How would your class function without you? On Tuesday, I did not speak. My teaching partner didn’t either. We were in class (for safety/legal reasons), but we ignored our students and subtly took notes about what was happening and what was said. This learning engagement was jointly inspired by Paul Solarz and Tania Lattanzio.
In his book, Learn Like a PIRATE, Paul outlines ideas and strategies for creating and developing a student-led classroom. Students can earn the opportunity of a Silent Day if they demonstrate leadership qualities and independence throughout the year. On this day, Paul does not speak and instead allows the students to take charge of their classroom, decisions and conflicts. To help the day run smoothly, Paul suggests preparing work for them to do, such as tests. I believe that my Year Four class would be capable of this, but we didn’t want things to run too smoothly. We had another reason for Silent Teacher Day.
The second part of the inspiration came from Tania Lattanzio. I was lucky enough to be part of her PD around concept-driven planning. As an alternative to simply defining concepts, Tania suggested giving students an experience of them. Our next unit is under the How We Organise Ourselves theme.
Central Idea: People are impacted through the decision-making processes within governance systems.
Even as adults, governance is a tricky concept to define. To help students with their understanding of governance, we removed it from the classroom. Our hope was that this provocation would deepen students’ understanding and appreciation of governance by providing a strong experience of what the classroom (in this example) would be like without it. Unlike Paul Solarz, we didn’t even provide any tasks for them to do!
As we planned it, we considered the best possible scenario: some initial chaos (so that the students could appreciate the impact of governance) leading to some impressive student leadership and independence (so that we could be proud of our students). This best-of-both scenario is exactly what we got! I honestly don’t think that we could have scripted it any better!
As the students started to come in at the beginning of the day, they realised that we were ignoring them and immediately started to make plans. It was suggested very quickly that some students should take the role of teachers (two teachers per lesson). Students were invited to express their interest by writing their name on the board. The rest of the students were handed post-it notes to vote for their teachers. Since so many students were interested, the winners received fewer than half of the votes. This prompted some students to declare that they didn’t deserve to win because they hadn’t won the majority vote. This caused a huge argument! Without any prompting, the students had given us an authentic way into future learning engagements. We planned to discuss voting systems and democracies at a later date.
We were impressed with their initial organisation, but the arguments escalated and the students were clearly struggling with the lack of leadership in class. The student teachers tried their best but most of the others were not listening. Some students even got upset because they were overwhelmed by the chaos. At this early stage in the morning, students were unable to make decisions, compromise or follow instructions.
By the time we got to morning recess, it had all changed. They made us proud by overcoming the difficulties. For the rest of Silent Teacher Day, they demonstrated leadership, independence and respect towards one another. We were hoping for some initial madness to tune into the unit, but we were very pleased that students were able to overcome it without any teacher intervention. Apart from legal reasons, we didn’t need to be there from this point on. We barely took any more notes because there was nothing interesting to take note of! The class was functioning like a well-oiled machine. The student teachers motivated the others by offering a choice of tasks and rewards for completion. Very impressive leadership and teamwork!
If my students can achieve this without any guidance whatsoever, imagine what they could achieve with a few set tasks. If students were more informed and better prepared before Silent Teacher Day, I am confident that they would have made a total success out of it, without the initial tears, tantrums and confusion. We will provide another opportunity before the end of the year.
In a later lesson, we discussed what had happened when we removed governance from the class. Our notes and photos were useful discussion prompts. From their experience of having no governance, these are key words that they identified:
- In charge
The important next step in concept-driven learning is for students to identify relationships between concepts and to craft their own generalisations. From the ideas above, here is a selection of student-written generalisations:
Leaders make responsible, fair decisions.
In order to be a team, you need to respect the person in charge.
Being a leader means to respect others and take responsibility.
Leaders have to respect the people who you are making decisions for.
Leaders have control and are fair.
Controlled decisions are made fairly with more people involved.
People in charge need to make fair decisions.
Teams need governance to function well.
The concept of fairness came up repeatedly. Also, some students are moving beyond the idea that governance is just one person in charge. At this early stage of our inquiry, students have demonstrated a good foundational understanding. These generalisations prompted teacher questions and the next steps in our inquiry have become clear:
- Explore different governance systems and structures
- Explore the concept of fairness
- How are decisions made within governance systems?
- What makes a good decision?
Have you ever tried a Silent Teacher Day? Do you have any experience of teaching a similar unit? Please leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. Also, please check out my previous post if you missed it. It is a guest post about cyber threats, written by some Year Five students as part of their PYP Exhibition. They would very much appreciate your comments, questions and feedback. Click here to read it.