3 Elements for a Collaborative Classroom

By room2learn

Do you want your students to perform as an orchestra or a drum circle?

That’s one way to differentiate between collaboration and cooperation. Collaboration involves co-labor: where everyone is working together towards a single goal, like in an orchestra. Cooperation, on the other hand, involves performing independently, in some shared space. Each student moves to the beat of their own drum, but the collective produces a rhythm.

In today’s workplace, you often have to toggle between playing in an orchestra and playing in a drum circle. At room2learn, collaboration and cooperation are key. When we’re mocking up a new web page design or designing a space for a school client, we come together in a design thinking process to harness everyone’s ideas and expertise. This enables the team to have the freedom to be creative, while channeling that creativity in a structured manner that focuses on results. In between these collective sprints, each team member takes ownership of specific pieces — writing code, crafting blogs, interview teacher users — to build towards our shared vision.

In our school tours across the country, we’ve found dozens of great examples of collaborative classrooms. Here are 3 simple strategies that we’ve learned, to support collaborative work in the classroom.

  1. Plan the classroom.

Start by deciding what activities you want to take place in the classroom, and then consider possible classroom layouts that would facilitate those activities.

When facilitating discussions, it’s important to set students up so they face each other and can have eye contact. We love the book club style classroom, where students are grouped and sit in a circle format. Don’t have round tables in the classroom? No worries — this format is easily adapted to having students sit on the ground or by utilizing other soft seating options.

The main goal of this layout is to emphasize the text or topic discussed by circling up and reducing the space between students. One activity could be having students browse or read through a book and have each group be responsible for a certain chapter. Students can take turns reading aloud or read independently, having small group discussions about what each group read, and then a class-wide discussion about what they learned.

2. Choose your working surface.

Papers, Post-Its, and tablets. The number of writing surfaces is endless when it comes to studying, but what’s the optimal setup for collaborative group work? We want to share two of our favorite ideas that teachers uploaded to room2learn.

The first example is a vertical work space where teams of students gets a designated board where they could work out problems together. The goal of this hack is to allow students to take risks while doing the “rough draft” of thinking, while at the same time pushing them to display their thinking clearly. It also helps them to develop their confidence sharing their ideas in a group setting, which is a crucial skill in today’s knowledge economy. Since students are working on dry erase and chalkboards, they feel less stressed to get the correct answer the first time because they can easily erase any rough sketches or outside-the-box ideas.

To flip that horizontally, you can have students write on tables! This teacher hacked her classroom tables by painting them with IdeaPaint. Form follows function, but function can also follow form. Changing the writing surface is an effective way to engage reluctant writers in giving them more freedom to jot notes down or sketch a quick visual. After each use, give students time to wipe the tables clean, and don’t forget to remind them to document their work (on paper or with a picture)! Another variation of dry erase tables is to cover them with dry-erase contact paper.

3. Take advantage of spacing — literally!

While different group discussions may be going on at the same time, the classroom space could get tight. Here are some tips and tricks on making the most use of space.

You can easily change a room simply with the rolling up blinds! This urban classroom is situated in the middle of a bustling city, which limits the amount of outdoors interactions that could take place. However, the window shades are like an “on-off” switch that can either invite in natural lighting or temporarily blur out city-life, depending on the needs of the students. Plus, if writable wall surface is scarce, you can even double up the windows as a whiteboard with dry-erase markers!

If your school campus is larger and has more space, why not teach the class outside for a change? This outdoor classroom at DaVinci Innovation Academy encourages students to not only learn actively but also benefit from the natural environment.

What are some of your favorite ways to encourage collaboration in the classroom? Share with us on room2learn.org or tag us on Instagram (@room2learn). If you use our hashtag #myr2l we might feature your post on our profile!

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