Here we are in Week 3 of the Learn Like A Pirate (by Paul Solarz) book study and he’s wasted no time cutting to the chase…which seems to be his approach in most things - read the book and you’ll understand why Paul wrote this book…by laying out the P.I.R.A.T.E acronym in Section 2 of the book.
This week, we’re looking specifically at Chapter 3: Peer Collaboration. I must say, I LOVE (in all caps) the quote Paul uses to introduce the idea of collaboration to his students: “Two brains are better than one!”. I certainly intend on using this exact quote in my Kindergarten classroom next year. Even the youngest learners can grasp and value the concept of working together: thinking about other people’s ideas/thoughts and incorporating them into their own understanding. I can’t wait to set my “littles” up in collaborative exercises where they can bounce ideas off of each other and share their thinking to enhance everyone's understanding!
Obviously, I’m ready for the bumps, thumps, and straight-up potholes in the road! We’ll need a good bit of trial and error in order for these sweet kiddos to learn the art of working together without getting their feelings hurt, practicing patience, and working independently. But you know what? I’d much rather my students feel like their classmates are their “school family” than a bunch of other warm bodies breathing the same air. I want my students to feel comfortable and confident with their classmates; I want them to know that I have BIG plans for them, but they must rise to the challenge by taking part each and every day - minus puke days, they can stay home for those.
I love how Paul details his willingness to let his students interrupt him…yep, I said that. He LET’S them INTERRUPT the class…ON PURPOSE! I know this sounds completely cray-cray for so many of us, but if you give his book a once over, you’ll see that the ability to interrupt the class is very empowering for students. HOWEVER, Paul’s classroom isn’t a stinkin’ free-for-all. He sets expectations for how interruptions may be made (“Give Me 5”) and when to make them (share new learning, inform other groups of available assistance, ask questions, etc.). When students don’t utilize the power to interrupt in an appropriate manner or others don’t pay attention to the person making the claim, Paul provides immediate feedback to help students understand that “with great power comes great responsibility!” (all you Spidey fans may know this phrase). If they don’t respect the act, they ultimately aren’t respecting their peers or him.
And while it may be a tough pill to swallow with such young students, I do believe that in certain scenarios, I, too, could empower my kindergartners by transitioning the power over to them in collaborative activities. I mean, just think about it, there we are, working all independent-like in our literacy/phonics centers, and little Lucy Learner shouts “Give Me 5” and all 25 faces turn to her as she proudly announces that she and 2 classmates figured out a way to remember 5 sight words by coming up with a silly saying! Come on’, it COULD happen, people! She could totally scream out that she picked the biggest boogie ever too, but then I would just have to have a little chitty-chat-chat with her about using the “Give Me 5” appropriately (and for learning purposes). Or maybe my “teacher stare” would be more than enough, since I’ll be giving her my undivided attention as well.
Enough about Lucy’s boogies though, I think the biggest take-away from Paul’s chapter on Peer Collaboration is that giving students that opportunity to work together, stretch their individual thinking, and equip them with the power to share is ultimately transferring the responsibility of learning from YOU (the teacher) back to the student. Even kindergartners need to begin their educational careers with the mindset that it is THEIR job to learn, soak up all the knowledge they can, and use that learning to take them to the next level. You will only be their teacher for 180 days…you can’t be solely responsible for their learning every day of their educational journey. Give them the wheel to steer their own ship!
Side note: Due to traveling abroad, I kept this post relatively short (trust me, this is short for me). But, Paul provides some great insight to types of student leadership (let them figure out how to work together and when to throttle up/back their opinions), thoughts on learning spaces (you actually don’t NEED that perfectly designed classroom, you can still lust though), assigning specific partnerships for collaboration vs. the random popsicle method (hahaha, Paul!!! It’s an oldie, but a goodie.), teaching simple conflict-resolution strategies, and class meetings. Whew! That was a bit much. Read it! You won’t regret it.