This post is about collaboration, and as I explored many different angles to find an example or analogy that illustrates what it truly means, I realized something. Explaining collaboration doesn’t require an analogy or even a deep explanation. Our daily lives and how we survive are fueled by collaboration. Each individual is deeply entwined with others in many aspects of work, personal relationships, and family life. Most decisions we make affect others in some way, and, often, we make those decisions for the good of more than one individual. There are very few people that do not work with others to find solutions to problems on a daily basis. We are all collaborators.
As you know, just because we all collaborate, doesn’t mean we are all good at it. Individuals who are capable of taking in collective knowledge, putting forth new ideas, and then working with others to accomplish mutual goals possess a social currency that many others don’t. Collaboration is a skill that must be built and strengthened through practice and opportunity. Most importantly, a person who is a skilled collaborator has more opportunities for success later in life. Our world of information and communication is allowing the transfer of knowledge more quickly than ever. Will our kids be able to use that information, alongside others, to fit the puzzle pieces together and solve important problems? Here are some ways to help get students collaborating in the classroom:
Students Should Work With Others to Complete Tasks
This doesn’t sound all that groundbreaking, and it isn’t. After all, this, by definition, is collaboration. However, just because students are in a group and sitting next to each other doesn’t mean they are collaborating. The most important thing you can do when creating collaborative lessons is to ask yourself, “Is the work I am asking students to do really a task that requires collaboration?” Completing a group study guide isn’t collaborative; it’s a work-sharing program. As teachers, we should be designing activities that force students to be accountable to their partners. Notice I didn’t say their classmates? The best way to make sure each student pulls their weight is to have them partner with experts outside of the classroom. Authentic learning leads to authentic collaboration.
Help Students Learn Through Discussion, Clarification of Ideas, and Evaluation of Other’s Ideas
Are students striving to improve their work, or just complete it? Group work is fine, but another aspect of collaboration is receiving feedback and understanding how to make actionable improvements. When students discuss ideas with others, it becomes easier for students to see how information fits into their own work. Technology (such as shared documents and virtual discussions) allows students to communicate in a more fluid manner. Are we giving students the opportunity to communicate and collaborate with larger audiences? The business world now uses social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to gather feedback and improve their products and services. Giving students the opportunity to share their work with a larger audience will allow them to gather information about their ideas and improve upon it. Blogs are a great way to share all kinds of student work and monitor their feedback.
Help Students Organize, But Be Flexible
Giving students assigned roles and checklists that help them stay organized can be very important during collaborative projects. However, it is important to allow them to take ownership of the process. Give them resources to be successful, but don’t make the roles so rigid that kids give up or allow someone else in the group to do all of the work. During a transmedia storytelling unit in my class, students in groups chose their group roles, but students were encouraged to ask other students to help complete their parts of the stories. The group met weekly to give each other feedback on how their portion of the project was progressing.
Working together is important in every aspect of life. Collaboration in our classrooms is more than just working in groups to complete an assignment. We can help students build skills to solve meaningful problems if we show them how to work together for a common goal. More importantly, our individual learning is directly related to the knowledge that we receive from others. Showing students the importance of collaboration means demonstrating the importance of the relationships around us every single day.
Written by Adam Cole