Friday, June 12, 2015

Learn Like a Pirate {Common Concerns about Student-Led Classrooms}

After reading the first chapter of Learn Like a Pirate, I was revved up for transforming my classroom into an environment where students dare to take risks, challenge the parameters of traditional learning techniques, and invigorate my students to become independent learners and thinkers!!! To put it briefly, I was PUMPED! 

BUT….just how in the world I am going to do this? Aren’t there a boat-load of obstacles to letting your students lead the classroom? Um, hello??? What about the standards and teaching targets? What if they miss something? What if we run out of time? Good golly, I could loose complete control over those 25+ students!!! 

This may not work. For me, at least. 
Thankfully, Paul Solarz does a great job of dispelling many of the common concerns we have as teachers of letting go of the absolute control and learning to trust in the process. He confirms that “Worries about managing a chaotic classroom, adding more work to an already busy schedule, or watching students’ grades slip can make the shift (to a student-led classroom) seem risky”. But isn’t that worth it compared to having students who just don’t give a hoot and could potentially start demonstrating poor behavior?! 

I say, YES! Let’s get transforming!

Some of my biggest take-aways from this chapter are:
Controlling Cathies: Allow students to travel down a path of a wrong decision, let them learn from the mistake! Unless time prevents it, try not to interfere too much. 

Mistake Molly: Highlight your mistakes and use them as learning opportunities. Failure & mistakes are not embarrassing, they are an important part of the learning process. 

Too Much Tracy: Transformation and teaching/practicing expectations take time! Remind yourself and your students that new skills take time to develop…don’t give up!

Where to Begin Wendy: Not sure where to start? Me neither! Paul says to just start with expectations, discuss them with your class. Give tons of feedback and reflect on progress. Paul even tells us to allow our students to INTERRUPT….wheels screeching…WHAT??? Yep, give them the power to interrupt - obviously in a respectful way and you’ll need to talk about HOW to interrupt. 

Ain’t No Time for That Annie: How in the heck are you going to work this in to your day? You probably already maximize time-on-task, efficient transitions, and integrate subjects. But are you giving your students the right activities to let them work independently? Are they completely dependent on you to be at the front of the class in order to learn? If so, you’re gonna need to plan carefully, merge subject matter to maximize learning opportunities, step aside, and then monitor learning. When kiddos are continuously engaged and looking forward to the next activity, they don’t have the chance to act up when you have to talk to Ms. So & So when she walks in your class.

Pessimistic Patty: I’m sorry, but MY students aren't suited for this type of learning environment. Woah, woah, woah. Back up, you might be super surprised, even those younger kiddos (think K-2) can start taking control of their learning. Give them a simple task to do without the need of your help. Then build up responsibilities as they grow in independence. 

Only Extroverts Olivia: Some people may think that only extroverted learners can benefit from this type of setting. WRONG! With the right expectations and gentle guidance, even the shyest and wall-flowerish kids can learn how to take the helm of the ship and become strong leaders and risk-takers. ***Disclaimer: Please don’t try to change a child’s personality, just support them as they become more comfortable with the setting and thus will take chances at their own pace. 

Paul wraps up the chapter by highlighting the BENEFITS of a Student-Led Classroom that far outweigh any concerns I would have.
Increased Retention - because they are leading their own learning, they are remembering FAR more than if they just sat and listened. Plus, they learn important life skills (collaboration, leadership, self-discipline, problem-solving, etc.) on top of that!

Feedback Frenzy - when you aren’t wrapped up with teaching every moment of the day, you can provide valuable feedback as you walk around and observe student learning. And even if you’re working 1:1 with a kiddo, the class won’t fall apart because you’re not right on top of them. 

Teacher Evaluations - Do you worry that students may not perform perfectly when that highly-anticipated evaluation occurs? Honestly, I have! I’ve begged, bribed, and threatened! Not my finest hour! But really though, think about it, if your students are always actively engaged in collaborative learning groups, then it won’t matter that Principal Pete walks in with his clipboard/laptop. They won’t stop to stare at him, they won’t even notice him. And since you’re not the figure head at the front, they can’t give you wrong answers, they can only explore/investigate/challenge their and other’s thoughts. They’re taking charge of their own learning by actively participating, assuming responsibility of their own understanding, aware of the learning targets, and reflective on whether or not they are reaching said targets. All the while, you’re walking and talking around the room, giving feedback, helping those who might be struggling (pairing up kiddos to teach each other), and possibly targeting specific student needs. And let’s be really REAL, no principal is going to HATE that. 

Go read Chapter 2 if you haven’t already! This book is AH-mazing, y’all. 


  1. I absolutely LOVE your writing style Amanda! I'd like to use this blog post with my 5th graders next year as an example of a great reflective summary! You share what I've written in Chapter 2, and then you add what that means to you and how that may look in your classroom! I LOVE IT! :) Thanks so much for participating in the "Learn Like a PIRATE" book study! I look forward to your post next week!

    1. Oh my goodness, Paul! Thank you for writing such an amazing book. I'm completely absorbed in the student-led classroom model. I can't wait to get this implemented next year. And please, feel free to use any of my writing as you please.

  2. Amanda, I love how you named the concerns-that was awesome! :D

    :) Kaitlyn
    Smiles and Sunshine

  3. Kaitlyn - thanks so much! I just started with being a Controlling Cathy and it went from there. ; )