a larger classroom experience, they often need assistance in developing their interaction skills with their peers—something that The Concept School intentionally builds in the classroom. In doing so, not only do the faculty and staff at The Concept School encourage interest and progress in learning, but they also facilitate this in a way that caters to the unique social needs of each student.

The Concept School
1120 E. Street Road
Westtown, PA 19395
Phone: 610-399-1135
Web: www.theconceptschool.org