Collaborative learning has many benefits in an educational setting such as developing social skills, a deeper understanding of knowledge and soft skills (Chai & Tan, 2010). However, like with any learning approach, there are challenges for both teachers and students. For teachers to effectively facilitate collaborative learning, they must be willing to loosen the structure of the classroom. The teacher cannot be in control of groupings, specific group roles and learning expectations, rather, it is important that the students in the group feel like they have ownership in the learning process as a group and agency (Sing, Wei-Ying, Hyo-Jeong, & Mun, 2011, p.8). One way for both teachers and students to deal with this issue is for teachers to begin with cooperative learning and gradually work towards collaborative learning through scaffolding.
For students, a number of issues often present themselves during collaborative learning. Often students feel there is an unequal workload in the group with some people taking leadership roles and other students slacking. During the cooperative learning, teachers should model how to divide group tasks, model ideal group roles and how to reflect as a group throughout the process for the next steps. Teachers can also support students in how to give critical feedback in a positive way. If these strategies are developed during cooperative learning, they will carry over into collaborative learning as strategies to be used by the students.
Often students get off task during collaborative learning tasks (Sing, Wei-Ying, Hyo-Jeong, & Mun, 2011, p. 7). As the teacher, I will go around monitoring the different group and have conversations about what they have done, where they are at, and where they are going. I don't provide too much feedback, rather, ask questions that make them think to guide them moving forward. Often groups will have a timekeeper and someone to monitor task behaviour which also helps the group move forward productively.
With collaborative learning, conflict is enviable to arise at some point. Perhaps there are different perspectives of where to go next, someone isn't pulling their weight or things have been forgotten at home and therefore productivity is at a standstill. These are excellent opportunities for students to develop their problem-solving skills. For me, I always try to get the students to talk through their problems first. We spend a lot of time near the beginning of the year stressing how to express how you are feeling with ' I statements' instead of pointing blame. If students still struggle after a period of time, I support them by mediating the situation but mostly letting them talk. It is important that the students work through the situation together so that they feel they have autonomy in the resolution process.
It is important for the teacher to facilitate a positive collaborative community from the beginning of the year and cultivate this type of culture. From there, teachers can facilitate cooperative learning and through a gradual release of responsibility and scaffolding, shift the ownership of learning to the students in collaborative learning.
Chai, C. S., and Tan S. C. (2009). Professional Development of Teachers for Computer‐Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) through Knowledge Building. Teacher College Records, 111(5), 1296‐1327.
Sing, C.C., Wei-Ying, L., Hyo-Jeong, S. & Mun C. H. (2011). Advancing collaborative learning with ICT: conception, cases and design. Ministry of Education, Singapore. Retrieved from http://ictconnection.moe.edu.sg/ictconnection/slot/u200/mp3/monographs/advancing%20collaborative%20learning%20with%20ict.pdf
Last year I began a writing program in my class where the students would write me an email each week and I would respond. I created a thought out plan with input from our Director of Education Technology and off I went. After just over a year of doing this, I opened up the same document to check in and see if I was still doing everything I had set out to do and reflect on the overall effectiveness of the program.
Here is the plan created in October 2013:
In my first year of teaching, a colleague of mine had a grade 4 class who did ‘Thinking Thursday’ every week for a lesson. The concept was simple – write what you were thinking about. Students had an option to write a letter to the teacher, choose a topic from the jar or write about whatever they wanted. Surprisingly, most students would choose to write a letter to the teacher.
We had many discussions about the power of a letter back and forth between the teacher and student
I personally have never been one to be good at communicating in person and have found writing a better form of communication for me as I am able to think through what I want to say before saying it. While it takes away the initial face to face conversations, it will allow for more meaningful conversations inside the classroom and help me relate to my students more.
I have decided to incorporate this as part of their homework rather than an in-class assignment for the simple reason that it utilises technology and writing in a way that will captivate students and allow them to develop their writing skills without feeling they have to write a polished piece to publish.
Why Not Blog Instead:
Sample Email for Introduction to Students
Dear Ms. Mac,
I hope this email finds you doing well. This week at school I really enjoyed doing our summative assignment. I liked that we were able to work in groups to make our buildings. I found it tricky working with Roger on our project because he did not listen to my ideas. Do you have some suggestions on how to work better as a team?
In cross country this week, I came 4th. I ran as fast as I could and really tried my best. I would have done better but I tripped over a log on the path and rolled down the hill. But I did pass one person because I rolled really fast.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Foreseeable Challenges & Solutions
Email Sent to Parents Prior to Beginning Program:
I wanted to take a moment to write to you in anticipation of our next unit of inquiry which is about personal awareness. The central idea for the unit is “A person’s behaviour and how they choose to present themselves can project aspects of the identity.” We’re really looking forward to exploring it.
As part of the writing homework, students will be asked to write a weekly email to myself. Students may choose to write about one of the selected topics in their homework package or choose to write about something of their own interest, but each email must be submitted no later than Friday along with their regular homework. All emails will be sent from the student’s Chatsworth email account to the teacher’s Chatsworth email account as usual.
There will be two parts to the teacher feedback to these emails. The first part will be a response to what the student has written, while the second part will deal with writing styles, grammar and conventions. I will read them over the weekend and students will have a response in their inbox on Monday mornings - at which point they can ponder the questions posed by myself and include their answers in the next email. I’m excited at the potential for some very interesting conversations and dialogue.
Chatsworth’s mission includes developing students as internationally aware, responsible digital citizens. By connecting with students through email, they are building skills in digital literacy and developing their writing skills in a 21st-century environment.
Students who are enrolled in the ESL program are welcome and encouraged to write in their first language if they feel more comfortable. The purpose of this writing exercise is to allow them to express themselves without feeling restricted by language. I will translate emails through Google Translate and respond in English. Students may choose to read the English response or translate it back to their first language. (Please note: No translation is perfect).
This assignment will provide students with many learning opportunities and has the potential to develop our classroom community tremendously. Students will learn how to write letters and use proper email etiquette as well as developing their writing skills with individually tailored feedback. It is important for students to become familiar with typing on a computer and remembering to incorporate appropriate capitalisation and punctuations.
In doing this, I hope to continue to develop an ongoing relationship with my students and allow them to write about topics of personal interest in a format that is meaningful and timely.
Should you have any questions or concerns, I would be more than happy to discuss this with you at your convenience.
As always, it is a pleasure learning with your children.
Ms. Emily MacLean