Student Empowerment and Learn Like a Pirate

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Over the past few weeks I had the opportunity to read Paul Solarz’s book, Learn Like a Pirate. Through his book, Paul takes readers on a field trip into his own classroom. His experience as a classroom teacher is insightful and I feel as though many educators can relate to this book. As I read through the book I found moments of personal affirmation and times where I questioned on how to better my own practice. One of the main themes in the book revolves around the need to empower students to collaborate, lead and succeed in the classroom.

As I read through the book I started to examine my own practice. Ideally, I’ve always thought that students learn best when they’re are invested in their own learning. When invested, students often feel empowered and that sometimes produces results beyond expectations. Throughout my experience I’ve found that putting that into practice consistently can be a challenging task and needs to be built from day one. Giving students responsibility can change how they view their role in the classroom. I find that as students take on more responsibility they start to monitor their own actions in relation to the expectation.

As this school year comes to a close I’m reflecting on how to incorporate more student empowerment opportunities in my school and classroom.  These opportunities happen on a daily basis and I feel as though they’re some components that need to be cemented first before student empowerment can take shape.  Creating a classroom community from the beginning of the school year helps students feel comfortable in voicing their opinions. Along with a classroom community, I believe other management components need to be implemented strategically for empowerment to begin.  Each classroom is different, but I believe the component below will assist in building a foundation to help students become more responsible for their learning.  The list below indicates a few items that I’d like to address for the next school year.

Increase clarity and consistent expectations

Missed expectations cause roadblocks and disappointments for teachers and students alike. I believe that the majority of missed expectations results from unclear or miscommunication. Clearly communicating expectations and allowing opportunities to model them improves understanding, and in-turn, establishes a clear goal for students. At the beginning of the year my class uses a flow chart and the expectations are clearly evident. Although the class might not always follow the flow chart, a quick reminder of the procedure helps keep the class on track. Being consistent with expectations also reinforces the need for students to take on the responsibility to meet the expectation.

Student choice

Giving students a choice in how they show mastery can be powerful. Beyond showing mastery, I feel like projects involving choice-elements enable students to become more intrinsically motivated to complete tasks. Choice doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to academics. Students can build processes that help the classroom run more smoothly. Next year I’d like to give students additional time to reflect more on their progress and create individual goals. Periodically checking in on those goals can lead students to create additional goals and the productive cycle continues.

More feedback

I need to beef up this part of my teaching practice. I tend to give feedback, but the form isn’t very diverse. My feedback is usually found in verbal or written form. Since my district requires teachers to use grades, I tend to ask students questions on their graded papers. The questions are designed to have the students reflect on the process of understanding a concept. Next year I’d like to be more specific with my verbal and written feedback.  I haven’t used this much, but feedback can also be from the students. At the end of each school year I give students a survey about their learning experiences.  In the future I’d like to collect feedback from the students on a trimester basis.

The three components above are not the end-all, but I feel as though focusing in on those areas will help build a solid foundation for the remainder of the school year.  My hope is that the foundation will yield dividends that will help students become more successful in and outside of the classroom.

Author: Matt Coaty

I've taught elementary students for the past 14 years. I enjoy reading educational research and learning from my PLN. Words on this blog are my own.

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