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20 Collaborative Learning Tips And Strategies For Teachers

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20 Collaborative Learning Tips And Strategies For Teachers

contributed by Miriam Clifford

There is an age-old adage that says, “two heads are better than one.”

Consider collaboration in recent history: Watson and Crick or Page and Brin (Founders of Google). But did you know it was a collaborative Computer Club about basic programming at a middle school that brought together two minds that would change the future of computing?

Yes, those two were, of course, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, the founders of Microsoft.

Collaborative learning teams are said to attain higher-level thinking and preserve information for longer times than students working individually. Why?

Groups tend to learn through “discussion, clarification of ideas, and evaluation of other’s ideas.” Perhaps information that is discussed is retained in long-term memory.  Research by Webb suggests that students who worked collaboratively on math computational problems earned significantly higher scores than those who worked alone. Plus, students who demonstrated lower levels of achievement improved when working in diverse groups.

Collaborative learning teams are said to attain higher level thinking and preserve information for longer times than students working individually.

Many consider Vygotsky the father of ‘social learning.’ Vygotsky was an education rebel in many ways. He controversially argued for educators to assess students’ ability to solve problems rather than merely acquire knowledge. The idea of collaborative learning has a lot to do with Vygotsky’s idea of the “zone of proximal development.” It considers what a student can do if aided by peers and adults. By considering this model for learning, we might consider collaboration to increase students’ awareness of other concepts.

What are some ways to include best practices for collaborative learning in our classroom?

20 Collaborative Learning Tips And Strategies For Teachers

1. Establish clear group goals

Effective collaborative learning involves the establishment of group goals, as well as individual accountability. This keeps the group on task and establishes an unambiguous purpose. Before beginning an assignment, it is best to define goals and objectives to save time.

2. Keep groups midsized

Small groups of three or fewer usually lack enough diversity and may not allow divergent thinking to occur. Groups that are too large create ‘freeloading’ where not all members participate. A moderate size group of four or five is ideal.

3. Establish flexible group norms

Research suggests that collaborative learning is influenced by the quality of interactions. Interactivity and negotiation are important in group learning. In the 1960’s studies by Jacobs and Campbell suggested that norms are pervasive, even deviant norms were handed down and not questioned.

If you notice a deviant norm, you can do two things: rotate group members or assist in using outside information to develop a new norm. You may want to establish rules for group interactions for younger students. Older students might create their own norms. But remember, given their durable nature, it is best to have flexible norms. Norms should change with situations so that groups do not become rigid and intolerant or develop sub-groups.

4. Build trust and promote open communication

Successful interpersonal communication must exist in teams. Building trust is essential. Deal with emotional issues that arise immediately and any interpersonal problems before moving on. Assignments should encourage team members to explain concepts thoroughly to each other.Studies found that students who provide and receive intricate explanations gain most from collaborative learning. Open communication is key.

5. For larger tasks, create group roles

Decomposing a difficult task into parts to saves time. You can then assign different roles. A great example in my own classroom was in the science lab, fifth grade students assumed different roles of group leader, recorder, reporter, and fact-checker. The students might have turns to choose their own role and alternate roles by sections of the assignment or classes.

6. Create a pre-test and post-test

A good way to ensure the group learns together would be to engage in a pre and post-test. In fact, many researchers use this method to see if groups are learning. An assessment gives the team a goal to work towards and ensures learning is a priority. It also allows instructors to gauge the effectiveness of the group. Changes can be made if differences are seen in the assessments over time. Plus, you can use Bloom’s taxonomy to further hone in on specific skills.

Individuals should also complete surveys evaluating how well the group functioned. ‘Debriefing’ is an important component of the learning process and allows individuals to reflect on the process of group learning.

7. Consider the learning process itself as part of assessment

Many studies such as those by Robert Slavin at Johns Hopkins have considered how cooperative learning helps children develop social and interpersonal skills. Experts have argued that the social and psychological effects on self-esteem and personal development are just as important as the learning itself.

