Ideas to Bolster Collaboration-Part 2

Ideas for better collaboration and communication in your classroom, part 2 of a 5 part series.

Introduction– Education is hard, teaching is challenging and a serious endeavor. Our learners need it and we are dedicated to improve the educational system. However, it IS ok to have fun as well! That is the purpose of our Collaboration Blog Series. In partnership, Brian Schoch and Aaron Eisberg had fun one afternoon and brainstormed successful, memorable strategies to help improve collaboration in your classroom.

Brian Schoch (pronounced: shock) and Aaron Eisberg (pronounced: iceberg) live on opposite ends of the country.  Aaron, a resident of Napa, has a refined palette and vast knowledge of wine.  Brian, an Ohio native’s, knowledge of wine ends with UB40 songs from the 80’s.  But they share a love of quality education (and college sports.)  Today they share some ideas rejuvenate your classroom.

Embrace the awkwardness that sometimes is associated with working with others.  Face-to-face communication is becoming increasingly difficult for many students.  They need to practice communicating with each other.  Will it lead to some awkward moments?  Of course it will!  In high school, most of my dating life consisted of awkward moments. That didn’t mean that I needed to avoid dating – it meant I needed to work on communicating face-to-face.  “Awkwardness is a step on the journey to non-awkwardness.”  That’s not a real quote – until now.  

Embrace conflict – Working in teams also shouldn’t be avoided because “it could lead to disagreements.”  The next time a student stays after class for a few minutes to let you know about an issue in their group, don’t think of it as a “necessary evil” that accompanies working in teams.  Think of it as an asset for students to be able to work through challenging situations.  Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, identifies Fear of Conflict as a major reason that teams don’t reach their potential.  Reasonable conflict will occur – embrace it.  (Obviously, bullying, isolating students, and “mean behaviors” are not to be tolerated.)  

Be proactive in addressing uneven work distribution that can occur in team settings.  Grade individually, provide feedback, help facilitate the creation of task lists, have teams create group expectations. Scaffolding is key!

All-for-one, one-for-all should be avoided for assessment.  Lean on assessing students individually, even when they are part of a team.  It enables you to focus your feedback, and it also helps keep students accountable. Remember, feedback is more important than grades! High quality PBL design doesn’t put all the eggs in one basket, it is heavy on formative, providing feedback that is just at the right time and just for the needs of the learner.

“Making a list, checking it twice…”  Encourage students to create task lists.  “Who’s doing what?”  The teacher needs to know and the students do too.  Check in frequently with students to find out how they’re progressing toward their end goal. At all levels, it is helpful to have this list as the first task during work time in classrooms. Then as you walk around as a teacher, you can quickly look and see who is responsible and group progress. Twist! You can also use colored cups (green, yellow, red or variation of each). As groups work, they have the color coded cup for their process, as a quick look around the room you can see which groups are good to go (green), in the learning pit (yellow), absolutely stuck and need help asap (red)!

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