Sunday, June 28, 2015

Learn Like a PIRATE: Peer Collaboration

Section 2 of Learn Like a PIRATE by Paul Solarz is the heart of the book and where the author discusses the six characteristics that promote student leadership in the classroom.  Peer collaboration is the first characteristic, which Solarz considers to be the cornerstone of a student-led classroom.

True collaboration causes us to think differently, access information that otherwise would have been missed or ignored, and combine ideas to come up with solutions to problems.   
(Solarz, p.38)

My Take-Aways for Peer Collaboration
  • Fostering a collaborative classroom community is important for creating a student-led classroom.  The author gives many examples in the book and reminds us that this is not something that happens overnight.  Creating a collaborative community, just like a student-led classroom, must be intentional and done in small, incremental steps.

  • One strategy for empowering students to lead in the classroom is the "Give Me five" strategy.  This allows students to interrupt the class so they can direct, lead, and teach their peers.  Solarz gives specific examples and suggestions for how to teach students to use their power wisely.  In the intermediate and middle school classrooms, I have always included peer teaching, but I have been the one to structure and encourage it. Even in the primary classroom, if I observe that groups are struggling as they are working on a task, I may interrupt the class and have one of the the groups share a question with the rest of the class IF I think the whole class could benefit.  In a student-led classroom, the group would have that "power" and would initiate a "Give Me Five".

  • Active vs. Passive leadership- Active leadership is when someone speaks, teaches, or directs others and expects that they will follow.  Passive leadership happens when someone leads by example or when someone chooses to follow those in active leadership.  In a student-led classroom, students are to be both active and passive leaders.  In both situations, it is all about respect.  Although this is a more complex concept, at the primary level this can be achieved during partner reading, a center activity, or even in a small group where students are working together either independently or with the teacher.  We have all had students with a natural ability to lead.  I can think of a few students who would take the initiative to distribute or collect books and materials for small group reading.  I have had other students who do not feel comfortable in an active role, but are great passive leaders, especially during a partner activity.

  • Partnerships- I especially like the idea of Responsibility Partners where two students can be paired together randomly or by student choice.  These students come together before, during, and after while working on an independent project such as writing.  The author provides great detail on how to use these pairs in your classroom.  Basically, the partners hold each other accountable for understanding the task, staying on-task, and completing the task correctly.  Worried about student conflicts?  There is a section on classroom management strategies.  Choose Kind is one such strategy the author recommends.  The phrase comes from the popular book Wonder by R.J. Palacio, which by the way, is an excellent book to use with your intermediate or middle school classroom when teaching about empathy and when building your classroom community.  In Choose Kind, students are reminded that they cannot always get their own way. To choose someone else's idea or method over your own is being kind and thinking about someone besides yourself.  Let the other person have their way!

This is good stuff, isn't it?  The rest of the chapter is filled with interesting ideas for classroom meetings, more about teaching empathy, and the right kind of competition.

How do you encourage peer collaboration in your classroom? Leave a comment so we can share ideas!

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