Think Like a Pirate!

We are Teaching like Pirates…We Gotta Get ‘Em Thinking like Pirates!

I’ve noticed a trend with my Littles. You may have noticed the same thing with some of your learners. Each year, a new group of eager learners come into my classroom. They have these expectant eyes and ears and brains.

I create an engaging Dave and Shelley Burgess Teach Like a Pirate #tlap approved experience for my learners. You know, like creating the exact frame size of the Mona Lisa on the ground through measurement and creating Mona Lisa selfies from a bird’s eye view, to tie in map skills and vocabulary. Or hiding various props in boxes where learners have to discover the hint to the next experience. (I can’t even tell you who it might be, in case they are reading this!)

Here’s the thing. MOST of my learners are engaged. They are willing. They are excited. The hook gets them. However, I’ve noticed that SOME of my learners? They really do not know what to do with the process of lessons like these. Perhaps they come from a prior learning context where things were more compliant than innovative. Perhaps they are too timid to take a risk with their thinking. Perhaps they just don’t know where to begin when their teacher jumps up on a desk to share the “breaking news” and says, “I need each and every one of you to quickly get out your microphones and notepads because someone amazing is getting ready to walk through our door to give his first ever press conference…”

These are the lessons we as teachers passion for, and while many of our learners ride our coattails into these experiences, some just don’t know how to process the open endedness, the high energy the choice—that we offer them.

You see, we can continue to create these lessons, but at some point, our facilitation of these lessons, may only tip the iceberg. We really need to understand the kind of thinking as a LEARNER that is necessary for these lessons to reach their full impact.

I had a recent conversation with a colleague about modeling these lessons. I sort of feel that if we model these lessons, they lose their “oomph”–part of teaching like a pirate is the element of surprise. But, the comment wasn’t lost on me and it’s something I’ve started to address in my classroom.

Here’s what I have started to teach to my Littles. Maybe you can find some Resonance (you’ll appreciate what I just did there in a few more lines….) with these ideas and help create a culture of kids that can Think Like a Pirate.

6 Arrrrrh’s to Thinking Like a Pirate

R elax  We have to teach our learners to relax. When an unknown context is presented to them, we need to help them tap into a comfort zone for their thinking. Sometimes all it takes is a framed suggestion, “Y’all. I know this is new for everyone. I know this is challenging—but we are going to get through this. Take a deep breath. How do you eat an elephant?” …I learned that analogy didn’t work so well with the littlest of my learners, but you get the point. We have to show learners that learning is a process. Some learners are so focused on the product that they miss out on the fun of learning. Just look at how some of your students grip their pencils!

R esilient This is a challenging one. It encompasses things like grit and patience and perseverance—but it’s also much easier than that. “How can you be a super ball instead of an egg?” I share a video of me, their crazy teacher, purchasing fifty cent super balls from those massive gumball machines in the entry of most grocery stores. I COULD order them in bulk from Amazon or Oriental Trading—but trust me, they love seeing me buy these things (or at least one or two –and then I bulk order them…shhhh.) I then bring out the container of superballs and we explore them. They bounce high, they bounce off the walls, they don’t always come back to their original starting point…after a few harried minutes, we collect all the balls. I simply ask, “How can you be like a super ball with your thinking?” After the chorus of perfect answers, I share this, “Sometimes it’s hard to be a super ball thinker. Sometimes I’m an egg.” Of course they laugh and don’t quite get where I am going, until they watch me toss an egg into the air and it cracks and oozes on the ground. It’s interesting because they don’t even giggle, they just look wide-eyed and you can see the analogy start to manifest in their minds. “What happens when I’m an egg thinker?” Of course they verbalize that you only get one shot, you make a mess, other people get annoyed, it’s a waste…etc…etc. Being a superball thinker becomes an easy mantra in my classroom. When things are going pear shaped for a Little, I can simply say, “Don’t forget? You’re a super ball!”

R esourceful Teachers are no longer holders of knowledge. Our kiddoes can access basic knowledge pieces, and then some—at the push of a button or a swipe of a finger. We have to teach learners how to use these resources and many other resources without “giving it away.” Limit what learners have to solve a problem. Focus on flexible thinking. What are the many uses for a pencil? A spoon? A piece of paper? Change the need of a lesson. “Today you are going to share your thinking on….(blank)…but you can’t write it down or tell me using words. Go!” Of course we have to be ready for any and all of their solutions. When learners are limited with what we give them, they innately have to be resourceful. We just don’t limit them enough. Try removing 2 chairs in your classroom. Just hide them away. Can your learners be resourceful enough to figure out a seating situation for the lesson? Or will they immediately come to you and say, “I don’t have a chair…”

R ecruit We have to teach our learners to recruit others to support their learning. We do that as teachers, right? In our classrooms, we need to encourage and develop interdependency. I use an expert wall. Natural talents evolve in the classroom. Maybe Evan is great at technology. Maybe Sarah is very good at organizing things. When things start to break down for you in the classroom? Check out the expert wall—who can you recruit to help you? It’s okay to ask for help, but you need to know who to ask. The really amazing thing is as we recruit others to help us on our learning journey? We are learning how to advocate for ourselves, how to recognize strengths and weaknesses in ourselves and others, too!

R eason Reasoning is just a fancy word for THINKING. It’s a cause, an explanation or a justification. We don’t want our learners to just work on the very basic knowledge level of learning. We want them to be able to make connections, see threads of one thing connecting to another and explain it. For little learners? It is as easy as exposing them to analogies, categorizing—making inferences. Anything that nudges your learners to come up with an idea, a supposition, a thought—and then justify it. I recently did a quick lesson on reasoning with Mo Willems, “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” and wanted my littles to REASON why we shouldn’t let the pigeon drive a bus. I didn’t even want text evidence, I just wanted reasons. You would be amazed at how long it took for one Little to say, “Uhm..he’s a pigeon and pigeon’s can’t drive.” So, reasoning is something our learners have to practice. It’s uncomfortable for them to have their own opinions and thoughts.

R eflect While this doesn’t sound very challenging, it’s the part we tend to miss out on with our learners. (Speaking from myself.) Really we want to know is what you did, how you did it and what it means to you. This isn’t getting learners to regurgitate “Standard 4.2” or saying, “I’m doing science.” It really is asking learners to explain the following:

  1. Tell me what you did.
  2. Tell me how you did it.
  3. Now tell me what you’re going to do with it.

So really we want our learners to reconcile their learning. We want them to be able to verbalize what they learned and see if it matches what we wanted them to learn.

I’m curious as to how these thinking skills will translate in action in the classroom. Some of them are easier to grasp, but I feel that they are important if we want our learners to meet us on the journey. They are apt to miss out on the good stuff for being so preoccupied with the thinking required to get to the good stuff.

Author: Dr. Valerie King

Quirky thinker. Joyful teacher. Perpetual learner. For the Kids.

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