Sunday, June 21, 2015

Learn Like a Pirate Book Study: Why A Student-Led Classroom is Critical

Happy Summer!  One of my favorite things about summer is that the pace slows, and I have time to dig deep into some professional reading.  As I wrote about last week, I am in the midst of reading Learn Like a PIRATE by Paul Solarz.  You can read my reflections of section one, Student-Led Classrooms, here.  Before moving on to section two, I thought I would share my thoughts and research about why a student-led classroom is so very important for learning in the 21st century.

Actually, if I go back to the 1990's when I was a middle school ELA teacher and reading specialist, student-led activities and active learning were a huge part of our curriculum and teaching expectations. In 1991, my first year at the middle school level, my school district implemented performance based assessment.  In addition, our high stakes tests were performance based and had parts that were collaborative in nature.  So, our daily instruction in the classroom included lots of active learning, peer collaboration, and student-led activities.  Although much has changed in education, some best practices such as portfolio assessment, differentiated instruction, student-led conferences, to name a few, have stood the test of time.

Although I have never had a classroom that was exclusively student-led as Mr. Solarz writes about in Learn Like a Pirate, I have used many methods, activities, and a classroom structure that were child-centered and included and emphasized a student-led classroom.  Whenever I have worked with a class toward a student-led environment, they have never ceased to amaze me!  

Why is a student-led classroom so critical to learning?

  • When students take on the role of the teacher, they personalize their learning and have invested ownership in their learning.  If you have ever used Reciprocal Teaching successfully, you have witnessed this first hand.  I first used Reciprocal Teaching when leading small groups in grades 6,7,and 8 with the Soar to Success reading intervention program.  In short, students take turns being the teacher in a small group setting using four active reading strategies. They take an active role in their reading comprehension and meet in a small group for discussion.  Once you have modeled and after using a gradual release, student groups are functioning independently with some teacher-led direction.  Even my most struggling readers embraced this chance to be the teacher and "shine" as the expert for their reading strategy.  You can read more about Reciprocal teaching here and here.

  • Students need to become risk-takers, make creative decisions, and learn to work well together.  In a teacher-centered classroom, learning and creativity is stifled.  When the teacher isn't center stage, a classroom conducive to active learning can blossom and thrive.  But why is active learning so important? Many of us spent our entire school careers in a passive learning environment and seemed to turn out ok, right?  This was indeed the case for me, even through most of my undergraduate work. It's a good thing I was a motivated student, but I wonder how much more I could have learned and how much more I would have enjoyed school!

Something I haven't mentioned yet about Learn Like a Pirate is Solarz's use of QR codes that are sprinkled throughout the book. I'll talk more about this next week when I reflect on Section 2, but the above graphic was included in a QR code.  See where active learning is?  Can you relate to this yourself as a learner?  I know that I can!  In fact, that is one reason why I am part of a collaborative blog (Adventures in Literacy Land) and why I have chosen to use my blog to reflect on my professional reading. These opportunities allow me to collaborate with other teachers from all over the world! Writing about what I read helps me to process information and to really dig deep into application.  And, it is in the application of what I am learning (the theory, if you will), that will really solidify my learning.  Our students are no different, no matter their ages!

  • The more students are engaged, the more they will be motivated and understand the material, concept, lesson.  We as teachers use active learning to engage our students and it is through active learning that we start to move more from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom, and then eventually to a student-led classroom.

I think it is important to remember that Solarz states in the book that teachers of primary students can use portions of the strategies discussed in the book.  Obviously, a second grade classroom is probably not ready (for many reasons) to dive into an exclusively student-led classroom.  However, any time we involved students in their learning, we are setting students up for growth, risk-taking, and effective learning.

One of my goal's in this book study, is to think, reflect, and plan ways to implement more student-led strategies into a K-2 classroom.  I have used Think-Pair-Share, Literature Circles, Editing Buddies, Partner Reading, project learning, and centers where students were independently working, and other collaborative activities, as I am sure you have.  But how many times have I been too controlling, micro-managing my little learners?  How much as I talking versus the time students are talking and discussing?  Who is doing most of the work?  Who has most of the responsibility?  

One little nugget of wisdom that has stuck with me after all these years teaching is that the one doing most of the work is doing most of the learning.  I want that to be my students!

Join me next week as I share my reading from Section 2:  Learn Like a PIRATE:  Peer Collaboration.

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  1. Passive learning produces passive people that are risk averse, and that have been trained to memorize a topic only sufficiently to recognize the correct answer in a true/false test, or in a multiple choice test. Such students can parrot the data without understanding the topic. For a few days. Then even the ability to parrot the data has faded.

    Performance pressures in passive learning environments tends to cause people to grow up to be conservatives instead of liberals, too.. For what that is worth...

  2. Thank you for an excellent article that confirms what I have long suspected.

    My own public education experience was nearly 100% top-down passive learning... Sitting in mandatory classes whether interested or not, and being spoon fed facts by a teacher. Then being tested with answer recognition type tests. So students did not need to understand the information they were told. It was sufficient to merely recognize the same thing that the teacher had said in a multiple guess test, or in a true-false test. Students were not required to learn to THINK.

    Passive education produces passive adults.

    The PERFORMANCE PRESSURES placed on students by parents, teachers, and peers causes half of the students to suffer greatly, because grading on the curve ensures that half will be below average... Causing feelings of "I'm not good enough." "I'm a failure." "It's no use even TRYING." Such kids grow up to be risk averse, ignorant, and fearful... CONSERVATIVES.

    The above average students end up with an OVER-INFLATED ego, thinking that they are perfect, good enough... Yet many of those are ALSO afraid to take a risk, and end up being seen as a failure. CONSERVATIVE, again.

    If the goal of public education is to produce free and independent creative thinkers, it is failing miserably.

    If the goal of public education is to produce conservative patriotic drones that know just enough to be good little factory workers and soldiers and taxpayers, and conservatives, it is succeeding very well.


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