In terms of assessment, it may be beneficial to grade students on the quality of discussion, student engagement, and adherence to group norms. Praise younger groups for the following (for digital collaborative learning, for example) standards. This type of learning is a process and needs explicit instruction in beginning stages. Assessing the process itself provides motivation for students to learn how to behave in groups. It shows students that you value meaningful group interactions and adhering to norms.

8. Consider using different strategies, like the Jigsaw technique.

The jigsaw strategy is said to improve social interactions in learning and support diversity. The workplace is often like a jigsaw. It involves separating an assignment into subtasks, where individuals research their assigned area. Students with the same topic from different groups might meet together to discuss ideas between groups.

This type of collaboration allows students to become ‘experts’ in their assigned topic. Students then return to their primary group to educate others. Strategies here include using clusters, buzz groups, round-robin, leaning cells, or fishbowl discussions.

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9. Allow groups to reduce anxiety

When tackling difficult concepts, group learning may provide a source of support. Groups often use humor and create a more relaxed learning atmosphere that allows for positive learning experiences. Allow groups to use some stress-reducing strategies as long as they stay on task.

10. Establish group interactions

The quality of discussions is a predictor of the achievement of the group. Instructors should provide a model of how a successful group functions. Shared leadership is often useful here. Students should work together on the task and maintenance functions of a group. Roles are important in group development. Task functions include:

  • Initiating Discussions
  • Clarifying points
  • Summarizing
  • Challenging assumptions/devil’s advocate
  • Providing or researching information
  • Reaching a consensus

Maintenance involves the harmony and emotional well-being of a group. Maintenance includes roles such as sensing group feelings, harmonizing, compromising and encouraging, time-keeping, relieving tension, bringing people into the discussion, and more.

11. Use real-world problems

Experts suggest that project-based learning using open-ended questions can be very engaging. Rather than spending a lot of time designing an artificial scenario, use inspiration from everyday problems. Real world problems can be used to facilitate project-based learning and often have the right scope for collaborative learning.

12. Focus on enhancing problem-solving and critical thinking skills

Design assignments that allow room for varied interpretations. Different types of problems might focus on categorizing, planning, taking multiple perspectives, or forming solutions. Try to use a step-by step procedure for problem-solving. Mark Alexander explains one generally accepted problem-solving procedure:

  1. Identify the objective
  2. Set criteria or goals
  3. Gather data
  4. Generate options or courses of action
  5. Evaluate the options using data and objectives
  6. Reach a decision
  7. Implement the decision

13. Keep in mind the diversity of groups

Mixed groups that include a range of talents, backgrounds, learning styles, ideas, and experiences are best. Studies have found that mixed aptitude groups tend to learn more from each other and increase achievement of low performers. Rotate groups so students have a chance to learn from others.

14. Consider demographics

Equally, balanced gender groups were found to be most effective.

Some research suggests that boys were more likely to receive and give elaborate explanations and their stances were more easily accepted by the group. In majority male groups girls were ignored. In majority girl groups, girls tended to direct questions to the boy who often ignored them. You may also want to specifically discuss or establish gender equality as a norm. This may seem obvious, but it is often missed. It may be an issue you may want to discuss with older students.

15. Use scaffolding or diminished responsibility as students begin to understand concepts.

At the beginning of a project, you may want to give more direction than the end. Serve as a facilitator, such as by gauging group interactions or at first, providing a list of questions to consider. Allow groups to grow in responsibility as times goes on. In your classroom, this may mean allowing teams to develop their own topics or products as time goes on.

After all, increased responsibility over learning is a goal in collaborative learning.

16. Include different types of learning scenarios

Studies suggests that collaborative learning that focuses on rich contexts and challenging questions produces higher-order reasoning. Assignments can include laboratory work, study teams, debates, writing projects, problem-solving, and collaborative writing.

