Chapter 3 Peer Collaboration

"...collaboration is the cornerstone of a student-led classroom."

Learn Like a Pirate provides a great vision for student empowered classrooms. Much of what the author describes in the book may not really qualify as "customized" for many of our schools, but what he describes about creating the right school climate or culture with students is crucial in a customized setting. While Paul Solarz provides many specific ideas or techniques to create student-led classrooms, it is tempting for us as teachers/facilitators to focus on emulating this--"I'll try this" or "let's get the students to try this." I believe more important is his description on creating the right environment:

"In a classroom devoid of collaboration, cliques form, animosity breeds, and students isolate themselves. Individual needs come before the needs of the class. Some students try hard to be the best, while others lose interest and stop trying. And where social hierarchies exist and lack of respect prevails, student-led classrooms fail because children refuse to be led."

In a classroom environment, how do we transition students "indoctrinated" in a traditional setting to a student-empowered climate?

“GIVE ME FIVE”—EMPOWER STUDENTS TO LEAD

ENCOURAGE ACTIVE AND PASSIVE LEADERSHIP

I talk with them about the difference between active leadership and passive leadership. Active leadership is shown when someone speaks to or directs others and requests that others follow suit. It’s when someone actively tries to influence others’ behavior. Passive leadership, on the other hand, happens when students lead by example or choose to follow the students who are demonstrating active leadership. Passive leadership shows respect while encouraging others to follow suit.
It’s extremely important for teachers to encourage students to be both active and passive leaders. There are times that I wished my students would step up their leadership skills and there are times when I wish they would back off a bit. Each situation provides an opportunity to guide them toward becoming active and passive leaders.
In addition to teaching about passive leadership, I make sure to teach my students how to advocate for themselves when they disagree with an active leader. When someone is clearly abusing their powers and causing others to lose focus, it’s important that others step in and re-direct. When a student leader is taking the group down the wrong path but doesn’t realize it, it’s time for a passive leader to step in and politely suggest an alternative.

ASSIGN PARTNERSHIPS TO IMPROVE INTERACTION

Collaboration skills don’t just come naturally to children, as I’m sure you know. They must be learned. That’s why I rarely allow students to choose their partners. They need to develop the skill of working with people, even when personality conflicts arise.

USE RESPONSIBILITY PARTNERS TO RAISE THE BAR

Responsibility Partners sit together and bounce ideas off of each other but still come up with their own products using their own ideas. They check in regularly with one another to make sure they each understand the assignment and required tasks, and they confer with one another whenever they have questions. They also hold one another accountable for completing all the steps correctly. This strategy works exceptionally well for creative projects and writing, as well as for math and content-area reading that is not teacher-led.

TEACHING STRATEGIES FOR DEALING WITH CONFLICT

CLASSROOM MEETINGS PROMOTE IMMEDIATE CHANGE

THE MARBLE THEORY MEETING

Because of grades and report cards, students learn to think of themselves as smart or dumb. Low grades do little more than disappoint and discourage students. High grades often create

perfectionists and cause children to become extrinsically motivated. Although I am still required to give grades on report cards, I have taken away the focus on grades in our day-to-day activities. We embrace failure as a learning opportunity and as acknowledgment of taking risks. Instead of assigning grades on assignments, I give feedback that helps everyone grow.

Understanding intelligence differently improves the way the kids in my classroom interact. Over the course of the year, my students stop disrespecting peers who are lower on the social ladder or who struggle academically and start asking them for help.

 

USING SHARED READING TO TEACH EMPATHY

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio.

PROMOTING THE RIGHT KIND OF COMPETITION

I never understood how damaging competition could be until I focused on creating a collaborative classroom. Competition with others divides loyalty. It requires secrecy and focuses on doing better than others. Even collaborative competitions (team events) form cliques and perpetuate the idea of winning and losing (a final result) rather than learning (the process).

I assure you that each student continually competes to be their best. Internal competition is valuable.

Children need to learn the importance and value of personal drive but not at the expense of others in the classroom.

I often noticed students dividing up the work and then giving each other the answers! When I announced that wasn’t allowed, they gave me puzzled looks. Their faces would say, “Then why are you having us work together if we can’t split up the work?” I realized that they were focused on task completion instead of mastering the skill.