Saturday, July 25, 2015

Learn Like a Pirate in Homeschool: Part One

I had the best intentions.  At the beginning of the summer, I thought that reading two professional books and participating in on-line book studies would be completely doable.  You know how it goes: in early June summer is spread out way in front of you and the possibilities seems endless. And then I had a detour.  A huge detour that has consumed a lot of my time this summer.  That is, when I wasn't enjoying lazy days at the pool or park with my boys.  But, this detour is a good thing.  You see, at the end of June, I realized that I was finally healthy enough to homeschool my youngest son.  This is something we started two years ago, but then I got sick and two months into last school year, the youngest had to return to public school.

Now, back to Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz.  I devoured this book in about two days and was so excited to share my learning and how I planned to apply it to a primary classroom.  You can read a few of my posts here.  But then, with the beginning of July, I was spending my free time browsing curriculum and planning for my son's third grade year.  And even before I made the commitment to homeschool this year, as I was reading, I kept making applications and connections to parenting.  Parenting like a pirate!  Now, it is homeschooling like a pirate!

So, here are my thoughts for how I can be a pirate homeschool teacher and how my son learn like a pirate and take leadership over his learning even when he is schooled at home!

Peer Collaboration

Ok, so this one is a tricky one!  But, it just happens to be the one area of homeschooling that brings the most critical comments from others. Peer collaboration relates to socialization.  With my son being the one I am homeschooling, how in the world will he hone his peer collaboration skills?

Well, first a little background.  My son has Selective Mutism, which I have written about many times.  He will talk above a whisper at school.  He has never talked aloud, rarely participates in group discussions, and reading aloud is done in a soft whisper.  One of my educational goals is for Christopher to feel comfortable enough to talk with his peers (which he does, just not at school or with school friends) in an educational setting, whether it be in a homeschool co-op, at Sunday School, or back in public school.  We are taking one day at a time, one year at a time.  I agree with Paul Solarz when he states:

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 (p.38).

However, this is our long range goal that I need to scaffold over the next few years.  In the meantime, my son can practice expressing his ideas verbally to me, continue to use these skills when he is playing with friends or cousins, and start to be more expressive when with his peers in structured settings like Sunday School or in clubs.

That long range goal is not necessarily for this year, but by high school, I am hoping and praying that he will be able to collaborate verbally with his peers.  In the meantime, we take baby steps and practice at home and in other settings where he is comfortable and not anxious.  At home, he can still work on student leadership skills by having choice and voice in his education.  Lots of choice in where he learns (his workspace), what he studies, and projects and tasks that he will complete. 

 For example, at the beginning of August, we will study the Civil War, specifically the Battle of Gettysburg.  We took a day trip to Gettysburg, PA and toured the battlefields.  He was so intrigued that he said he wanted to learn more.  So will read Mary Pope Osborne's Civil War on Sunday, read informative books about the Civil War and Gettysburg, and complete a lapbook during and after his readings.  This was his idea.  He knows he learns best with active and creative activities, and enjoys creating and learning through a lapbook.

Improvement Focus vs. Grade Focus

This one is easy for me as a teacher, for just about everything is this chapter has me nodding my head and saying "YES!".  I will admit, it is a lot easier to focus on growth and improvement and not grades in a homeschooling situation.  I do not have to report grades in elementary school, but I do have to submit my son's learning portfolio for all required subjects and have a certified teacher (not me) evaluate my son's academic progress each year.  All of this is turned in to our local school district.

We can achieve this with the academic goals my son sets as well as the goals I have for him.  In our home, we discourage the "Practice makes perfect" mantra.  Instead, we say, "Practice makes better".  By writing long term and short term goals for the year, month, and day, we can steer the proverbial ship in the right direction.  And, he will have plenty of time for self- reflection and feedback from me.  For example, he is currently working on a lapbook for a state study of North Carolina and Emerald Isle where we vacation.  Along the way, I will not assign him a grade on the individual written pieces he completes.  But he will receive feedback during and after the completion of the lapbook.  Then, we will use this feedback to set a goal (e.g. a writing goal) for the next task or project.

Rigor is different for each student. ... I provide opportunities for students to find the rigor in our everyday work. Constant improvements, rather than mastery, is our focus  (Solarz, p. 88).


