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Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning can increase students' motivation and ability to learn. Thoughtfully designed and well-executed group learning allows students to help each other understand the content better, learn to show respect for each other, and retain information better. However, poorly planned collaborative activities result in unbalanced workloads, inaccurate assessments, and disgruntled students. So how can you design the most beneficial group activities for your students? Here are some helpful ideas for planning and executing effective collaborative activities.

Keep the End Goal in Mind

 God created people to live and work in community, not in isolation. The only thing in creation that God said was “not good” was the fact that man was alone; man needed companionship (Genesis 2:18). Just as some jobs are best accomplished with other people, some concepts and ideas are best learned with other people. Because students have different strengths and ability levels, they can teach each other and grow together. 

Collaborative learning also teaches students to value others. In a classroom, there are differences in learning speeds, gender, race, and socioeconomic position. Through collaborative learning, the teacher has the opportunity to bridge gaps between students from different backgrounds and help students see each other as valuable bearers of God's image. As students develop their collaboration skills, they learn to appreciate the contributions of others and find commonalities with students they were not initially friends with.

Decide on the Activity

There are many different levels of collaborative learning. Simpler activities include discussions (either in groups or one-on-one), think-pair-share activities, and study and review times. More complex activities include labs, research reports, and presentations. The teacher should consider the size of the class, available materials, time constraints, and other relevant factors when deciding what kind of collaborative activities to incorporate in the classroom. Because there is so much variation and flexibility, the teacher can find group learning activities that fit into any grade and subject.

Plan the Groups

Another important thing to consider is how to split the class into groups. Will the students choose their own groups or will the teacher assign groups? There are many advantages to the teacher assigning groups. The teacher can put students together according to their strengths, personalities, and levels of understanding. For example, a student good at research could be paired with a student who enjoys public speaking. Also, the teacher can switch up groups so that students can work with different people and discover new strengths.

Teachers should also consider the best group size. Will students work in pairs or in larger groups? As a general rule, groups of three are not ideal because the third student can often feel left out. In groups larger than five or six, there is greater potential for some of the students to fall through the cracks.

Assigning specific roles ensures that each student is actively involved. Roles also allow students to show their individual strengths or stretch themselves in areas they lack confidence in. The roles will vary depending on the group project. For example, there could be a group leader, writer, researcher, speaker, or organizer. These group project roles can be assigned by the teacher or determined by the students in the group. Giving group members specific roles and responsibilities reduces the chances of just one or two people doing all of the work. Roles also allow students to show their individual strengths or stretch themselves in areas they lack confidence in.

Provide Clear Structure

 When students do not have a clear idea of what is expected of them, they will end up confused, frustrated, or uninterested in the project. The teacher should provide students with concrete objectives, clear instructions, and a list of necessary materials. Giving students a rubric at the beginning of the project is one way to clarify the objectives and give students a quantifiable standard to work towards. Another thing to consider is ensuring the students have sufficient background knowledge for the project, especially for an exploratory project.

Be Available

In a lecture setting, it is difficult to gauge students’ understanding. During group activities, the teacher can walk around and listen to students as they interact. Hearing students talk through things with each other gives the teacher insight into their thinking and allows the teacher the freedom to address misunderstandings immediately. These informal teaching opportunities also develop greater trust between the teacher and student.

Have an Appropriate Assessment

 Assessments help the teacher know how well the students understand the content and how they contributed to the project. Rubrics are a helpful way to standardize evaluations for a group project, because they clarify objectives for the student and help teachers give tangible feedback. Another method is to have students do peer and self-assessments to keep each other accountable. For these assessments, students report how each member contributed to the project and what their strengths and weaknesses were.

Plan for Reflection

One of the most important yet overlooked aspects of collaborative activities is reflection. This allots time for students to think about how they learned and how the group process went. Students should address areas of the project that went well, areas that did not go well, and what they should have done differently. Considering these things will help them understand how they reached their conclusions and give them action steps for the future.

Collaborative activities enhance lesson content in any subject at any grade level. As students work together, they learn to value their each other’s contributions, benefit from accountability, and develop collaboration skills. These skills will help students in the workforce and throughout their lives. The process of learning to work with and love others through collaborative activities is part of learning to be a better student, citizen, and servant of God.

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Category: Teaching