Teaching Like A Pirate? Really?

I have always thought I was a bit mad. I mean take one look in my classroom (or the blog), and you’re likely to see me running round pretending to be a goat, jumping of a cliff (my desk), throwing bits of sweet corn around, acting out a part or pretending we’re somewhere totally different than we really are. Yes, really. Behind the closed door of a classroom you can get away with all those things. What’s more the students love it. I mean sure, mine think I’m totally crazy. But as we say in our room; who would want to be ‘normal’ anyway? Normal is boring. It is dull. And in our room, it is definitely never dull.

Why? Because learning should be fun. And well, if it wasn’t fun, none of us would learn very much. The fact that all of the permanent unit staff have the capacity to be crazy is the very essence of what makes our students successful. It distracts them, makes them forget they are learning and therefore they become less anxious, less scared and more prepared to have a go, make mistakes and therefore to learn.

Today however, I found out a secret. Shhhhh listen very carefully and I’ll tell you in a whisper. I am not mad; I am a pirate.

You see after having loved ‘Learn Like a Pirate’ so much that I have worked every waking hour (and some sleeping ones) since I read it, because there are so many ideas buzzing round my head that I can’t wait to activate them, I decided I had better read the first of the pirate books ‘Teach Like A Pirate’. So in the last 24 hours I have. And well, hence my discovery. There are others out there as crazy as me. My methods are justified and validated, there are others out there spending hours researching their students’ interests and running crazily round their room to illustrate a point; what’s more anyone can learn them.

When teaching students with autism, there are so many things competing for their attention (the rustle of a tree in the wind, a favourite episode playing on loop in their mind, the sound of a word they like, the fear that they have failed before and might again) that if you want to keep that attention, you have to do everything in your power to keep it; to engage them; to enable them to learn.

‘Teach Like a Pirate’ teaches you how to do just that. What’s more it proves once again, that good autism teaching is good everyone teaching. This is a book written by a mainstream teacher for mainstream teachers. It’s full of checklists of hooks to get your students involved, ideas that can be incorporated into any lesson by any teacher. Ideas that are guaranteed to win over not only your students with autism but everyone.

It isn’t a book about differentiation. It’s a book about engagement. But it’s that engagement, that trust, that willingness to go beyond the boundaries that will take your differentiation to another level. So channel your inner craziness and use it, and if you’re not sure you have any (or enough) of your own craziness read Dave Burgess’ ‘Teach Like a Pirate’ and he’ll make you believe you can find it, however deeply you have it hidden.

Go on, what are you waiting for? Start differentiating like a pirate…. Arrgggh!

If In Doubt Make A List

I don’t know about you, but I love lists. In fact I would make a list for just about anything. I’m not sure if my love of lists emanates from my love of nice stationery (I mean after all I need somewhere to make my lists), from the fact that I have a terrible memory (and would therefore forget what I was supposed to be doing without one), or whether it’s simply because they give me a sense of direction and accomplishment when I tick them off. But whatever the reason, I wouldn’t be without them.

Lists however, aren’t just for teachers. They can be great for students too. Lists help them to organise their thoughts, plan work, give them a sense of what’s happening next and even to make sure that they’ve covered everything they need to in order to complete a task.

Lists can be useful for all students, but they’re particularly useful for students with autism. Many students with Autism have a weak central coherence which means it can be difficult for them to see the wider picture. This can mean that students focus in on a particular element of what you’ve said rather than on the whole task. Most students with autism also like structure and certainty. A list of what’s going to happen in the lesson or over the term can really help them to feel more confident and less anxious because they are able to predict what will happen next.

For students who haven’t used lists before you might need to model this approach first. You can start by writing checklists on the board for students to use when completing assignments, or by giving individualised post it note checklists to students on the front of their book. Whether it’s the steps of how to work out a mathematical equation or the things to include in an essay; pretty much everything we do has a list of steps we need to follow.

As students become used to the format even very young students will become increasingly confident at making their own lists. Students can therefore start to write down the steps themselves, allowing you to go and check the steps before the student starts working. It’s a really quick way of checking understanding and helps greatly to lesson the anxiety of students before starting work.

Of course, as lists won’t just help students with Autism, they can be used with the whole class. They will however make the biggest difference to those students in your class who struggle with organisation, short term memory, central coherence and self belief. They will provide those students with a much better chance of success in their final product and thus help to raise their self esteem.

Often however, those students most likely to benefit from lists are the ones most reluctant to use them. For those students, making lists cool can be a crucial step in the process. So why not use the notes section of smartphones? Or even better a free app called Trello which I found today courtesy of ‘Learn Like a Pirate’ which allows you to organise your lists into sections and even add pictures and websites to them to make them even more interesting.

So there you go, easy peasy. Differentiation really is as simple as making a list! So next time you set your students a new task, why not give it a try? What have you got to lose?

Learn Like A Pirate

As an English teacher, I read a lot of books. I love books and I love it when my students love books. I own a kindle and all sorts of bookish capabilities on other electronic devices, but for me there’s nothing like a real paper copy of a really good book.

In the past 24 hours I have been blown away by one such book. I started reading ‘Learn Like a Pirate’ by Paul Solarz, and I can honestly say it is probably the best teaching book I have ever read. It will without a doubt change my classroom more than any other single influence since my NQT year (which was definitely longer ago than I like to remember).

The book gives a series of amazingly practical doable strategies for handing more control in the classroom to the students. Yes, I know it sounds a bit mad, but trust me, read it. You will be hooked.

There are some that would say a student run classroom would not work for my students. All my students have a diagnosis of Autism, most have challenging behaviours and some have traits of Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDD). Yet it is precisely for that reason, why I know this book will take our room to the next level. My students, more than any, need the opportunities to practice the 21st Century Skills that Paul Solarz talks of in his book, they need to be believed in and for us to physically show them just how much we believe in them. This is a book that provides both the structure and encouragement to help us to do just that.

It is a book that will help all teachers take differentiation to the next level. It is a book that recognises students’ differences and celebrates them. It is a book which promotes empathy, compassion and respect for each other. It’s a book that quite simply every teacher should read.

It isn’t a book full of woolly concepts and no substance. It’s a flexible action plan, that makes you believe both you and your students can do it. Go on buy yourself a book, what have you got to lose?