Learn Like a Pirate - What is a Student-Led Classroom?
So, diving in, the first chapter gets right to it - What is a student-led classroom? The author, Paul Solarz, writes that "A student-led classroom is one in which students make decisions and choices throughout the day without consulting the teacher."
I'm not going to lie - the thought of that a few years ago would have struck fear into my control-freak self. But, over the last few years, I've seen excitement, engagement, and learning GROW when I've learned to take a step back and let students collaborate and work through material on their own. I'm not a worksheet teacher. I'm not a textbook teacher. In our classroom, we collaborated ALL the time, we embraced Genius Hour, we researched and presented and taught others ... and I liked the direction we were going in my classroom ... a lot. But, even through it all, I still had the control. I still directed the learning and activities, the students followed my instructions, and THEN they would get the chance to really explore the material and absorb themselves in the learning. But, when difficulties (with behaviour or with material) arose, they always looked to me to solve the problem. And I would.
But I knew something was still missing ... I saw it every time I visited my co-worker's classroom (and I have to admit, I visited it a lot). She has an amazing classroom environment and does a marvelous job of encouraging a student-led classroom. Her students worked in groups or individually on different tasks, often finishing them up (and quite well, I might add) with enough time to work on little projects they were interested in ... like writing their own novels and making up their own math problems ... for fun!!! Their "on-task-ness" freed her up so that she had more time to work one-on-one or in very small groups with students as they needed it. I used to convince myself that it must be easier to do in a primary classroom (did I mention these were grade 2 and 3 students); that some of my more challenging students wouldn't be able to handle it, or that my older students needed more direction to stay on task and more lesson delivery from me to comprehend more difficult material. But I also knew that I wanted what she had. I just didn't know how to make it happen. In the upcoming chapter, Paul addresses all these concerns I had. (Are you starting to see why I was SO excited to read this book?)
In this first chapter, Paul stresses the importance of practice - it will take time and a lot of modelling to develop the mindset and skills needed for a student-led classroom (for both the students AND the teacher). Don't give up after the first week or two ... (which may be what I would be tempted to do if I felt it wasn't "working"). And keep building those relationships with ALL students in the school (which is something I already find easy to do in my wonderfully small school). When your students feel you value them, they will work harder for you, and it's those hard workers we'll need in our student-led classrooms.
Paul writes that even in a student-led classroom, everyone still understands that the teacher's word is final, and yes, most lessons will still include a component of teacher-led instruction (which makes my control-freak side happy), but the methods change - lessons are planned and delivered in a way that students are rarely passive learners, but instead gives them the power and opportunity to guide and lead one another.
A student-led classroom has students excited about their learning, encouraging and supporting others, challenging themselves, and creating habits that will set them up to be life-long learners and explorers. Ummmm .... sounds like everything I could ever want for my students. Perfection.
You can read more about this chapter by visiting the blogs listed below. And be sure to check out The Primary Girl's blog for a little giveaway to kick off this book study.