I know you have experienced this before: your teacher assigns you a collaborative project or asks you to sit small groups to hold a discussion and some students have done the assignment and they say a few things and then the subject switches to something off topic. Or there is one or two people who did not do the assignment and they either do not care or are just looking for someone to give them the answer.
Let’s address cooperative learning and those hitchhikers, discussion directors, discussion derailers, and how to hold more accountability among the group.
I am currently facilitating a book club unit with middle school students. Working in small groups of three to six students, each group is reading a contemporary dystopian fictional novel and meeting daily in their book clubs to discuss aspects of the book they deem important. Additionally, I have peppered in some lessons on characteristics of a dystopian society, characterization, and the hero’s journey. Whereas I have some groups reading and everyday mapping out a reading goal for the group (i.e. how much they are going to read before the next class, asking and answering each other questions), there are some book clubs where a student is not doing the reading and has fallen behind unable to participate in the discussion without spoilers.
Group work is an integral part of school and work culture. Through group work, students learn that there’s a diversity of valid perspectives, build comfort around using their own voices, and understand the value of accepting and building on the contributions of others.
Getting people to work together does not come naturally and as teachers we need to foster positive collaboration and group work in our classroom. Collaboration is part of building a community of learners. Here are some benefits to collaborating and working in small groups as identified by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels (2009):
- Collaboration generates energy for challenging work.
- In small groups we are smarter.
- In small groups diversity is an asset.
- Collaboration makes for engaged, interactive learning possible.
- Collaboration allows teachers to differentiate instruction.
- Well-structured group work enhances student achievement.
The important thing to note is that effective groups are made, not born. Collaboration doesn’t always work and as teachers, we need to help facilitate good group work so that it can be successful in all the ways described above.
So, with these ideas in mind I created a book club discussion bingo board for some groups and students to use during their book club meetings to help foster collaboration and communication. This bingo board can be used as a roll the dice or numbered heads activity where everyone takes a turn to answer a question and respond or can be used to facilitate the book club discussions. Yes, I would love for the book club discussions to be less task oriented but collaborative skills need to be modeled and taught. Providing students with group roles, group objectives, and even a collaborative game can help all students keep on task and accomplish the goal of the group assignment.
The Declaration of Independence was a collaboration. Music and dance is collaboration. Google was created because two men collaborated on an idea. Wikipedia is all about collaboration. Many great ideas and inventions happen because people got together to create and share. We need to make sure that our classrooms allow students to work independently, with partners, in small groups, and as a large group.
Here are four additional collaborative activities to try in your classroom.
Jigsaws – Just as in a jigsaw puzzle, each piece–each student’s part–is essential for the completion and full understanding of the final product. If each student’s part is essential, then each student is essential. The teacher breaks students up into a group and each student in the group has a specific reading or task which they are responsible for reporting back to their group members. You can read more about the jigsaw strategy for active learning.
Write Around – A trustworthy Harvey Daniels activity that allows students to collaborate on paper and in conversation about a specific topic or subject. You can find the directions here.
Numbered Heads – Numbered Heads Together is a cooperative learning strategy that holds each student accountable for learning the material. Students are placed in groups and each person is given a number (from one to the maximum number in each group). The teacher poses a question and students “put their heads together” to figure out the answer. The teacher calls a specific number to respond as spokesperson for the group. By having students work together in a group, this strategy ensures that each member knows the answer to problems or questions asked by the teacher. Because no one knows which number will be called, all team members must be prepared.
Think Dots or Cubing – There are many ways to do this activity. To see the variety of ideas and examples check out PB Works.