The answers are so simple, you can start using collaborative learning today!
What Does Collaborative Learning Mean?
Collaborative learning is the practice of segmenting students into groups and having them work in specific roles according to their strengths.
Then, the groups work toward a specific goal, like a presentation or project.
Each member of those groups is responsible for a different part of the project’s completion, and the group members share what they’ve learned to achieve their common goal.
There may be a group leader, a researcher, a writer, a speaker, or any role that someone could fulfill.
But the key is that your students don’t get assistance from you while they work.
This means every student has an incentive to work hard toward a specific goal that moves the group closer to its common goal.
They also have an incentive to perform methodical, detailed work so they know the information they share is accurate, current, and relevant.
Best of all, collaborative learning eliminates the main pitfall of group work — one student doing all the work.
If one part of a group’s project isn’t up to snuff, you know which student didn’t pull their weight.
Then, you can grade your students accordingly.
But there’s more to successful collaborative learning than just group projects. There are whole subsets of information students need to learn, and there’s a little more work you have to do as a teacher.
How Can I Use Collaborative Learning in the Classroom?
You use collaborative learning in a classroom the same way you use lectures, presentations, or discussions — you plan it.
Like other lessons, you need to know exactly what you’re going to introduce to students, how students can succeed with the lesson, what may cause them to fail, and more.
You also have to do some extra work to prep students for collaborative learning. After all, you don’t want them to break off into groups of friends and socialize instead of work.
So how can you help students prepare and pass collaborative learning projects?
1. Introduce Critical Thinking Skills
Every student needs critical thinking skills, especially in today’s age of information literacy.
In a nutshell, it trains them to question what they read, hear, and believe.
Critical thinking skills empower students to separate fact from fiction in their everyday lives. This makes them less susceptible to lies — including the modern fake news phenomenon — while giving them the confidence to ask “why” about the world around them.
Critical thinking works in collaborative learning because it lets students double-check each other’s work without coming across as insulting.
It also helps students take criticism without viewing it as an insult. Instead, they can assess someone else’s thoughts and understand their merits.
Overall, this makes the collaboration experience more effective, and students learn a valuable skill that they can use for the rest of their lives — especially in the workplace.
But critical thinking is just the first step in strong collaboration.
To really help students succeed, they need to understand more than their collaborators — they need to understand themselves.
2. Help Students Identify (and Play to) Their Strengths
No matter how old your students are, they’ll always have more to discover about themselves.
Some students may have no idea what they’re good at doing yet, and they may not have discovered a passion in life.
That’s why it’s so important to encourage students to look inward and find their strengths.
You can start with some simple questions for students to answer:
Who is someone you admire?
What do you admire about them? (Be as specific as possible.)
What does your admiration say about that person?
What do your family and friends rely on you to do?
What’s the last compliment someone told you?
What do you do differently from everyone else?
What do you like most about your best friend?
These answers will all give some insight into what each student admires about the people they like. Then, they can follow those ideas to what they want to do, how they want to act, or how they want to be perceived.
That passion can quickly turn into a strength. After all, if someone is passionate about a subject, then they have all the motivation they need to try it and improve.
By that logic, any student’s passion can become their strength.
Then, they can apply that strength in a group setting.
If students admire politicians, they can be the group spokesperson.
If they admire military leaders, they can initiate and facilitate group conversations.
If they admire video game designers, they can develop a system to implement group ideas.
The possibilities are endless, and some students may have multiple strengths. Others may only have one.
But once students discover their strengths, it’s time to encourage them to speak up.
When you have a group of diverse students working together and playing to their strengths, they can create some incredible results.
Collaboration doesn’t have to take place in the classroom though. Today, with the Internet nearly everywhere, students have more collaboration options at their disposal than ever.
The best online collaboration software is far and away Google Applications.
3. Teach Google Applications
Google Applications is a suite of online tools (most of which are free) that anyone can use as long as they have a Google account.
Considering Gmail is the most popular email client in the world, the chances are good that your students already have one!
With it, they can access three major tools that’ll help them collaborate together while writing documents, creating spreadsheets, and designing presentations.