We all know that group work can be a beast. Someone always does all the work, there’s tattling and infighting, and there’s always one kid who phones it in and puts their name on something at the last minute just to get credit. We won’t even get into parents who argue against group work because their child always gets the short end of the stick and carries the load for the others.
The above scenario is unfortunate, and all too common. But truthfully, group work, collaborative learning doesn’t have to be this way. Really!
Let’s get rid of the phrase, “Group work,” and replace it with a more updated and inclusive term: collaborative learning. Collaborative learning is one of the 4 C’s , and a necessary component of 21st Century skills and learning. Students’ ability to work together can inform their future work and contributions to the world. Collaborative learning puts more emphasis on the learning, rather than on the idea of “work.” As the students go through the process of discovering new knowledge, their collaborators will be processing the information right alongside them. If you pitch this in the right way, your students will truly be discovering, problem solving, and learning together.
Do students actually understand what it takes to be collaborative? I’ve been guilty of assigning what was a group project without the necessary parameters and structure, and it’s blown up in my face. Students must be taught how to work collaboratively, just as they need to be taught classroom routines, or how to have a fruitful discussion. Try these collaborative learning strategies the next time you assign a group project.
Start with assigning roles with specific tasks, with set assessment points so they understand expectations. You can even create roles with students in mind- scribe for quieter kids, etc. Eventually, you can back off and have the students design their own roles and assessments (!), but it’s critical to lay the foundation first so they can meet your standards. Your students will build up to proficiency as they practice collaborative skills, and you’ll eventually be able to concentrate more on the learning rather on the ability to fulfill a role.
Always, always reflect with your students on how the process of the collaborative learning went for them. Provide opportunities for all students to give feedback, including the roles assigned and problems encountered. Groups should work together to solve issues that arise- even the whole class together can look at a problem that came up with one group, and discuss ways to improve upon the process for next time. Reflection and problem solving within the process can result in huge payoffs, including a smoother process next time around. Most of the time, students will be able to solve their own conflicts and issues based on the foundational work you provided, and their solutions can apply to anything they do collaboratively from that point on. It’s all learning, right?
Collaborative learning can be time consuming to plan and implement at first, but once students understand expectations and have the practice, they will be prepared to shine in their roles, and move mountains with their combined thinking.
Looking for additional information on how to incorporate collaborative learning into your classroom? Check out our FREE, 30 minute on-demand webinar, Collaborative Learning in the Classroom, where former English teacher and Lead Course Specialist Dawn Butler focuses on the research and rationale for collaborative learning, and discusses ways to ensure participation and engagement for all students. This is a great opportunity to learn about new collaborative techniques- beyond the jigsaw!