By Teachers, For Teachers
Collaborative learning is an essential part of 21st-century education. If your state is one that has adopted the Common Core State Standards, then you already know this. If you have not been informed, then collaborative learning strategies are based on the idea that learning is a natural act that involves students working together to solve problems or complete a task. As experts discover the many modalities on how students learn, more school districts are implementing collaborative learning strategies as part of their everyday curriculum.
Ideally, collaborative learning is a process where students work together using each others’ strengths. Students get the opportunity to actively engage with their classmates, and learning flourishes through conversations. Students are challenged both socially and academically as they work together, listen to their peers’ perspectives, and articulate their thoughts. Creating an effective collaborative learning environment takes a lot of planning. Here are a few tips on how to make it work in your classroom.
In order to set up students for success, you must understand that this will not be a quiet classroom. Collaborative learning is all about students discussing and sharing their thoughts. If students are used to the traditional classroom where their desks are in rows and they are unable to work together with their peers, then you must get students used to this new learning style. Start by experimenting with small groups. Put students’ desks into clusters so they can easily speak to one another. As students get used to this new style of learning, increase the amount of time spent in the group as well as the group size.
Effective collaborative learning groups are successful when everyone in the group is accountable for their work. Oftentimes students that are born leaders tend to overpower the group with their knowledge and strengths, leaving the others feeling like they can’t contribute. Or, you may have a situation where a student is lazy and doesn’t want to do the work, then the other students feel like they have to carry all the weight of the group. Whatever the case may be, be sure to create an environment where all students are accountable, not just a few. Try cooperative learning strategies where each student has a specific role for their group, or where groups work in pairs within the group.
Really take the time and think about how you want to put your groups together. In order for students to work well together, there needs to be the right balance. You can choose to group students by varying skill levels, gender, personality, you name it. Just be aware of what works and what doesn’t work. You can change groups as much or as little as you want to. Just make sure that you check in with students and see how they feel about the groups too.
The key to successful collaborative groups is all about the discipline. If you have rules set in place, then the odds of you having a positive classroom atmosphere are much greater. Before you even put students into groups explain your behavior expectations and consequences. Closely monitor each group to see if they are working well together. Stop any disruptions or inappropriate behavior as soon as you spot it and be sure to stick to your consequences. When you enforce the rules and procedures then you will find students will behave and enjoy the collaborative learning environment.
Collaborative learning take a lot of time and effort. Don’t’ get discouraged if it doesn’t seem like it’s working right away. Give it some time, let students adjust, and look and see what is working and what isn’t working. Once you get the groups situated, you will find that the students will really enjoy them.
Do you implement collaborative learning in your classroom? What makes it work for you? Please share your tips in the comment section below, we would love to hear your ideas.
Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a master's of science in education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the elementary education expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators, or visit her website at Empoweringk6educators.