Collaboration – It’s Not Just for Teachers

A lot of research and conversation has been going around recently on teacher collaboration. For sure, this is an important topic. For many of us, the idea of collaboration is intimidating. It means putting our practice out there in front of our peers and potentially changing the way we are used to doing things. Others of us are very excited about the idea of collaboration; we are social learners, but we may not always find ourselves in a condusive environment. Either way, the research points towards enormous growth and learning potential for educators who engage collaboratively with their colleagues.

Collaborate! Succeed! Hooray!

Regardless of how you may personally feel about the topic, the recent focus on collaboration should highlight for all educators the fact that it is a skill we need to be instilling in our students. If we are, as Jeff Wilhelm suggests, teaching our students what the experts do, we need to teach them to collaborate! Members of the coporate community with whom I have spoken confess repeatedly that their biggest frustrations is having to work in groups with individuals who do not understand how group dynamics work or how to interact in a productive and efficient manner.

In the hotbed of hyper social awareness and unrest that frequently imbues middle schools, the waters are prime for highlighting and teaching interpersonal and group work skills. I would like to use this space to share my own recent student group work efforts and reflect on the process.

Things you should know when using collaborative group learning with your students:

  • It must be intentional.  Group work that is haphazardly or randomly instituted will likely bring haphzard or random results.
  • Student group work is not, as some misconcieve it, hands-off for teachers.  It is not a time for them to sit at their desks or simply watch.
  • This practices is Student-centered learning, but it is by no means teacher-absent learning.
  • Give it purpose; allow it to be personally and inquiry-based.

Our projects:

At the end of our 7th grade unit on American Literature, we are writing collaborative folk tales, inspired by the Uncle Remus tales we most recently read. 

Purposes/objectives:  Improve students interpersonal working skills; demonstrate understanding of the folk tale genre and its relationship to its given society; improve fluidity, organization, and content of writing in a creative, fictional manner; gain a better understanding of our own society’s values and reimagine them through a fictional story lens; learn how to write with the purpose of teaching a lesson.

Wow!  We’re doing all of that in just two weeks?!?

Product: Collaboratively written folktales to be bound together as a class anthology

Questions guiding inquiry: “How can we use our writing to reflect our ideas about our communities?”  “How could our writing possible affect our community?”  “How can we learn more about a culture through its literature, even if that literature is fictional?” (Check out this post, for my reflections on an inquiry based classroom.)

Process:  For the first week, students will plan out their stories.  We are using Scholastic graphic organizers, found here, to chart and plan our stories.  These organizers are typically used to gather information about a text being read, but we are “working backwards” to make sure we are including all that we need to include in our stories.

Each day, group members will rotate through the roles of : Scribe, Discussion Leader, and Official Vote Master as they plan the following story elements (1 for each day of class):

  • The five W’s : Who, What, When, Where, Why
  • Character Sketches: at least one main character and two supporting charcters. (I created my ownCharacter Planning graphic organizer for this day.)
  • Setting (and how it may affect language use, characterization, and plot)
  • The moral – what are we supposed to be learning?
  • Plot Line – Making sure our ideas are fitting within the folk tale story arc we have been studying.

Week Two is for writing.  I set up documents on Sync-In, a website I saw highlighted, here, in Free Technology for Teachers.  Through this online collaborative forum, I can tell just who contributed what to their online stories.

Throughout the process, I am including this Group Accountability Form, which you are free to adapt to your own needs.

We are currently just half way through the first week of this process, but I will certainly let you know how it goes!


One response to “Collaboration – It’s Not Just for Teachers

  1. Ashley February 21, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    As always, I love your ideas! Thanks for sharing.

    I particularly like the specific roles AND specific tasks for each day. Last year, when I was student teaching, I think a lack of the latter contributed to a not-as-successful reading circles unit. The kids each had a specific role to fill and work to complete before coming to class, but they really needed some specific task IN class, as well, to keep them accountable. (Even if you’re up & moving amongst groups, one can’t be everywhere at the same time!)


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