This post was written in collaboration with Douglas Konopelko. It is part of a series about the Building Blocks for Personalized Learning. Although it may seem unusual to connect collaboration to the practice of personalized learning, it is important to remember that students don’t learn within a vacuum. In a personalized learning environment, teachers can help students discover what individual roles they can successfully assume when collaborating with others.
Employers in the digital age are not looking at test scores; they want candidates with effective collaboration and teamwork skills. According to The National Association of Colleges and Employers in 2013, the number one skill employers are looking for in their employees is the ability to work in a team. Review the top ten qualities in this Forbes article. Collaboration is often misconstrued, and it is important to make a distinction between collaboration and group work. Think of it this way – group work is an assembly line – each worker is responsible for a portion of the final product, but they can be completed in isolation. On the other hand, an example of collaboration is the leadership team from a corporation deciding on the direction they want to take the company. Collaboration requires that there be some form of direct interaction between individuals towards an end product which includes negotiations, discussions, and valuing the perspectives of others (Kozar, 2010). Detailed below are some strategies for collaboration that teachers can facilitate in their personalized learning environments.
Strategies for Facilitating Collaboration
Scaffold Collaborative Activities – Students might not know how to begin to work collaboratively, so a teacher can facilitate collaboration by modeling strategies for sharing responsibilities while still including everyone in the overall process and success for the activity. Teachers can also suggest roles with specific responsibilities within the group. For example, if students are developing a video based around a standard, there might be students with the following responsibilities: script writers, editors, videographers, prop designers, and actors.
Teachers are gradually abandoning roles that don’t involve content, such as “time keeper” in favor of those that keep everyone truly involved in the standards-based or skills-based learning. The following list contains some suggested new roles for collaborative learning:
- Standard Bearer – This role is responsible for making sure that the team’s discussion and answer is aligned to the standard/scale/learning goal and steers the conversation back to that direction if it strays.
- Clarification Guru – This role makes sure that what is being discussed/presented will be clearly stated to make it easy to understand while still remaining focused on the topic at hand.
- Visualizer – This role is responsible for translating the group’s full process (all the thoughts and ideas) into a visual (sketchnote or graphic organizer).
- Deepener of Knowledge – This role is responsible for synthesizing questions or an enrichment assignment based on the standard and the group’s process that will help other people dig deeper into the standard and get to a higher level of cognitive complexity.
Promote Interdependence – It is essential to have nurtured a learning community where students are encouraged to rely on each other for support. One strategy is to assign students who are experts at particular apps to be “Appsperts.” Post the Appsperts on the wall and explain that if students are confused on how to use the particular app, they can go to the Appspert for expert advice. This provides students with an opportunity to develop leadership skills within the classroom digitally. Another strategy for promoting interdependence is to create a classroom norm that students discuss issues with each other before bringing them to the teacher. The teacher should also adhere to this norm by not interjecting in every conversation by assuming it is off-track.
Utilize Student Expertise – Once students have mastered a standard, they can develop materials and resources to teach other students that concept. Encouraging students to utilize what they have created to tutor or assist students who are having difficulties is empowering. This reciprocal teaching is one of the most powerful and effective ways to simultaneously offer remediation to struggling students and acceleration to students who are ready to move on at their own pace. Students can also facilitate a small group environment to teach other students a concept. If they can do this effectively, a student-led session can be recorded for future flipped instruction. If possible, a teacher could post this as an example or evidence for parents to see the powerful learning taking place in the classroom.
Many students may know how to use the technology in the classroom better than their teachers, but they might not know how to learn with that technology. The teacher can show a willingness to learn from the students how to use those technology tools, devices, resources, and applications for new learning opportunities.
Establish Clear Guidelines – A positive strategy is to have students develop a set of classroom rules, expectations, and norms that help the class to create a sense of community within the classroom. These norms should be posted and reviewed regularly to help guide collaboration. Before students begin working collaboratively is a good time for the teacher to model examples and non-examples of appropriate behaviors. It is essential to design these norms with the students in order to empower students and to achieve their buy-in. They can also assist in the design of a checklist or a rubric for evaluating participation so that they know what is expected of them when they collaborate with others.
Model Conflict Resolution – Creating a collaborative classroom culture is essential to any transformational change. One successful method is to implement a classroom vision statement developed by all students. Each morning, students can discuss ways they will achieve the classroom vision, and if they were unable to the previous day, they can develop a goal on how they will improve. Students can develop an action plan together to reach that goal using the following suggested questions:
- What will I do today?
- What will I do tomorrow?
- What will I do next week?
- How will I know that we have been successful?
It should be expected that as students collaborate, they will eventual experience conflicts. When conflicts do arise, the teacher should walk through the steps and norms that have been developed by the students for resolving conflicts. The teacher’s role in this situation should be to coach the students by asking good questions that help to lead to a resolution.
More about Douglas – In addition to his role as the Coordinator of Digital Learning for Martin County School District in Florida, Douglas Konopelko is a connected educator and graphic design enthusiast (dkonopelko.com). His passion for collaboration and lifelong learning is woven into the fabric of each of these roles. As a classroom teacher, Douglas led the charge for BYOD in his district and continues to support the program as a district administrator.