4 Ways to Promote Collaboration in the Classroom That Are Enjoyable.

Michael Cohen
Jul 26, 2016 · 3 min read

Collaboration is a mixed bag. We know all too well the familiar roles of group work. You have the one who does everything, the one who shows up at the end and gets credit, and the ones that do just enough to get by.

This is because we are doing collaboration all wrong.

We are at best teaching students how to cooperate, and at worst trying to ease our burden by grading 5, rather than 20, projects. Cooperation is a skillset that is more about “playing nice” and has little to do with what is possible when working with others. That is because working with others should allow for something amazing to happen. Whether it’s 1st graders creating a stop-motion film about the monthly cycle of the moon, or a group of dreamers trying to create the next Uber spin-off, very little in the “real world” gets done solo. Now with that said, collaboration, like any tool, approach, or mindset, has a time and a place. With these 4 ideas in mind, you should have a new appreciation for collaboration’s role in your classroom.

Collaboration doesn’t make much sense when the end-goal of a project is that everyone must learn exactly the same content. Collaboration thrives in environments where roles are clearly defined. Whether a person is assigned a role, or a role is designated to meet a need, it gives structure to the group. These roles give students an opportunity for growth in two areas. The first is that they learn how to take ownership of a project. Without their role, it will be hard or even impossible for the project to be completed successfully. Their success equals group and project success. The second area is personal growth. Collaborative learning should help students discover their own strengths as well as identify areas that need work.

As stated previously, collaborative work is not meant for filling in a worksheet or creating group projects that are replicas of each other. Collaborative work is best suited for solving a problem. This also gives students the opportunity to see how content in the classroom is applicable and relevant outside of the four walls of the school. Regardless of the content, find ways students can learn it collaboratively through constructing, solving, or even discovering a problem.

Sometimes collaboration is more about helping a person rather than creating a project. Collaboration gives students the chance to work at helping each other learn and grow. While roles allow for this to occur, it is a completely different experience when it’s emphasized that we are here to help each other.

Collaboration is best achieved by challenge, risk, and even a bit of failure. While collaboration can be achieved on a short-term project, it’s best achieved with slightly longer projects that involve reflection and revision and some element of unknown.

While individualized assessment and education might have worked in the past, it simply doesn’t cut it for our students today. That is because

there is no industry today that runs on individualized work.

Almost every industry today requires employees to collaborate. Whether it’s a hospital, auto mechanic, start-up, or even a law firm, our students must be nurtured to not just work together but to discover how their unique skills can help a project move forward, or even allow others to reach their true potential as well.

So, ask yourself, “How can I bring this approach to collaboration into my class next year?”

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Michael Cohen

Written by

Cultivating Creative Practice in Education - Designer, Problem Solver, Storyteller, M.S.Ed, Apple Distinguished, Creator — The #EducatedByDesign Project