Although “collaboration” often has negative connotations (“collaborating with the enemy”), its primary meaning is “working with someone to produce or create something.” Writers and artists regularly use collaboration in their work; teachers (and other supervisors) should understand its value for building a unified group and not a roomful of loners out for themselves.
Understand What Collaboration Means
If you (or your students’ parents) don’t care for the word “collaboration,” “cooperation” and “team effort” are acceptable synonyms. Whatever you call it, remember the concept of valuing and utilizing every individual’s participation. Effective collaboration means that all participants are actively involved in planning, decision-making, and problem-solving. Try to limit your own leadership role to defining broad goals and parameters—and stay open to alternate suggestions. You want to encourage the kids to work together and do their own thinking.
Don’t let anyone else assume the role of undisputed leader, either. Even with collaborative efforts, every individual needs to exercise critical thinking and self-confidence.
Make Group Projects the Backbone of Your Curricula
Too many schools make learning all about honor rolls and other special recognitions: the “brightest” (highest-scoring and most academically-minded) kids get all the rewards while others are ignored, nagged to do better, or relegated to “lesser” learning groups. It’s not only the “less bright” kids who suffer under this system: even the top scorers learn to see “winning” as everything, and everyone else as competitors (i. e., threats).
The more collaborative learning you can include in a class, the better. Try the following approaches:
- “Breakout” conversations: class divides into groups of three or four people, who discuss various aspects of the lesson (ideally, a different aspect within each group) and then take turns presenting their “reports” to the rest of the class, who are free to ask questions.
- Cooperative games such as group spelling bees (instead of a separate person spelling each word, one student gives the first letter, the next student the second letter, and so on).
- Problem-solving projects (building a paper tower that supports weight, getting everyone across an imaginary river, etc.).
Notes on forming groups within a class:
- Don’t let the same sets of friends automatically group together every time. Rotate who teams with whom (by counting off or drawing numbers, if necessary) so students will get to know and appreciate everyone else as individuals.
- Watch that everyone contributes, according to their individual skills. If you anticipate difficulties there, let your first collaborative project involve taking aptitude or personality tests (make sure these are fun!) and brainstorming ways each individual’s skills can benefit the class and the world.
Enlist Help in Managing the Class
In addition to collaboration during “official” learning, give everyone a “class job” according to their talents and interests. Some possible duties:
- Watering plants
- Creating art to decorate the room
- Organizing bookshelves or other shared areas
- “Tutoring” classmates who struggle in one’s area of expertise (which needn’t be strictly academic)
You can further encourage collaboration by assigning duties to “partnerships” rather than individuals. Rotate any jobs no one wants—and emphasize how these contribute to overall effectiveness. Everything is more enjoyable when one feels like a valued contributor!
A SCHOOL FOR COLLOBORATIVE LEARNING
At Shady Oak, we believe that working together for mutual progress is essential for becoming effective contributors to society, and that society is well served through building the collaboration habit in children of primary age. If you’re interested in child-centered teaching that encourages teamwork and avoids head-of-the-class competition, contact us to learn more about our educational approach.
Blessings to parents and children of all ages!