By: Kendall Hunt RPD with contributions from the editorial team
Educators have faced unprecedented challenges in the past few years. When COVID-19 caused the world to come to a screeching halt, many schools and teachers had to learn new technologies and implement new strategies, all while driving learning. Throughout all of this, if we have learned anything, it is the value in collaboration.
As an educator, how can you instill the importance of collaboration in your classroom through 2022? Well-structured collaborative learning tasks are effective ways to develop skills, increase student learning, and keep students motivated, all while establishing a classroom environment that encourages cooperation and values diversity.
Although the terms, “collaborative learning”, and “group work”, are often used interchangeably but what differentiates collaborative learning from traditional group work is that students are working individually to complete a portion of the work to achieve a common goal. Whereas traditional group work is geared towards 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 outcome.
The features of collaborative learning result in both academic and social benefits, including the following:
· Students share in the leadership role rather than following one leader. This gives students equal footing in the group, fosters 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 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. It also enhances student’s skills in providing and responding to feedback and supporting one another’s efforts.
· Students can use their preferred learning style. Each student learns differently, and self-directed learning within a group setting allows students to use their preferred learning style while also being exposed to the styles of other students. This also helps to provide the role-modeling of alternate strategies and cultivates an appreciation for diversity in the classroom.
In addition to these benefits, collaborative learning creates a positive classroom environment, heightens student interest, and promotes 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 task or segment and have each student work to combine their segments to form a complete project
· Choose collaborative learning for projects that offer opportunities for the use of various learning styles. For example, projects that could incorporate art, technology, or science in addition to traditional research and written products.
· Consider group composition when creating collaborative groups. A group 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 both individual student work and the work of the group. 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. When setting goals for 2022, 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. Either way, you will quickly see the benefits of collaborative learning in your classroom!