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Solve the Groupwork Puzzle: Beyong the Jigsaw

Learning in a social context, as argued by theorists Vygotsky and Bandura, is essential for our students, but how do we foster that in our classrooms when positively and constructively contributing to a group's progress is not necessarily an innate skill?

To avoid the common group dynamic pitfalls, consider explicit instruction and deliberate instructional choices to model and enhance these essential skills.

The Key to Collaborative Learning:  This article offers a common-sense approach to empowering your students to be collaborative listeners, learners, and co-creators. Along with why collaboration matters and how to nurture collaboration in your classroom, the classroom strategies below will help you to guide students as they learn to be constructive co-thinkers and co-creators. The ones with the asterisks are easily digitized via GoogleDocs!

Strategies to Develop Collaborative Skills (without sacrificing rigorous content):
  • Assign Specific Roles*: Give a job description to each member as you begin collaborative work. Graduate to more challenging collaboration by giving students their group challenge and have them determine 1) what 'work' needs to be done, 2) which 'roles' should do what and 3) when the 'work' needs to be done by. They can also commit to their roles with a group contract.
  • Big Paper and Grafitti Boards: to help students “hear” each other’s ideas, to introduce a new topic or to help students organize prior knowledge about content they are about to study/discussion. I prefer it as a silent activity FIRST to ensure that students are primed for a more powerful class discussion.
  • Cafe Conversations*: help students practice perspective-taking by requiring students to represent a particular point-of-view in a small group discussion. (Identity charts can be digital). 
  • Fishbowl Conversations: This strategy is especially useful when you want to make sure all students participate in the discussion, when you want to help students reflect on what a “good discussion” looks like, and when you need a structure for discussing controversial or difficult topics.
  • Gallery Walks: One my FAVORITE protocols where students explore multiple texts or images that are placed around the room.  Teachers often use this strategy as a way to have students share their work with peers, examine multiple historical documents, or respond to a collection of quotations. I often use mystery texts to get students to form questions to drive our unit of study.
  • Learn to Listen/Listen to Learn*: helps students develop their discussion skills, particularly their ability to listen to one another. It is especially useful when trying to discuss controversial topics (Journal reflections can be digital)
  • Online Discussion Forums*: provide a space for all students to be heard without being interrupted. Think about using your current online presence or a GoogleDoc!
  • Save the Last Word for Me*: clearly defined structure helps shy students share their ideas and ensures that frequent speakers practice being quiet (Step 2 can be digital)
  • Town Hall Circle: to provide a space for community members to share their perspective on a topic of concern
Assessing Collaborative Work: Great Resource on Collaborative Work 
We communicate what really matters to our students by assessing them on it... Getting the assessment right of collaborative projects is critical. Decisions about how to structure the assessment of group work need to be focused around four factors:

        1. Will you be assessing the product, the collaborative process or both?
        2. What is the success criteria and who says so?
        3. Who is the assessor - lecturer, student or both? 
        4. Who gets the marks - individuals or the group?

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