17. Technology makes collaborative learning easier

Collaboration had the same results via technology as in person, increased learning opportunities. Try incorporating free savvy tools for online collaboration such as Stixy, an online shared whiteboard space, Google groups, or Mikogo for online meetings. Be aware that some research suggests that more exchanges related to planning rather than challenging viewpoints occurred more frequently through online interactions.

This may be because the research used students that did not know one another. If this is your scenario, you may want to start by having students get to know each other’s backgrounds and ideas beforehand on a blog or chat-board.

18. Avoid ‘bad group work’

As with any learning strategy, it’s important to have a balanced approach. Cynics usually have a valid point. A New York Times article, cites some criticism of collaboration for not allowing enough time for individual, creative thinking. You may allow some individual time to write notes before the groups begin. This may be a great way to assess an individual grade.

19. Be wary of ‘group think

While collaborative learning is a great tool, it is always important to consider a balanced approach. At times, group harmony can override the necessity for more critical perspectives. Some research suggests that groups favored the more confident members. Changing up groups can help counter this problem.

20. Value diversity

Collaborative learning relies on some buy-in. Students need to respect and appreciate each other’s viewpoints for it to work. For instance, class discussions can emphasize the need for different perspectives. Create a classroom environment that encourages independent thinking. Teach students the value of multiplicity in thought. You may want to give historical or social examples where people working together were able to reach complex solutions.

By definition, learning is social in nature. Using different mediums, whether it be books, discussions, technology or projects we study and develop new ideas. We impart ideas and share perspectives with others. Collaboration is a learned process. If managed correctly, it is a powerful tool that can allow educators to tap into new ideas and information.

This is a cross-post from opencolleges.edu.au; image attribution flickr user flickeringbrad

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Teaching

The Selflessness Of Pedagogy: What Every Teacher Gives

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denisekrebs

The Selflessness Of Pedagogy: What Every Teacher Gives

by Terry Heick

It’s better to give than to receive–something that holds true for gift-giving and education.

In fact, the act of giving isn’t just a matter of ultimately receiving more, or even an act of altruism and selflessness. It has more to do with seeing the big picture itself — a healthy, robust, functioning system of careful human performance — that becomes the goal. It’s in this simple paradigm shift that we, as teachers, can find a new level of performance as professionals, contentment in our craft, and changed lives in the communities we serve.

So how might we focus on that service not as a characteristic of my job, but as the goal itself–the most macro product of all? For teachers, this would obviously be built around the idea of service-oriented teaching, where we gain strength and perspective from serving others. It would lead to ‘other growth,’ including, on a broader level, the formation of a personal and professional ecology than can sustain us through the challenges of teaching.

What would this look like?

Other teachers who need us, and who we need

Parents who need us, and who we need

Students who need us for something other than clarifying instructions, providing credit, and letter grades

The community of our school, including grade levels above and below ours, that needs us for our performance, collaboration, and ideas, just as we need that community.

In a word, this looks like interdependence. So what can I give to begin?

They give themselves.

Teaching is martyrdom. So often, educators feel the need to give themselves up to be feasted upon until there’s nothing left. Giving yourself is a different kind of gift, though. Here, it means truly putting your self aside — your need to be the best, your insecurities, professional goals, need for affirmation, and so on — and instead give in to the act of teaching.

But more crucially, this giving of yourself implies that you give your whole self to the act of teaching — your creativity, affection, background knowledge, contacts, networks, dreams, hopes, and so on — in the whole merging of you and your work.

They give others the benefit of the doubt.

As a teacher, you’ll see a lot moving upstream and down — struggling readers that always seem to come from that school; that family that doesn’t seem to care; that co-worker who seems to challenge you at every chance; that administrator who always seems to find a way to poke holes in your teaching. That assessment. That law. That policy.

