Sunday, August 18, 2013

"Teach Like a Pirate": Review 1, "Channeling My Inner Pirate"

Dave Burgess admonishes teachers to channel their inner pirate in his popular professional book Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator (Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. 2012).

I found myself of two minds while reading TLaP, so in that spirit I've decided to write two separate reviews of the book, which I gave four stars on Goodreads, one representing my two inner teacher voices. In a sense, I'm having a left brain vs. right brain debate with myself about the book.

This post focuses on what I like about the book and how I found myself reliving the pirate moments in my teaching career. I'll post my second review a little later.

Review 1: Channeling My Inner Pirate: A.K.A. Drama Queen

The drama queen teacher in me (I have a drama endorsement) loves Burgess's many lists of ways teachers can get students up and moving. Simply, teachers who teach like pirates embrace the edutainment philosophy and make class an increasingly fun place to be while still teaching to the standards, whether or not they be local, state, or CCSS. Simply, we can have and do it all! That's the premise of the book.

Thus, while reading TLaP, I began thinking about the ways I've unleashed my inner pirate over the years. At first blush, my list looks like this:

Have Fun with Food:
Early in my career, I incorporated a Medieval Feast into my Chaucer unit as a culminating activity. I checked a recipe book out of the library and translated the recipes from Middle English to late Modern English. Students prepared some of the dishes, and I made some, too. We decorated the room and dressed in costumes. I'll never forget the disgusting taste of Goss Sauce, and was surprised about how much I loved the Pomegranate drink one student made.

From early in my career, I've done what nearly every teacher does: I've fed my students. These days we have our Mocktail Party in my Communication dual enrollment class and our Anglo Saxon mead hall boasting celebration when we study Beowulf. A colleague creates a speakeasy when students study The Great Gatsby, but I have a junk food feast party that correlates with the party scenes Fitzgerald describes. The junk food feast works as a catalyst for emulating Fitzgerald's writing style.

TLaP inspires me to find other ways to incorporate food into my lessons. What do real pirates eat anyway?

Move Like a Pirate:
I've seen enough pirate movies to know they don't sit in lounge chairs on the ship's deck. Pirates have some impressive moves and quite capable get others moving too.

My colleague Debbie has a great description of Living Iambic Pentameter on her blog.Having been trained in the Folger Shakespeare Library's teaching methods, movement is no stranger to students in my classroom. I believe in getting students out of their seats and onto their feet whenever possible and incorporate performance pedagogy into my lessons, including poetry and prose, whenever possible.

My classroom is small, so sometimes I move class out into the hall so we can form a big circle for sharing and mingling. When students become "experts" on a topic, term, or concept and when they share their "expertise" with one another by getting out of their seats, we build our classroom community and reinforce our learning. When students are up and moving, they are more engaged learners and more likely to contribute to class discussion.

Speed dating, having a mocktail party, performing group speeches, blocking and performing scenes from literature are only a few of the ways I get kids to bust a move in class. I've even had kids play leap frog to get a sense of Twain's "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" and compete in a braying contest when we studied A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Take it to the Street:
There's more than one way to take students on a field trip.

Many years ago as part of the Julius Caesar unit, I began having a small outdoor festival. Students played Olympic-style games and wore togas. A few colleagues joined the party, which led to an all-school Shakespeare festival one year and a Twain festival another year. These festivals took lots of energy and became an all-school endeavor in conjunction with our local university.

One year I taught Uncle Tom's Cabin and decided to send my students on an Underground Railroad trip. I solicited businesses to act as points along the railroad. Students had cards they took to the businesses for documentation, and some of the businesses functioned as covert agents working to capture "students" along their journey. I incorporated a writing assignment into the project, too.

When I teach The Great Gatsby, I solicit our school resource officer to help by giving a presentation on drunk driving laws in our state. After, we set up an obstacle course of orange cones on the parking lot or practice football field behind the building. Students wear goggles that simulate the vision of an inebriated person and drive a golf cart through the obstacle course. This is a popular activity that would work well with any text that uses alcohol as a plot or character device. It's especially effective in the spring when students make plans for prom and graduation.

On her blog, Debbie describes the poetry/art project we turned into a museum walk for our seniors last year. I wrote about the project in an earlier post, too.

More about the Book:

My favorite parts of TLaP are the many lists of suggestions for engaging students in learning. Burgess talks about how to use music to inspire learning, how to become a guest speaker in your own class, how to simply transform the room's atmosphere using plastic sheeting, how to move the students physically and the class literally from the room to other physical spaces.

Burgess wants teachers  to be "daring, adventurous, and willing into set forth in uncharted territories." The pirate teacher "rejects the status quo and refuses to conform to any society that stifles creativity and independence. They are entrepreneurs who take risks and are willing to travel to the ends of the earth for that which they value. Although fiercely independent, they travel with and embrace a diverse crew."

As too Burgess says, too many teachers teach from a perch (the desk). Burgess incorporates the metaphor of a lifeguard tower to describe such teachers. Others call the the "sage on the stage." To engage students in learning, we must willingly immerse ourselves into our classrooms.

In fact, Burgess uses PIRATE as an acronym that he explains throughout Part I of the book. In Part II, he offers the extremely helpful list of ways to channel your inner pirate, and in Part III he tells us "How to Build a Better Pirate," meaning how to get our pirate ship to set sail without sinking!

As with my colleague Debbie, simply reading TLaP brought back memories of my pirate moments. Early on I began keeping a list of new ideas inspired by Burgess's book. Simply, the pirate creed works for any subject. Although Burgess teaches history, I see his ideas at work in my own classroom and in those of inspirational teachers from around the country and across disciplines and grades.

So get out your spyglass, matey, and view your classroom with a patch over your eye, a parrot on your shoulder, and a peg in your leg. I bet you have your own inner pirate bounty buried in your files like treasure on a pirate's map. And if you don't, a treasure map awaits in in Teach Like a Pirate. Here's to blue skies and smooth sailing.

1 comment:

  1. Glenda -- Thanks for the first part of this review. I've been following the #tlap hashtag on Twitter, and some good people I know have raved about this book.

    Still, I'm always a little wary of books that admonish us to "teach like" something -- hair on fire, or a champion, for example. I usually think it's best if I put authenticity first and teach like myself. But I also have a soft spot for pirates, so I'm interested in this one, and eagerly await part 2 of your review series.