Monday, July 28, 2014

Reflections on "Teach Like a Pirate"

Reading Dave Burgess's book Teach Like a Pirate allowed me to reflect back to my days as an 8th grade U.S. history teacher and how I would have compared to the high standards and ideas outlined in the book.  It made me realize I was just starting to get good at my craft of "teaching" and the art of engaging students, before moving into an administrative position.  My 10th year in the classroom certainly was much better compared to my 1st year through my tireless quest to make learning U.S. history a “hands-on” experience.  I made improvements through hard work, trying new things, being open to change, and soliciting student input.   I like Dave’s Quote: “I’ve worked my butt off to build a class that is outrageously engaging, fun, educationally sound, and dearly loved by students.”  But, it takes time.

After reading through Dave's HOOKS, I realized that I had many excellent moments sprinkled in my teaching.  But, my favorite lesson, the one that approached many of the high expectations of “Teaching Like a Pirate,” was the Constitutional Convention simulation.

Each student was assigned to be "delegate" to the convention and completed some background information to their views, values, quotes, and voting record at the convention.  I did many things to set the tone for the next three days.  I called students by their delegate’s name (i.e. Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Morris) for the next 3 days, even outside of the classroom while students referred to me as Mr. Washington.  The heat was turned up in the room as we were meeting in July.  The windows were covered so others would not be able to "peek in" to know what we were discussing.  A candle was lit for light, as there were not fluorescent lights at the state house.  I played Washington and was able to ask specific (and differentiated) questions of each student which allowed all to appropriately contribute to the discussion.  As Washington, I also asked some "devil’s advocate" type questions to get the students to think critically and truly experience the monumental task of how the delegates may have felt.  For example, every time I did this simulation, the southern delegates would have to advocate for slavery and how to count slaves (i.e. 3/5's compromise).  We always had some interesting discussion on this topic.  I remember one student said, "I don't want to be a southern delegate anymore" after trying to advocate for slavery.  The students were highly engaged for three days of discussing and “writing” the constitution.  When students from classes later in the day came to class, they were excited to participate based on what students in earlier classes told them (even after I told them not to tell anyone about our discussion because of the secrecy of the proceedings).  I knew the students were hooked because they were talking about U.S. history outside of the classroom.  Some students even provided feedback on the simulation on the year end survey:

Just thinking about that lesson and many of the other engaging lessons stirs up that wonderful feeling of being a teacher in an engaging learning environment.  After moving from the classroom to administrative positions, I've noticed that student disengagement is relatively easy to find, especially at the high school level.  I believe all high school teachers should read “Teach Like a Pirate.”  At the very least, school administrators should use the book as a resource to raise the expectations for an improved and engaging learning environment for all students.  The discussion could start with the question, “Would you want to be a student in your own classroom?”  But, Dave raises the bar by asking the following question that I can only wonder how many would respond:

  • “If your students didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?” (p. 58)

How many teachers would be teaching to an empty room?  Student engagement has been a goal for many districts, schools and teachers, but yet so many students continue to go through the motions of "playing school" because some teachers fall short in providing an engaging learning experience for their students.  Why do we allow that to happen?  I believe that if students are engaged in their learning, discipline issues go down, academic achievement goes up, and the overall climate of the school environment also goes up.  The bottom line is that if you:

  • “Provide an uncommon experience for your students and they will reward you with an uncommon effort and attitude” (Dave Burgess, p. 55).

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