Never, ever stop questioning the things happening around you. Be a critical educator, ask tough questions, and ring the bell when you’re concerned. Just do so from a position of positivity — give others the benefit of the doubt. Use positive presuppositions, such as: “We’ve always been strong supporters of literacy here, so I’m confused why. . . ”

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They give themselves the opportunity to learn new things continuously.

Okay, perspective change to first-person: I’m going to give myself the gift of learning. As a teacher, it makes sense to learn endlessly, not just to model it for students, but to keep my own curiosity and tendency for play stirring and alive.

I may learn a new set of literacy strategies. Maybe it’ll be a variation on the Socratic Seminar, or I’ll mash Fish Bowls with Agree/Disagree. I may bring new education technology into my classroom, or reach for new learning models such as project-based learning, sync teaching, or self-directed learning. I may throw out my desk and go paperless, mobile, or completely back to basics.

But I’m never going to stop learning. That is my gift to myself.

They give students a chance.

Maybe that’s a chance to surprise themselves. I want to give the gift of inspiration. Who doesn’t? And what better way can we inspire than by designing learning experiences that let students do things they didn’t think they were capable of? My gift would be giving students opportunities to surprise themselves through their own skills, critical thinking, creativity, and deep understanding of important ideas.

They give parents authentic opportunity to get involved.

It’s tempting to complain about parents that aren’t involved in their child’s schooling. Who on earth wants to be involved in schooling? Learning is a different matter — that’s something with a foothold allowing parents to engage meaningfully. This isn’t grades and homework, but rather understanding and the need to understand.

You may or may not get anything more from parents, but at least you’ve given them more tempting access than they’ve ever had in the past.

They give others chances to create new measures of success.

Teaching — properly done and measured as we do today — is impossible. It can’t be done. You cannot bring every single child to proficiency in every single standard while, at the same time, meeting their needs as human beings and helping them both see and reach their full potential. If this is your goal, you’re only going to disappoint yourself endlessly until you either burn out or realize that you’re lying to yourself.

Teaching, though, with new metrics of success — well, that’s suddenly a whole lot easier.

They give themselves a break.

The preceding represents a lot of giving, and also a lot of complexity, interdependence, opportunity, work, and chances to fail. So above all, I’m going to give myself a break.

I will give all of myself. I will give the benefit of the doubt. I’ll learn new things, promote self-discovery, connect with communities, and establish new measures of success. And when things go wrong, I’ll have a short memory. I’ll give myself a break and push on, excited about what tomorrow might bring.

Image attribution flickr user denisekrebs and cloudboard; What Every Good Teacher Gives

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How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching

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How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching

contributed by Vicki Collet

Making teaching a shared and public practice supports improved instruction.

When teachers have opportunities for collaboration, reflection, and inquiry, they “can find better ways to answer the learning needs of students” (Lieberman & Wood, 2002, p. 42). Teacher inquiry makes us question practices that have become stale, generate innovation, and create dynamic learning for ourselves and our students.

Over the past decade, I’ve participated in teacher inquiry using a process called Lesson Study. I’ve seen scores of teachers engage with authentic professional learning through this work. Lesson Study is a structure for teacher inquiry that is as straightforward as it sounds: the study of a lesson. However, Catherine Lewis, who learned about Lesson Study in Japan and has been instrumental in spreading its use in the United States, points out that during Lesson Study,

(Teachers) improve the lessons not as an end in
itself, but as a way to deepen their own content knowledge, their knowledge of
student thinking, their understanding of teaching and learning, and their
commitment to improvement of their own practice and that of colleagues…Lesson
study is not about discovering the one right way to teach a lesson, but about
building knowledge of many teaching strategies and habits of observation,
inquiry, and analysis of practice (Lewis & Hurd, 2011, p. 24).

When participating in Lesson Study, you will collaboratively plan lessons that become the focus of inquiry on effective teaching practices. Then you’ll observe one another teach lessons and collaboratively revise and refine your instructional plans, as shown in the figure below.

