Learn Like a Pirate - Peer Collaboration

18 June 2015

Peer Collaboration

We're a pirate-loving family.  :)
Today's first lesson is an easy one ... the "P" in pirate stands for Peer Collaboration.  And if you've ever stepped foot in my classroom (or I hope you have gleaned from my blog and fb posts), you will know how much I already embrace this concept.

Let's face it - I teach chatty kids.  It comes with the territory when you teach the older kids (and I'm quite sure the same holds true for the younger kids, too).  And I'm OK with that (although, it did take a few years before I could say that).  Chat away, my dears.  The secret is in making sure that talk is purposeful.  And the opportunities are plentiful.  But, the key to successful collaboration happens in the very first minutes and days of the year - the students need to see themselves as part of a community - a collaborative community - where they all feel respected, safe, and valued.

Right away I read something I knew I was going to use in my classroom.  You know those little "attention getters" we use as teachers (such as "give me five" or clapping, or whatever you use) ... well, imagine the empowerment students will feel if you hand over that tool to them, as well.  I get goosebumps just thinking about this.  I clap a rhythm pattern when I want my students to focus, and they clap it back to me (a very small way of integrating a little music theory here and there).  And the time I use this most often is when the students are collaborating with their peers and I think I have something important or relevant to tell them.  Can you imagine how cool it would be for students to do this?  They come up with so many wonderful and insightful ideas during their collaborations, that it only seems fair that they should be able to use the attention getters to share their thoughts, too.  I used to wait until the end of the lesson to let students share with the class, but in a student-led classroom, the students should have the power to decide when they want to share (and they will learn the best times to do this through feedback from you).  Seriously awesome.  Paul also gives other suggestions for the student-led attention getters - reminding the class when it's time to transition to another subject, improving tasks or solving problems, asking questions they can't find an answer to, or demonstrating skills they are learning.  With students taking on these little leadership roles, the teacher remains free to continue working with other students or providing feedback.

Paul continues by explaining how to teach students to use this power properly - because I know some of you may be thinking, this would get SO out of control in the classroom.  But it won't.  Not if the time is taken to set it up correctly, and consistent feedback is provided to students who misuse it, and who use it correctly.  And a little chaos during the beginning days is well worth the benefits the rest of the year will provide.  And that chaos can be turned into teachable moments - reminding students why it's important to work TOGETHER to find the best way that works for them - and teaching them the difference between active and passive leadership.
The chapter goes on to discuss learning spaces and classroom set-up, student partnerships (one thing that stood out here is that Paul almost never lets his students choose their own partners - I already do this, but when I started this book I was certain I would have to lose this - not so - he uses popsicle sticks and I can keep my name jar), responsibility partners (which are accountability partners), strategies to dealing with conflict, classroom meetings (includes suggestions for topics - and I will definitely use The Marble Theory meeting at the beginning of the year), and so much more.

And THEN ... he goes on to explain how he uses the novel, Wonder, to really get his collaborative community working ... and I just knew this was perfect.  I was already planning to use Wonder as my first read aloud / shared reading ... so the pieces are falling into place all around me.  Happy, happy, happy.

This is definitely a chapter I will go back and reread in the days before school begins, and probably a few more times during the year.  It is packed full of goodness and leaves my mind spinning (in a good way).

*** Edit:  I told you my mind was spinning - lol.  Not 5 minutes after I finished this post I started to write a new blog post because I thought of a great idea of how to use one of the team-building activities I do at the beginning of the year to introduce the whole idea of a student-led classroom to my students on the first day of school.  Check back in tomorrow to read all about it.  ***


  1. So excited to dig into this book now that summer break has began (finally) and SO happy that Wonder will align as it was my first read aloud I had planned!

  2. Do you have a video of how to do the cups? I have never done it but it sounds interesting. I am a visual learner. I would like to see what it looks like.