March 17

21C Educator: 04 A Collaborative Classroom

This module’s focus was on differentiating between the terms “cooperative” and “collaborative” as far as learning groupings go, a task which I’ve decided was somewhat moot since the overwhelming majority of websites and articles discussing the concept of “collaborative learning” uses the terms interchangeably.

The greater good from this section’s focus, though, is studying the pedagogy and benefits of group work for student learning and motivations. In ELA, my primary course of instruction, using this collaboration is easy – of course students will benefit more from having conversations about texts and themes – and with the push to more blended learning and individualized learning I look at the ELA classes as a sort of safe-haven for the time when ss can actually engage with each other to develop the social skills they’ll need for the jobs they’ll face. A number of the ss already talk in my classes about how it’s the only class they get to actually engage with each other, while their other classes are done on their own. There’s a bit of a double-talk pedagogically speaking – moving so far in one direction to this personalized or blended learning where resources are made available to the learner to do with what they choose to make their own meaning, versus the other side of the conversation which screams that ss need to develop the social skills to work together, manage conflicts, learn to handle difficult group partners, etc because they’ll need those social skills in the future. Individual/personalized learning… or collaborative/group learning. Make up your mind!

Regardless of that rant, I have four prompts to consider in my reflection of this module. Here I go!

  1. What impact does meaningful collaboration have on student engagement and learning?

    I noticed from the start of this school year that my ss were pumped when they realized there was a lot of interactivity of projects and tasks in this class. They would sit in their assigned desks (in rows – yes it’s not a dark thing in my world) for the motivational set/instruction and then I’d release them with a suggested time limit to go work it out, whatever “it” happened to be. It could be a question prompt they had to delve into online or in discussion or topics to choose from and guided instructions for following along with podcast/text reading to later do comparisons, etc. I’ve been really open with them about their groupings, because for the most part they’ve been productive and safe groupings for everyone. I’ve recently tried assigning people to groups or challenging who they select, to add variety. It will take some time. The ultimate end, though, is that group work is a big part of ELA, so focusing on collaborative work can easily be incorporated in my teaching area. Here’s my breakdown of the impact of these group work tasks on a) student engagement and b) their learning.
    impact of collaboration on engagement and learning chart

    (Note: Some of the supports for this chart came from SeanMcComb @ TheTeachingChannel, the, and

  2. What role does the teacher play in a collaborative classroom?

    The biggest change for making this shift towards greater collaborative learning is that the teacher is less significant during the learning, but equally important in the planning for the learning.
    The teacher becomes:

    1. prompter: get them back on track, evaluates the quality of interactions, asks guiding questions to direct students to deeper learning
    2. planner: has to develop mini-lessons that are customized to the needs of the specific groups (learn to play with groupings by some ability – their writing level, their pace/progress – so you can instruct them for improvement)
    3. guide to move ss to mastery of skills
    4. the one to tap into ss inquiry and interest
    5. helper for ss to be alert to own needs of metacognition and agency
    6. less responsible for learning
    7. more closely aware of assessments
  3. How do ts share responsibilities with ss in a collaborative classroom?

    – ts have to be the guide/encourager. Learn to give feedback in a way that will be accepted.
    – ss become the drive behind the learning
    – ss need to track their own pace/path and communicate it with the teacher, so they’re aware
    – both ts and ss are responsible for identifying the learning needs/gaps
    – both are responsible for identifying the interests and project options

  4. What impact has this module had on me as a teacher and on the ss in the classroom?

    The impact on me as the teacher:
    – I can plan lessons for sharing opportunities, but will have to see how it develops and is engaged with by the ss
    – relationship w ss has changed – less tension from a few. Not sure if it’s because of the new furniture arrangement I’ve made, their improving successes in class, or that I made them accountable for their last submission of work (redos/finishes in pc lab)
    – research focuses makes me see the potential of personalized electronic blended learning (pebl)The impact on the ss and classroom:
    – they share in their learning with one another
    – they are driven, focused, actively engaged in the work they’re doing
    – they have to stay alert to their attentiveness and needs in their own learning

I got more out of researching this approach to learning on my own than through any of the Q&A tasks in the lesson section. Not sure if it was designed that way, to show that following passively through a handout leads to disinterest or unidentified learning targets. If there’s a secret message to be found from it, I’m sure I’ve found it!