Posted in Pedagogy, Virtual Book Club

Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess

I read Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess because it was recommended by several people, but I must admit, I had to force myself to finish it. As I read the introduction, I was thinking that the author certainly was passionate and enthusiastic but he wasn’t saying anything new. As I read on, I became more and more annoyed.

toy pirates looking at a globe
flickr photo by pasukaru76 shared under a Creative Commons (CC0) license

That’s not to say that there are no good ideas in this book. The word “pirate” in the title is actually an acronym for the elements of Burgess’ teaching style: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask and Analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm. This seems promising, but it soon becomes clear that he equates teaching with entertainment. Most of the book describes how he presents content in creative ways. I will agree that there’s a show biz side to teaching and acting lessons could help some teachers, but I don’t believe that good teaching is only about presenting information in entertaining ways. Throughout the book Burgess refers to teachers as “presenters” and students as “audience.” In fact, the word “present” (and its other forms) appears 94 times in the book. His approach is so  teacher-centric it makes me cringe. In the Advanced Tactics chapter he actually says, “Nothing is more powerful than a master teacher standing before a class of students orchestrating the learning experience.” I know many effective (and powerful) educators who design learning opportunities where they quietly inspire and coach students without ever standing in front of them in an attempt to orchestrate their learning.

I also had a hard time with Burgess’ arrogant and condescending tone. He says one of his primary goals is to create a buzz on campus about him and his classes. In the chapter titled “Transformation” he says, “I am always shooting to have the most talked about class on campus and the conference session with the most buzz. That goal isn’t about ego, it’s about effectiveness.” This sounds a lot like ego to me. When he describes how he conducts his classes in the first three days of school, he talks about playing music as students enter because, “It is an audible reminder that they are entering a different world… my world.”

He does offer some interesting ideas that he calls “hooks” as ways to present content more creatively and to make the presentation more memorable. These lists may be a useful resource for teachers who are looking for fresh ideas, but most of them seem to have been chosen for their entertainment value more than for their pedagogical effectiveness. He ends the book with some thoughts that I can agree with, including the fact that not everything you try will work 100% of the time, but that shouldn’t keep you from taking a risk and trying something new.

So, if you have read this book and love it (as many people seem to) I challenge you to use the comments to help me understand its appeal. Do you think a teacher must be entertaining to be effective? Is attention the same as engagement? I’d really like to hear from anyone who was inspired by this book to change their practice. Did it make a difference? How do you know?

My next professional book on my summer reading list is Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel. I’ve also been reading some fiction and I plan to add a separate page to this blog with my thoughts about the novels I’ve read. Watch for it in the navigation bar at the top of this page.

Posted in Technology Integration, Virtual Book Club

Ditch That Textbook by Matt Miller

I’ve never liked textbooks. Early in my career, I taught 6th grade for several years in a school where the only textbook I had was for math. I gathered my own materials for science, social studies, and ELA. In those pre-internet days, this was not easy, but I had help from my school librarian and members of the community who would donate books and magazines. We had plenty of print content, I often invited local experts to come to my classroom to talk to my students, and we took lots of field trips. I think I embraced PBL before I knew what it was. I could not imagine teaching from a textbook and letting it define my curriculum.

High pile of hardcover books
flickr photo by albertogp123 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Matt Miller promotes similar ideas in his book Ditch That Textbook: Free Your Teaching and Revolutionize Your ClassroomThe title of the book intrigued me, given my aversion to textbooks, and I expected the book to be about the harmful practice of assigning reading from one-size-fits-all textbooks to a class of diverse learners. I was looking for arguments to use when I discuss literacy issues with teachers who depend heavily on textbooks and who have students who struggle to read them. Instead, I found arguments for teaching with technology which seemed obvious to me but may be helpful to some teachers.

The author makes some good points about ditching the “textbook mentality” which means getting out of the rut of conventional teaching including reading from a textbook, answering the questions at the end of the chapter, completing the related worksheets, etc. His ideas are similar to what I was doing with my 6th graders except now it’s easier with technology. He discusses using digital resources from the internet, creating your own resources and sharing them, connecting with experts and with other classes through Skype, and using social media for teaching and learning. He also describes his paperless classroom and admits to making many mistakes in implementing it. I especially liked Chapter 21, ” You Are Your Own Best PD” where he says, “But if you’re waiting for school-provided PD to answer your every question and guide you on the path of high-quality teaching, you’re waiting on the wrong thing.” I think many teachers will find this book reassuring with the apparent theme being, “I did it and you can do it too.”

So, here’s the question I’m pondering: How do we nudge teachers out of the textbook driven practices that they find so comfortable? I’m thinking mostly about high school teachers, although I know a few middle school teachers who could use some nudging too. Let this be fodder for a healthy discussion in the comments for this post.

This week I’ll start reading Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess. I’m still working my way through 50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools by David C. Berliner and Gene V. Glass (I tend to read one lie at a time) but I hope to finish it soon.