Collaboration in the Classroom
I was always finding this fact that all of us are different, one the most exciting, especially while working in an educational environment. It is amazing, how differently we can see the world around us. This is especially powerful in any collaboration process.
“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” – Charles Darwin
Collaborative learning can occur peer-to-peer or in larger groups. Research shows, that through peer instruction, students teach each other by addressing misunderstandings and clarifying misconceptions (Collaborative Learning – Cornell University)
Collaborative learning has a significant impact on students’ communication and collaboration skills development. Durin collaborative learning students increase the quality of thinking, oral communication, self-management, leadership, self-esteem, responsibility, etc. They develop a higher quality of their social communication which has a big impact on their future life and employment success. (Collaborative Learning – Cornell University)
This time the group of my choice for facilitating a collaboration process was a group of 5 years old students.
Building collaboration in the classroom takes a lot of steps to plan. First of all, we worked on establishing group work rules. We all agreed that being kind to each other is essential in this process. But what does it mean to be kind while working in a group?
We all talked about possible values of our group work. The ideas we all came up with were:
- all of us are different and can learn new things from each other;
- some of us might have a better understanding of the concept we are about to learn and can be really good helpers to others;
- some of us are better experts in using technology and will be able to assist during the lesson.
After talking about the possible values of group work, we all came up with the roles:
- Technology expert;
- Ipad monitor;
- Class library assistant;
- Teacher assistant.
Students got a feeling of responsibility right after they got their roles assigned. Of course, some of the roles required explanation for better understanding.
The goal of the class was to explore a new tech tool – Write Reader – a digital online book creator. Digital book creation is already motivating students by its format. As the final result, the book itself looks more like a real book – it contains all the necessary parts – book cover, title, author, page numbers, pictures, labels, etc. Moreover, students can access each other’s book library, see and read each other’s books. This also might be a great way for students to introduce each other culture of their origin – creating and sharing a book about the home country and culture of each student. After the books are printed, students would go to different grade levels to present their books and read them with their buddies. However, this year, with all the COVID limitations, the presentation will most possibly turn into a virtual meeting. However, this process contains a lot of collaboration and communication between students, which is fun and effective.
The main focus was on the following ISTE standards for students:
1d. Students understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use and troubleshoot current technologies, and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies.
3d. Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
4b. Students select and use digital tools to plan and manage a design process that considers design constraints and calculated risks.
The first step of the digital-book creation process was managing student groups. Students were split into groups of 5 students. Students were informed, that during this class each group will be able to request teachers’ help only once. Students were really surprised after they heard this fact, they were all used to get teacher’s assistance at all times. Right before the activity, we discussed the idea of how can students learn without teachers’ constant instructions/reminders during class time? I could see how sharp their minds became, once they realized that after the tool exploration with teacher’s assistance they will have to work only by themselves and learn together with classmates only. We all looked at the new tool, talked about the features and, most importantly about icons, which help us navigate the digital book creator. During the class, I was only reminding, that they can ask groupmates for help. All groups had to work on the creation of a book title page. Students of each group could share their knowledge and insights on the digital tool navigation. All three groups had to include a different type of animals in their books. One group was exploring animals living in the desert, other groups worked with ocean animals and the last one had to think about animals in the sky. Students had different areas of explorations and according to the type of animal habitat each group had to come up with a certain book design – book color, image, text, etc.
At the end of the class, we took a moment to discuss what value working in groups gave them? Students explained that they didn’t need teacher’s assistance since they could receive help from their friends, therefore, they didn’t have to wait so much for a teacher’s attention, because their friends could assist sooner. They could share the experience of the icons they’ve explored on WriteReader. Also, a fun part was searching for pictures and sharing with friends in the group.
For planing this group activity I was following most of the recommended steps from 10 Strategies to Build on Student Collaboration in the Classroom article (George Washington University). Such steps like organizing the groups for maximum effectiveness, teaching students listening to each other, or making goals, and expectations, assigning roles, or using real-world problems are key components in any group work. Applying these elements in planning and organizing the student’s group work raised the effectiveness of the process at least more than twice.
My next step with this group is to organize an activity of thinking routines. First of all, Flipgrid videos with students’ reflection will be really valuable, especially, knowing the fact that students will be able to see each other’s video reflection on the group work experience. This activity includes students’ concerns, which will lead to a further discussion of teamwork values and challenges. I personally find value in using a Mind Map in order to make my thinking visible. This tool is really effective to start learning a new concept and organizing thoughts. I think this might be a great tool to record the student’s reflection on groupwork insights.
Project Zero’s Thinking Routines Toolbox has also caught my attention. One of the routines I liked a lot is “See Think Wonder”. This routine encourages students to make careful observations and thoughtful interpretations. It helps stimulate curiosity and sets the stage for inquiry. It will perfectly enrich my book creation activity. In this case, this Digital Book creator tool successfully supplements any curriculum. In addition, another similar tool is Book Creator – a digital tool that allows more editing opportunities and more flexible tools to unleash the creativity and design skills of your students. My 5 years old students will explore it later in the year.
For more digital tools for thinking routines check out the Tech Tools to Try (with Thinking Routines) in 2020 article. Some additional great activities/protocols for students’ learning can be found here – Critical Friends Group Protocols. This one has a big list of activities and icebreakers for students for middle and high school, however, it is worth attention and better exploration, because some of the activities can be adapted to younger age students.
It is amazing how valuable technology is for educators, especially thinking about the amount of all that information and opportunities to share and exchange. However, we are getting more and more addicted to it. You probably know that disappointing and frustrating feeling of the lost wifi connection during your school day. I strongly believe that all talented educators can teach without technology, but I have to admit, that it is essential to have it right now.