How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching

Inquiry is the essential element of Lesson Study, so the clear focus you identify for a Lesson Study cycle should propel your desire to investigate, to analyze and study together. Pursuing the questions your group has identified provides challenge and authentic purpose, which will increase your team’s motivation and engagement. Because you have identified the problem for yourself, the process will have immediate value. 

The goal of Lesson Study is not to create the ideal lesson that is universally useful. During teacher preparation and professional development, you have doubtless been taught and encouraged to use ‘best practices.’ Although it is true that some practices are more effective than others (and research has much to teach us), it is also true that there is no single, perfect lesson. This is true because you and I, and the students we teach, are diverse in so many ways. Lesson Study focuses on “the why of teaching: why teaching methods work in particular ways in particular settings” (Smagorinsky, as cited in Garcia & O’Donnell-Allen, 2015, p. 5). 

Grow your school with TeachThought PD Collaborative Lesson Study Workshops.

In our quest for better ways of doing things, Lesson Study can help us identify places where we are frozen in old practices and can help us warm to new ones. Lesson Study uncovers new approaches that are informed by the examination of evidence gained through our professional inquiry. Collaboration with colleagues who share similar contexts and concerns makes the insights gained especially helpful. By being the guides to our own professional learning, teachers resist stagnation and become mobile, active agents of change. With our colleagues, we take a learning stance by asking questions, taking risks, and reflecting on both successes and failures.

Lesson
Study uses knowledge you gain from your own classroom to stimulate professional
conversations about teaching and learning. Shared experiences through joint
planning and observation support the conversation, helping you develop your own
understanding and share it with others.

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If you are eager to investigate and improve instruction and increase your understanding about teaching, I invite you to learn more about Lesson Study. Lesson Study creates continuous learning cycles that put teachers in the driver’s seat of their own professional development.

———————

Book: Collaborative Lesson Study: ReVisioning Teacher Professional
Development

Website: vickicollet.com

Request to join Collaborative Lesson Study Book Club on Facebook est (next book study begins January 13, 2020)

Vicki’s blog: mycoachescouch.blogspot.com

Vicki on Facebook: facebook.com/mycoachescouch/

Vicki on Twitter: @vscollet

References

Garcia,
A., & O’Donnell-Allen, C. (2015). Pose, wobble, flow: A culturally
proactive approach to literacy instruction. Teachers College Press.

Lewis,
C. & Hurd, J. (2011). Lesson study step by step: How teacher learning
communities improve instruction. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Lieberman,
A., & Wood, D. R. (2002). From network learning to classroom
teaching. Journal of Educational Change, 3, 315-337.

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18 Inconvenient Truths About Assessment Of Learning

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18 Inconvenient Truths About Assessment Of Learning

by Terry Heick

I. In terms of pedagogy, the primary purpose of an assessment is to provide data to revise planned instruction. It should provide an obvious answer to the question, “So? So what? What now?

II. It’s an extraordinary amount of work to design precise and personalized assessments that illuminate pathways forward for individual students–likely too much for one teacher to do so consistently for every student. This requires rethinking of learning models, or encourages corner-cutting. (Or worse, teacher burnout.)

III. Literacy (reading and writing ability) can obscure content knowledge. Further, language development, lexical knowledge (VL), and listening ability are all related to mathematical and reading ability (Flanagan 2006). This can mean that it’s often easier to assess something other than an academic standard than it is knowledge of the standard itself. It may not tell you what you want it to, but it’s telling you something.

IV. Student self-assessment is tricky but a key matter of understanding. According to Ross & Rolheiser, “Students who are taught self-evaluation skills are more likely to persist on difficult tasks, be more confident about their ability, and take greater responsibility for their work.” (Ross & Rolheiser 2001)

V. Assessments of learning can sometimes obscure more than they reveal. If the assessment is precisely aligned to a given standard, and that standard isn’t properly understood by both the teacher and assessment designer, and there isn’t a common language between students, teacher, assessment designer, and curriculum developers about content and its implications, there is significant “noise” in data that can mislead those wishing to use the data, and disrupt any effort towards data-based instruction.

