Learn Like a Pirate: Concerns about Student-Led Classrooms

Welcome back to the second chapter  of our book study on Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz! In the last chapter, Solarz shared the definition of a student-led classroom.

It was a little scary! So it was very reassuring that the second chapter included 13 concerns that teachers have about having a student-led classroom. Solarz offered answers to help minimize these common concerns. As I read through the concerns and his answer for them, I started to realize that I have already started creating a student-led classroom! My students spend at least half of their day working in independent groups who I work with a small group of students. They know that they cannot interrupt me and that they must come up with solutions to their problems on their own. 

I just never realized that this is part of being a student-led classroom.  I have a long way to go, but at least I am not starting from scratch. Let me share a few of the teacher concerns and responses that most resonated with me.

It feels good to be in control. I won't lie. It feels good to know that at any moment, I can call a command and the entire class will halt and listen to me. Solarz assures teachers that they will not be giving up all control. The final say always belongs to the teacher. But in a student-led classroom, students are allowed to experiment, make their own decisions and make mistakes. Teachers! We want this! Isn't our ultimate goal to help guid children to be self sufficient? Don't we want them to know that failures happen? Don't we want to give them experience with learning from a mistake? YES! But it's hard. When you walk by a student and see that they about to make mistake, you want to stop and say, "Wait! Have you thought about..." But what if we let them make the mistake? What is we let them work in groups where other peers help them to see their mistakes? Students would remember the new learning! 

You aren't adding more to your load. You are just allowing students to learn and practice in a different way. Rather than sitting at desks completing worksheets on their own, you are allowing them to work together to create something that shows their understanding  of the skills you are teaching. In fact, I tend to think that students commit things to memory faster when they are given the opportunity to explore and confer with classmates. 

Solarz brings up a good point. How many times during the day are you interrupted by a phone call, coworker, volunteer or visitor to the classroom? In a teacher-led classroom, the whole classroom is interrupted. In a student-led classroom, the teacher can manage the interruption without stopping the students. This is a time saver!

During the past year, several teachers and teaching interns were sent to my room to observe during my small group time. At the end of almost every observation the teacher would say something like, "That was amazing, but my kids could never do that." I always respond, "I bet your kids could do that if you trained them and held them to high standards." That is the truth. It's not like I am blessed with perfect students year after year. I have behavior problem students. I have ADD and ADHD students. I have SPED students. I have below level and above level students. But I have found, when I give them a hands-on task, freedom to decide how to complete the task and my confidence in them- they always live up to my high standards. And they grow academically and socially! It can be done! 

This is the concern that I struggle with the most. Not the part about one student ruining it. I believe good training of procedures and expectations along with a strong classroom management program  keep students in check 99% of the time. I have problems with chaos. I am very sensitive to sound and am overstimulated easily. Sometimes I let this hold me, and my students, back. I am gradually learning to accept the chaos as long as students are learning and having fun. But I have to drink A LOT of coke on some of the more chaotic days. Like the time I decided that students would complete every step of their science fair project IN CLASS. 

Or there was the time that I gave them Legos and the only instruction was that they had to use the Legos to build a United States' landmark.

And I am still trembling a little from the day that my kids were given some supplies and told they needed to build a catapult that would work for shooting a ball through a hoop.

I do not regret doing these activities. They were very fun and the students learned so much. It was loud but they won't forget these lessons. They practiced cooperation and colaboration which are life skills. But days like this still scare me. So I am working on my fears!!!

Check out the thought of my blog buddies on this chapter.