One of the biggest issues in education is that we fail to prepare students to effectively work in collaborative situations when they leave school. This ability deficiency that is unintentionally created is incredibly unfortunate as collaboration is not only critical to our future workforce, but imperative to become a successful innovator and leader. An incredible foundation for collaboration and teamwork is developed in the earliest years of school through play, collaborative tasks, and development of social skills; however, that development ends abruptly as content becomes more prevalent.
Collaboration is a skill that needs to be taught. A survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that more than 80 percent of midsize or larger employers look for collaboration skills in new hires—but fewer than 40 percent of them considered new graduates prepared to work in teams. Once you learn the skill, you need to continue to hone and tweak the skill as it becomes more second nature and you become better at using the skill.
Think about a football quarterback. Most quarterbacks are taught how to throw a football early on in their life. In pee-wee football coaches work to better that skill. In high school, coaches work on mechanics to better the players ability. In college, coaches continue to work on mechanics and footwork, always trying to better the player. Even when a quarterback gets to the NFL, there are specific quarterback coaches on the team who continue to work with the player on the skill of throwing.
Imagine or think back to growing up and learning an instrument in school. Some students became very good at their instrument. If you stopped playing and practicing and learning that instrument, would you be able to play as well today? Professional musicians continue to hone their craft and get “coached” by experts. Do you think professional musicians never asked B.B. King or Carlos Santana or Peter Townsend for tips and help?
To implement “Collaboration” in the classroom we need to actively teach strategies, hone the craft, and explicitly call out the lessons so that students can connect the actions to their understanding. Collaboration can’t be relegated to the first week of school, when we are making/reviewing the class rules or expectations and ignored the rest of the year. It has to be worked on throughout the year strategically. This doesn’t mean you stop teaching content to just teach collaboration; but to use opportunities when collaboration is modeled, utilized, is effective or ineffective to further develop the skill.
The Partnership for 21st Century Learning, this month released a report breaking down three main aspects of collaboration that need to be taught: communicating with others, resolving conflicts, and managing tasks. Here are a few ways to build Collaboration in the classroom through the teaching of these three main aspects of the skill.
Communicating Effectively with Others
- Using Visible Thinking Routines
- Harvard’s Project Zero has a focus on helping students make their thinking visible. These “Visible Thinking” routines and strategies are great to model and in turn have students utilize in their collaborative groups.
- “What Makes You Say That?” is one of the routines which promotes evidential reasoning and invites students to share their interpretations. This also helps open students minds to different ways of thinking from group members as it encourages students to understand alternatives and multiple perspectives.
- According to a 2016 HBR survey, only 9 percent of respondents believe their team members make an effort to understand different perspectives.
- See my post on Implementing 4C’s Series: Communication for additional communication strategies and ideas.
- Creative Abrasion
- How often do we allow students to brainstorm and they stop after the first “good” answer? How often do students fear of sharing ideas as to not “look stupid”?
- Creative Abrasion is an idea developed by Nissan Automotive in the 1980’s and has been used by likes of Apple, Dell, and GM. The short definition is exploring ideas that really rub against each other productively as opposed to destructively.
- Model and prompt your students to brainstorm around time limits, not idea limits. All ideas: the good, the great, the crazy, the “eh” ALL get questioned and challenged. Typically, students automatically “accept” a perceived good idea because of the source or the fact that it will “work”. They only really challenge the perceived “bad” ideas. We need all ideas to be challenged, which will lead to even better ideas; or the realization that a crazy idea may actually be the best idea.
- Purposeful Conflict
- Let students know that disagreements among group member are not only par for the course, they also provide valuable opportunities to debate a wider range of ideas and to develop important skills, such as listening, mediation, and compromise.
- Project Based Learning
- PBL lessons and activities force students to work in situations where there is not ONE right answer, but the group has to decide on courses of action. The more you allow students to work through these realistic work environment situations, the better they will get at the PBL process and at collaborating in all aspects of their schooling.
- Debates vs. Arguments
- Students need to understand that constructive debate is helpful to a project, but destructive arguing is not. There should always be time for alternate opinions, but structures in place to not allowing dwelling on group decisions.
- Model healthy debate through Socrative methods and strategies such as The Fishbowl Discussion strategy or Socratic Seminar strategy shared by FacingHistory.org. These are both great ways to build debate skills within students to minimize conflicts and overcome them in collaborative groups.
- Minimize opportunity for “Free Riding”
- Mary Burns shares “When students complain about collaborative groups, it often has to do with the free riding of one member who lets others do all the work and then benefits from the group grade.”
- Design meaningful and intellectually challenging team roles that relate to the content and to the task. Roles like time keeper are episodic and don’t intellectually engage students in the content, and this can encourage free riding. In contrast, more meaningful roles such as manager, monitor, and leaders for each subtask of the activity give students ownership in the process and allow the teacher to assess students based on successful completion of these roles.
- Pause Rubric Reflect
- Jessica Vasquez shares a great strategy to help students develop their collaboration (as well as other 4C’s) skills through a metacognitive process called “Pause – Rubric – Reflect”. This strategy requires students to explicitly reflect and revise STEM behaviors and dispositions as a group during and after collaborative tasks.