VI. Teachers often see understanding or achievement or career and college-readiness; students often see grades and performance (e.g., a lack or abundance of failure) (Atkinson 1964).

VII. Self-evaluation and self-grading are different. ‘Self-evaluation’ does not mean that the students determine the grades for their assignments and courses instead of the teacher. Here, self-evaluation refers to the understanding and application of explicit criteria to one’s own work and behavior for the purpose of judging if one has met specified goals (Andrade 2006).

VIII. If the assessment is not married to curriculum and learning models, it’s just another assignment. That is, if the data gleaned from the assessment isn’t used immediately to substantively revise planned instruction, it’s at best practice, and at worst, extra work for the teacher and student. If assessment, curriculum, and learning models don’t ‘talk’ to one another, there is slack in the chain.

IX. As with rigor, ‘high’ is a relative term. High expectations–if personalized and attainable–can promote persistence in students (Brophy 2004). Overly simple assessments to boost ‘confidence’ are temporary. The psychology of assessment is as critical as the pedagogy and content implications.

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X. Designing assessment that has diverse measures of success that ‘speak’ to the student is critical to meaningful assessment. Students are often motivated to avoid failure rather than achieve success (Atkinson 1964).

XI. In a perfect world, we’d ask not “How you do on the test,” but “How’d the test do on you?” That is, we’d ask how accurately the test illuminated exactly what we do and don’t understand rather than smile or frown at our ‘performance.’ Put another way, it can be argued that an equally important function of an assessment is to identify what a student does understand. If it doesn’t, the test failed, not the student.

XII. The classroom isn’t ‘the real world.’ It’s easy to say invoke ‘the real world’ when discussing grading and assessments (e.g., “If a law school student doesn’t study for the Bar and fail, they don’t get to become lawyers. The same applied to you in this classroom, as I am preparing you for the real world.”) Children (in part) practicing to become adults is different than the high-stakes game of actually being an adult. The classroom should be a place where students come to understand the ‘real world’ without feeling its sting.

When students fail at school, the lesson they learn may not be what we hope.

XIII. Most teachers worth their salt can already guess the range of student performance they can expect before they even give the assessment. Therefore, it makes sense to design curriculum and instruction to adjust to student performance on-the-fly without Herculean effort by the teacher. If you don’t have a plan for the assessment data before you give the assessment, you’re already behind.

XIV. Every assessment is flawed. (Nothing is perfect.) That means that the more frequent, student-centered, and ‘non-threatening’ the assessment is (here are some examples of non-threatening assessments) the better. It’s tempting to overvalue each assessment as some kind of measuring stick of human potential. At best, it’s an imperfect snapshot–and that’s okay. We just need to make sure teachers and students and parents are all aware and respond to results accordingly.

XV. As a teacher, it’s tempting to take assessment results personal; it’s not. The less personal you take the assessment, the more analytical you’ll allow yourself to be.

XVI. Confirmation bias within assessment is easy to fall for–looking for data to support what you already suspect. Force yourself to see it the other way. Consider what the data says about what you’re teaching and how students are learning rather than looking too broadly (e.g., saying ‘they’ are ‘doing well’) or looking for data to support ideas you already have.

XVII. Assessment doesn’t have to mean ‘test.’ All student work has a world of ‘data’ to offer. How much you gain depends on what you’re looking for. (Admittedly, this truth isn’t really inconvenient at all.)

XVIII. Technology can help make data collection simpler and more effective but that’s not automatically true. In fact, if not used properly, technology can even make things worse by providing too much data about the wrong things (making it almost unusable to teachers).

The Inconvenient Truth About Assessment

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