Sunday, June 14, 2015

Learn Like A Pirate: What is Student-Led Learning?

Last summer I was immersed in Dave Burgess'  Teach Like a PIRATE.  What a refreshing and motivational read!  This is one book that sticks with you and the innovative ideas linger in your mind.  So, I was beyond thrilled when I saw that Learn Like a PIRATE had been published and knew that it would be at the top of my summer professional reading!  This book, written by teacher Paul Solarz, takes the pirate analogy and acronym to the next level: that of our students. More specifically, Solarz's focus of the book is student empowerment through the creation of a student-led classroom.  How can our students learn like a PIRATE?

I invite you to join me on my reading journey as I share my learning and reflect on my reading over the next month or so!

Although the student-led teaching technique is not new to me, implementing it in a primary classroom is.  During the 1990's I was teaching ELA in a middle school and later became department chair and then a reading specialist and literacy coach for the school. Throughout my tenure in this school district ( until 2005), cultivating a student-led classroom and using active learning strategies were encouraged and expected. 

Actually, what I did was incorporate activities and used teaching methods that allowed for some student control, but I have not fully handed over the reigns to the students.  I have done the same for students in grades 4-6 at the elementary level.  Some of the active learning techniques, strategies, activities I have used have been: literature circles and literacy circles where students have progressed beyond the task/role sheets and are fully independent from book selection to the end of reading performance assessment, book clubs, reader's and writer's workshops, independent study, Reciprocal Teaching, Jr. Great Books, and student-led conferences.  Book choice and writing topic choice are always a staple in my classroom. Having most recently been a  reading specialist with a focus on grades K-2, the constraints of time and an emphasis on intervention and remediation have limited my ability to offer student choice and voice in our classroom.  But that's ok!

So, after reading section one and reflecting, I guess the bottom line is that I have always been interested in a student-led classroom, and also that this old dog has a lot of new tricks to learn! Furthermore, I tend to use a lot of active learning activities with limited student ownership. The author specifies that teachers of third grade and above should have no problem with implementing his ideas. However, that does not mean that primary teachers cannot use a modified version of PIRATE learning.  That is, teachers can do what I have done and intentionally use activities and practices that give students choice and independence.  I have not finished the book yet, but my immediate thought is that the workshop approach, performance and portfolio assessments,the Four Blocks, and Daily 5, all include student-led components.  We shall see if my prediction is correct! 

                     Section 1 Highlights

  • Solarz defines a student-led classroom as "one in which students make decisions and choices throughout the day without consulting the teacher"(p. 9).
  • Teachers provide mini-lessons, provide feedback for students, and structure the lessons to meet curricular objectives.
  • Does this mean what students are running the "whole show" and that chaos erupts?  No, not at all!  To me, what this means is that the teacher is the guide, the facilitator and that students take ownership of their learning by taking control and  responsibility for their learning.  Learning is active, not passive.
  • Risk-taking is encouraged both for the teacher and the students.  Teachers model authentic ways to deal with roadblocks, detours, and failures.  All of which are real-world obstacles in life-long learning.
  • A spirit of collaboration prevails in the classroom among small groups and as a whole class.  This includes inquiry learning, performance assessment, and problem solving
  • "Students take on most of the responsibility in a student-led classroom.  Your job is to explain your expectations and provide students with opportunities to practice their skills" (p.16).
  • Subject areas are integrated, lessons are given only when needed, and nothing is taught in isolation. Time on task is maximized.  Teachers have the time and flexibility to observe, conference with individuals and groups, provide 1-1 teaching, and can handle an interruption (phone call or knock at the door) without disrupting the entire class.
  • As for the above, if you have successfully implemented the Daily 5 or used book clubs or Literature Circles, you can attest to this!  When small groups of students are working independently, you have time to provide meaningful feedback, observe groups and individual students, and provide reteaching to an individual or to a group.
  • Active learning is the most efficient and effective means of learning.  Solarz provides a detailed explanation of what active learning is and why it is vital for student learning.

Are you thinking, "Ok this sounds all well and good in theory, but what about teacher accountability and evaluation?".  At the end of section one, the author addresses this concern and explains how a student-led classroom relates to the Charlotte Danielson model for teacher evaluation.  It not only relates, but actually student-led learning is an expectation in this teacher evaluation structure.

There is so much more packed into section one.  No word is wasted.  I found every sentence to contain insight, information, and thought-provoking material!  
As I continue reading and sharing with you, I will continue to share my reflections. For me personally, my focus is to learn all I can about a student-led classroom and to evaluate and critique my teaching style, techniques, and practices from how I set up my classroom to the lesson plans I craft, to how I assess students.  
Throughout the next month or so, I will be sharing my learning and insights as I read through the book.  Whether or not you are reading or have read the book, I invite you to share your comments and ideas for fostering a student-led classroom!

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  1. Thanks so much for the very kind post Lauren!!! A huge smile appeared on my face when I read: "There is so much more packed into section one. No word is wasted. I found every sentence to contain insight, information, and thought-provoking material!"

    I look forward to reading about how you incorporate some of the #LearnLAP ideas into your classroom! Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us all!!! :)

  2. Paul, I am so honored that you stopped by little blog! I can't wait to read and study more of how to use your ideas with my little pirates! :-) Lauren


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