Collaboration, Collaboration, Collaboration!

You hear it all the time. Students perform better and retain information when given the opportunity to collaborate. That is easier said than done. Try to get 8-9 year olds to sit down to discuss anything. You will be treated to a symphony of  “He is hitting me!” , “She said my idea was dumb” ,”That was MY idea not yours!!”, “ NO ONE LIKES MY IDEAS!*proceeds to pout in the corner with arms folded over chest* “.  Here is the thing, it CAN be done and your student WILL love this student centered method of learning. You just have to go about it in a way that will engage them.

Over the past week I have been researching different methods of introducing collaboration in the classroom. They include everything from, getting started with basic classroom management and helping your students understand what collaboration actually is, to blogging and global connections,  and finally student centered peer groups rather than teacher centered learning.  The amount of technology out there to help students collaborate is dizzying! I’ve decided to focus on a few  that will help achieve student centered learning and some that will help connect your students to the world!

First things first, how can I set up my tiny room to encourage collaboration? I’ve been thinking about that lately since I will have 19 students this year and previously have had no more than 15 ever. ( Yes, we are a small school, don’t hate!) Many articles I have read talk about setting up a room in a U shape or by small groups to encourage shared discussion.  This VIDEO is a three-part series that will give you some ideas on how to use small spaces to your advantage. Well worth the time it takes to view it.  I know I will have to rethink my classroom set up to get us talking this year and now I have a better understanding on how to do that.

Now that you have your room set up , how are you going to get your students to collaborate respectfully and stay on task . This master teacher in Anchorage, Alaska has done a fantastic job with this and has included his students in the process. Private think time, and respectful, thoughtful discussion are so important. Not dismissing student’s ideas and giving your students models to see what a good discussion looks like are also key.

You’ve now gone through the process to foster collaboration,  so now what? I’ve recently read an article that talks about the research behind why collaboration is so successful. Students learn from one another and can help each other.  Giving them the time to discuss and explain will strengthen their understanding of a topic and help others as well. Teachers can then observe discussions and check for understanding based on feedback from her students. Using technology like Wikispaces or Edmoto  or even Padlet can give the teacher real-time feedback on how the discussions are going. This also gives students access to discussion 24/7. Students don’t have to wait until tomorrow to ask questions. They can post a question and get answers no matter what the time.  This addresses the ISTE Standards in many ways. Standard 1.b and 1.c are key examples of this.

Ok, time to take it to the next level. Let’s collaborate GLOBALLY!  WOAH!  That sounds so high-tech and so advanced. ( And so scary! How do you do that?!) Actually, it’s not so hard. There are so many resources out there.  The first I’m going to talk about is Quadblogging. This is a website that connects you to three other schools world-wide. Students will create a blog individually or as a whole class and will then get to share ideas with the other three schools. How cool is that? They will get feedback on their writing from other kids around the world! Check out this video on how it works exactly and the success one school has seen in their student’s writing skills.  Another way to reach students and make connections globally, is this amazing website called EPals.com. Here you can make connections and have your students write to schools from around the county or around the world. You can also set up Skype or Zoom video conferencing to have students meet face to face. Wouldn’t your students rather learn about a different culture from student’s their own age rather than a teacher standing in front of the room showing them pictures and videos? Finally, one great resource that I have found is the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration  .Here you are connected to different organizations and businesses that will take your children on a real-time virtual field trip. If you are learning bout different ecosystems, then look through connections on this site and there you will find The Aquarium of the Pacific who will set up a time to skype with your class and take them on an underwater adventure in the ocean. Some of my students have been outside of Hburg City, let alone even set foot in the ocean and here they can dive deep under! How amazing!  If none of these suggestions have peaked your interest, then check out this site with even more ideas on how to turn your students into Global Collaborators. Speaking of being a Global Collaborators, these sites and apps help your students reach the ISTE Standard of being a Global Collaborator.  Reaching out and teaching about and from others from their own little corner of the world gives them such power.

In terms of thinking about the 10 Key Components of Learning, which I have previously spoken about, collaborations work to reach so many of those. You can give your students a voice and multiple pathways of learning. Collaboration will reach your students on every level and give them a chance to use critical thinking and higher order skills. Finally, it will allow you the chance to give formative feedback to students as they go. Identify needs and help to direct them in real-time. So, have I convinced you yet?  I know I am very excited to go out there and try all of these this upcoming school year and hope you are too!  Go out and COLLABORATE!

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