Working as a group has advantages, Garlyn told me: “You can bring all those ideas together and come up with something bigger than what you would do on your own.” Yet, like most kids, she sees disadvantages, too. What if the other kids don’t all do their parts? Listen as she weighs the pros and cons:
But just as the social elements of learning can jump-start interest in a topic, so collaboration often clarifies and spurs students’ thinking. Kenneth noted that peers are often better than the teacher in explaining things so kids “get” them.
For Michecarly, whose geometry class was assigned to create a scale model, working in a small group made all the difference. “We helped each other with little details,” he said, “’cause we were each good at a certain part.”
Like every skill, teamwork takes coaching. When kids reflect on their most successful collaborations, I notice, their teachers had always provided deliberate practice in negotiating the dynamics of a working group. These students learned how to assign individual parts to play and how to trade off tasks. They had protocols by which to fill in the gaps of each other’s knowledge and to adapt as the work developed and changed. They had respectful ways to assess each other’s participation.
Take 10 minutes to watch the full series of 11 short clips in which kids give their views on collaborating at school.
Then ask yourself how you coach collaboration in your classroom. I’ll send a complimentary copy of Fires in the Mind to whomever shares the best reply in the Comments field below.
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