Paul Solarz's classroom philosophy is that students have equal power as the teacher in the operation of the classroom (p.107).  He states further:

I let them know they can do anything I can do (within reason) and they don't have to be asked or ask permission to set up the task. My expectation is that they identify what needs to be done, figure out the best way to do it, and then make it happen  (p.107).

When I first read this statement, I immediately thought of ways I could implement this at home with my two boys.  Specifically, I thought of how I can have them take care of our home and complete chores in this manner.  It's kind of like classroom jobs, except there are only two kids.  I want my boys to take charge and share the housekeeping and yard tasks with their father and me.  Hopefully, they will transfer and make use of these skills in their classroom and in other "real life" situations.

With homeschooling,there are many times during the day where my son can take charge and exercise his leadership and responsibility. Whether it is cleaning up the science experiment and getting the books and materials for math, or whether it is cleaning up after lunch, he can do much of what Solarz discusses in this chapter.  It's just in a smaller microcosm of the real world.  My hope and prayer is again, that he will use these skills when he is in other public settings, whether it is when he is at a friend's house or in a classroom.  One of his gifts is recognizing when things need to be done.  He can anticipate and prepare for and begin independently tasks that need to be completed.  Some of these are part of daily routines and rituals, while others are special and isolated.  In any case, I will continue to praise him and work off this strength of his and encourage collaborative responsibility along his learning journey.

So, those are the first three PIRATE characteristics and how they can be implemented in a homeschool environment.  Now, I realize that having only one students is a totally different classroom situation than you may be in.  I get it.  I really do.  I taught in the public and private schools for over 20 years and had my fair share of classes of 30+ students.  And Solarz gives so many ideas for how to implement this style of learning and teaching in his book. However, I still need to be as intentional as you when it comes to what I plan and how my little pirate learns.

What do you think?  Have you read Learn Like a Pirate?  How do you implement these ideas in your homeschool or classroom?  I'd love for you to share in comments!

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  1. Hey Lauren! First off, congratulations on your decision to return to home schooling your son. I'm so glad to hear you are feeling better! I want to say that reading your detailed explanation above has really helped me to see how "Learn Like a Pirate" can be implemented into a home school situation quite nicely! Thank you for that! I also LOVE your positivity! Quotes like, "Ok, so this one is a tricky one!" or "This is our long range goal that I need to scaffold over the next few years," really show how you WANT to make this philosophy work, even if it might be challenging at times!

    I wish that every teacher could read this blog post, because I want ALL teachers to reach for the stars and try to do what's best for their students! I want them to brainstorm what things are most important to them and rather than make excuses, set goals that are worth the effort in achieving! I can tell that you are the kind of teacher who is going to do that. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavor, and I look forward to reading your future posts!!! :)

  2. Hi Paul, I'm so honored that you stopped by to read and to write such an encouraging and kind comment! You have inspired me and grown me not only as a teacher but as a mom as well! I'm just in awe at how dedicated you are as a teacher and how you structure your classroom. I have a long list on my teacher bucket list both for homeschool and for when I return to the classroom including implementing Passion Time, ePortfolios, and maybe even Silent Day! Thank you so much for being so approachable, for writing such a game-changing book, and for your continued support and encouragement of teachers around the world! :-) Lauren

    1. I'm so happy we could connect! Thanks for all the kind words! Talk soon!!!

  3. I was led to your post by Paul's retweet. I was drawn in to your ideas about applying LearnLAP to a homeschool setting. As a former speech-language pathologist, my heart is drawn to improving Ss communication skills and interactions. I've seen digital tools, such as Today's Meet and Edmodo and Google Classroom, become wonderful tools for voice and empowerment of students who typically remain quiet, for whatever reason, in the normal routine of a classroom. It is so exciting to see how the dynamic changes as Ss who may previously have been seen as limited contributors, share their talents and ideas comfortably in online settings. I think this type of collaboration is really relevant to the world we live in, and may also be a supportive stepping stone for the goals you have for your son's oral communication. Hope you are having success in your LearnLAP journey. I appreciate your analysis and ideas for my own journey.

    1. Hi Jackie, Thanks so much for stopping by and for your thoughtful feedback! My son has been taking Homeschool Minecraft classes this year, where students are able to speak to each other using Team Speak. The first few classes, my son would not speak, but I am thrilled that just a month ago, he started talking to the other students and to the instructor. I would love to use Google Classroom, but it is not available to the homeschool community. Thanks again for your suggestions! :-) Lauren


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