As psychologists and behavioral experts discover more about the various learning modalities and "how students learn," more and more schools are starting to use collaborative learning platforms as a part of their day-to-day classroom routine.
A well-organized collaborative learning process allows students to work together, using each other’s' strengths to overcome collective weaknesses. Ideally, students are then able to take ownership of their learning experience and being teaching one another. But there’s a fine line between successful learning groups and classroom-wide chaos. We believe that creating an effective, collaborative learning environment takes planning, so here are 5 tips to help you keep the chaos at bay!
5 Tips to Make Your Collaborative Learning Plans Effective
1. Classroom Setup
. Students learn best when their environment is comfortable, but still structured and organized. If you have a traditional classroom set up with rows of desks, any attempt at group work will end up in a mess of student clusters on the floor, on top of desks, and excessive wandering.
Ideally, desks should be set up in clusters so students have a "real" place to sit, are facing each other, and can easily communicate. You will also be able to tell which groups are on track and which aren't. If you can get your hand on round or oval tables, those work too.
2. Process-oriented learning
. Try to create assignments where the group learning process is the primary focus and the “right” answers are either secondary or possibly even irrelevant.
Students are less apt to contribute or share if they feel at risk for looking incompetent.
Use these opportunities for students to work on discussion, analysis, process, and/or correlation skills—activities where they learn to develop deeper thinking/learning skills without attachment to the outcome.
3. Everybody is accountable
. One reason students learn to loathe group learning assignments is because one student always feels like s/he does all the work. And then there’s the classic case of the one student who didn't do anything at all
but still gets credit. Effective collaborative learning happens when everyone is accountable somehow.
You can create group tests
which are harder than traditional tests so students are forced to work together to achieve a collective finished product. Circulating around the room
will allow you to pay attention to who isn't participating and then encourage him/her to begin contributing. Allowing the group to grade each other
is another way to suss out who is working and who isn't.
4. Peer teaching.
We all know that teaching is the best way to thoroughly learn something, so create opportunities which allow students to teach each other.
Pair higher-level students with lower-level students, create harder problems or discussions that require group engagement to work through the solutions, or assign chapters to groups of twos or threes and make them teach their lesson on a scheduled date. This allows everyone to be a part of the give-and-take process involved in teaching and learning.
5. Group selection.
You should control the groups and pairs that work together at all times.
They don't have to be the same all the time, but in order for students to work well together, there needs to be the right balance of varying skill levels and personality
types. By assigning the groups, and potentially assigning particular jobs to each member, you will see a marked improvement in the overall collaborative learning process. It can be a good idea to check in with students before class to assess their mood, allow them to vent a little, and get the class into a more settled mindset before beginning the group work. You may want to come up with general rules and guidelines for how groups should communicate/behave.
Once you get your collaborative learning groups off and running, they will become a regularly requested element of your classroom design.