By: RPD Kendall Hunt Publishing (grades 1-8).
Well-structured collaborative learning tasks are an effective way to increase student learning and motivation while establishing a classroom environment that encourages cooperation and values diversity.
Although the terms collaborative learning and group work are often used interchangeably, what differentiates collaborative learning from traditional group work is that students are working with one another to complete tasks and achieve a common goal, rather than simply working on the same task at the same time. Therefore, the tasks must be structured in such a way that collaboration is required to achieve the intended outcome. Usually, this is accomplished by having each group member be responsible for a specific aspect of the task so that each student is individually accountable for a portion of the group’s final outcome.
The features of collaborative learning result in both academic and social benefits, including the following:
· Students share the leadership role rather than following the directive of a group leader. This gives students a more equal footing in the group, fostering a sense of community and ownership of the group project, and allows all group members to practice their leadership skills.
· Students share the workload equally and are individually accountable for the work. This avoids the potential problem of some group members doing more than their fair share of the work while others do less, a common issue in traditional group work.
· Students share responsibility for the final product. Although students are held individually accountable for their portion of the work, they also share the responsibility for the final group product. This creates interdependence among group members, encouraging them to help one another stay on track toward achieving the group’s goal, thus enhancing student’s skills in providing and responding to peer feedback and supporting one another’s efforts.
· Students can use their preferred learning style. Collaborative learning accommodates students’ different learning styles. Each student learns differently, and self-directed learning within a group setting allows students to use their preferred style of learning while also being exposed to the styles of other students, thus providing role-modeling of alternate strategies and fostering an appreciation of diversity.
In addition to these benefits, collaborative learning creates a positive classroom environment, heightens student interest, and fosters interpersonal relationships among students. There are also benefits for the teacher, including reduced misbehavior during group work and increased ease of and fairness in the grading process.
To realize the benefits of collaborative learning, teachers should consider a few guidelines when implementing this strategy in the classroom:
· Choose collaborative learning for projects that can be broken down into separate roles and responsibilities—for example, design a project in which each student is responsible for a specific decade in relation to a topic, and the combined decades form a complete timeline when assembled by the group.
· Choose collaborative learning for projects that offer opportunities for the use of various learning styles—for example, projects that could incorporate art, technology, or movement/dance in addition to traditional written products.
· Consider group composition when creating collaborative groups—a group size of four to five students is ideal for ensuring diversity while still being manageable, and it’s best to have a mix of ability levels so that students can learn from one another.
· Create separate rubrics for individual student work and the work of the group as a whole—this is key to ensuring individual accountability while also emphasizing teamwork. Effective rubrics clearly define the tasks students are responsible for and the criteria on which their work will be graded.
In sum, well-structured collaborative learning tasks are an effective way to increase student learning and motivation while establishing a classroom environment that encourages cooperation and values diversity. Consider using this format for a new project you have planned for your students—or restructure a traditional group project to follow a collaborative format—and realize the benefits of collaborative learning in your classroom!