Collaboration as a Teachable Skill


Collaboration is at the forefront of the education discussion lately as a 21st Century Skill, so let’s take a look at what it looks like in instruction. First, what exactly does collaboration mean? Identifying that changes the whole discussion.

What does collaboration look like in many typical classroom situations?  An assignment that requires kids to work together is given. The students meet, make a plan, divide the up work, each adds their part, and they present together. Yes, they worked together and demonstrated what they knew, but did the collaboration itself create a situation that caused them to expand their own thinking?

True collaboration is the act of creating something new.  It’s taking the ideas and thoughts of more than one person, and not just laying them side by side, but allowing them to change and morph thoughts and ideas into a new, bigger, wider view that not only encompasses the individual ideas, but actually makes them better…changes them.  This is what I have been playing around with in my classroom, and I believe that creating the culture for this to happen is a critical piece to success.

Modeling and providing opportunities for this kind of melding is a first step. I demonstrate collaboration  when a student brings up a new view-point during a class discussion by verbally going through the process of expanding and re-shaping my own view in light of the new view. I also provide opportunities for the kids to practice changing each other’s sentences and paragraphs. One way I like to do that is to read a very vivid piece of writing. One that has a lot of feel but not a lot of physical detail. I have one student write a description of what they pictured. They hand it off and have the next kid, not just add to it, but to change things that include both kid’s pictures. After discussion, they may decide to take some out or change it even more. The result should be more than a side by side description, it should be a bigger vision than either student held originally. Opportunities for this are endless once you get going…as teachers, we are great at finding opportunities.  As the year progresses, I make a point of watching how groups are working collaboratively and guiding them. Now that it’s mid-year, I can notice the change.

This is not a skill that all people come by naturally. We can see that as adults in the working world. We all have so much to offer our fellow human beings, and our kids have a whole lifetime of opportunities in front of them. What a gift to have them adding to the world in this way from the very start.

What amazing things we could do with this on a district-wide level….but, that’s a whole other discussion.

Image credit: US and UK join forces to Create Nuclear Fusion Energy

3 responses to “Collaboration as a Teachable Skill

  1. What grade level are you teaching? I enjoy your optimistic outlook and was glad linked in recommended your blog. I’m currently working alongside my entire 11th grade team on a large collaborative project where kids are designing an app and building a marketing strategy and advertising campaign. This was a nice supportive read.

  2. Hi Scott, I teach 5th grade but work in Professional Learning Networks with grades 4-12. Your project sounds great! It so wonderful to see a team working together like that. It pulls everyone up!

  3. This is a really interesting post. I’m interested in improving this area in my teaching.I recently attempted collaborative mindmapping with an A level class. I was really encouraged by the levels of participation and it was interesting to watch how they worked together. Since they were working online they were also able to collaborate outside of class.

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