Captain, crew, cargo

Metaphors are powerful learning tools.  Daniel Pink in A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the World, advocates using them.  Poets use them.  Good writers use them.  Coaches use them.  Teachers should use them more.

"If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a metaphor is worth 10,000."

In comes captain, crew and cargo (or passenger).

January, when school semesters are transitioning, and teachers (and students) need a fresh start (or pep talk), this metaphor is a powerful one.  Basically, explain to students that in their classroom each students takes on a daily role.  Sometimes, a student will take on the "captain" role and show leadership qualities in the classroom.  This may be leading a small group, contributing to class discussions and in some cases, "over" contributing.  There are times, however, that instead of being a captain, a student may be more of a crew member.  Crew members are worker bees - they contribute to class discussions, work hard in small groups, but never quite take on leadership roles in the classroom.  We need crew members, in all situations (and captains) to get the job done. 

Students who do not take on either role - captain or crew - usually are cargo.  They are "dead weight," so to speak.  They do not contribute to other students' learning in the classroom and often times they delay learning as their contributions are null and their energy/enthusiasm undetectable.  Some educators prefer to call cargo, passengers, as cargo seems so lethargic and passive, while passengers might be quietly enjoying the ride and simply choosing not to contribute that day.

At any rate, sharing the captain, crew, cargo metaphor is powerful in that students understand several things:

1.  As their teacher, you are paying attention to their behavior.
2.  You are cognizant of their role and contributions in the classroom.
3.  Once you introduce this metaphor, you can discuss the importance of cycling through the roles.  Being captain everyday might be overkill for some students (and their peers).  Being cargo everyday may be too passive for learning. 
4.  Most students can remember the metaphor as it easy to relate to:  Captain, crew, cargo.  Of course, having a visual for this can help.  Maybe incorporate some clip art to support this.
5.  From that day forward, you can talk to students using this metaphor.  For example, a student who never shows leadership qualities, but is a hard-worker (thus, s/he a crew member), you can assign them the "captain" role for a small group project that day; Why not broaden their skill set?  For someone who is cargo daily, you can communicate to them that you need them to be a crew member for the next activity.  It is subtle way of influencing students' behaviors and participation.

Try this one out this week.  Post comments below and share how it worked for you and your students.