Why Bring Collaborative Learning into your Classroom?
What is collaborative learning?
Simply put, it is allowing students to work together in pairs or small groups to solve problems or complete assignments. When they work together, engagement, retention, and understanding are increased.
What works about this type of learning is that it is active, social and it is student-centered. It takes the focus off of us and puts it on the students and it helps to build creativity.
When I’m working on something, I have ideas, but then I brainstorm and collaborate with others, they bring in great ideas and when we merge things together it is even better!
In addition to the retention of content, collaborative learning helps to build several soft skills that are necessary for success including:
• Higher level thinking
Aside from all the fun things we can do with collaborative learning, there are some basic best practices we need to keep in mind.
Keep groups small, no more than 7. This allows everyone to be involved and prevents the shy and quiet student from getting lost in the crowd.
Once you have divided students into groups, identify a group leader. If you let the groups choose the leader, the most outgoing person will always be the leader. There is nothing wrong with that person being the leader, but it is important to give others the chance to lead as well. Use random ways to choose the group leader such as most hours/least hours, lives closest/farthest to the school, tallest/shortest; lightest hair/darkest hair, etc. Have some fun and change it up every time.
To help eliminate any challenging situations that may arise in small groups, provide students with guidelines for productive discussions as well as what is allowed and not allowed. Teach this to students early in the program and remind students of it each time they work together.
Quickly deal with any inappropriate behavior. As an instructor, you should participate and emulate the best practices of academic discussions and as with any live group discussions monitor the group to make sure it stays on topic.
Now be careful about jumping into a discussion or project too soon. Too often we really want to control the direction of a group. But sometimes letting things happen organically can be amazing. Sit back and watch and see how things unfold instead of jumping in and controlling. There may be a time where you have to jump in and steer it back on track, but don’t be too quick to do that. Other times you may want to pop into the discussion and mention something that will prompt them to engage.
Don’t forget that group work, online or in-person, is subject to all the same interpersonal group dynamics.
• Involve all learners.
• Avoid interrupting learners and groups when at work.
• Provide ample time and opportunities for learners to experiment and discover.
• Allow for choices among all learners.
• Ensure that each activity is based on problems or questions that are solvable.
• Ensure that all learners know and understand their individual roles in the process. Each student should have clearly defined roles.
• Allow for differences of opinions among learners.
• Use visual aids as frequently as possible.
• Require that opinions and statements brought forth by the learners are supported by evidence and facts.
• Teach with enthusiasm and ensure that the process enriches knowledge rather than shares ignorance.
With good leadership by you the educator, group discussions will be kept on track and can stimulate thought, encourage participation, and aid in retention.