20 Tips for Encouraging Student Collaboration
As you’ve no doubt noticed, collaboration is a hot idea these days in both schools and the workplace. Encouraging students to learn from one another not only facilitates positive interaction; it also gets them ready for the future. Collaboration can be fun, since it’s a good break from the one-sided learning model. But sometimes you need to take steps to ensure maximum engagement from students. Read on for 20 effective tips for encouraging collaboration.
1. Establish Ground Rules
The purpose of collaborative learning sessions is education ‒ not inappropriate feedback, bullying, or other rude behavior. Start by establishing ground rules. Ask that students listen politely to one another, stick to common goals, and compromise when disputes arise. Emphasize communication and discussion over personal insults and conflict. When there is disrespect, confront it immediately.
2. Suggest an Agenda
When students are new to one another or to the collaborative process in general, provide them with a road map. Suggest objectives that must be reached during the collaborative session. Also establish roles in group settings, if students are struggling. This will get them off to a good start that will likely pick up momentum.
3. Teach Proper Interaction
In addition to allowing groups to collaborate, show them how to do it. Encourage shared leadership and demonstrate how to keep the group working to complete tasks. Task functions can include initiating discussion, clarifying points, summarizing discussions, challenging assumptions, researching, and reaching consensus. Offer these functions as a framework that students can refer to if they feel stuck.
4. Be Prepared to Adjust the Strategy
Dynamics can change how a group operates. If students seem to be having trouble collaborating, you might get them to try what’s called the “jigsaw” technique. The jigsaw technique focuses on everyone's piece in a project, just as in a puzzle. It assumes each individual is an expert in something and that their talents must be assigned to the best use. This often involves assigning specific topic areas and subtasks to group members. Never be afraid to offer this detailed structure when needed, but know that it may also need to be changed.
5. Do Not Hesitate to Give Feedback
No one is perfect at collaboration the first time around. If the discussion is going well and students interact effectively, encourage them to continue. When interaction is less than positive or productive, help students get back on track. This is not to encourage meddling or controlling; instead, offer guidance.
6. Keep Groups Small, but Not Too Small
The best group size is four to five students. In a larger group, some students may sit back and fail to contribute, letting the rest of the group do the work. That makes for a bad experience for hardworking students. In a group smaller than four to five students, there won’t be enough divergent viewpoints to elicit discussion and creativity. There should be room for agreement, challenges, and discussion.
7. Allow Dynamics to Develop
Groups will find their own coping strategies for dealing with difficult concepts. Some will use humor and others will discuss concepts in minute detail. Do not interfere with this development. As long as everyone controls their stress and everything moves forward, this is a natural part of human interaction.
8. Encourage Balance
There are critics in every group. Rather than let other group members shut them down, encourage students to let the critics be heard. Even the most cynical personalities make valid points, and divergent viewpoints encourage creativity. One way to encourage balance is to ask group members to make notes before the discussion on topics they want brought up. You can assess individual grades based on those ideas.
9. Discourage "Group Think"
Fatigue, laziness, or a dominant personality can destroy the balance you worked hard to develop in groups. Change up groups when it appears uniformity of thought is taking over. Consider putting several dominant personalities with different talents in one group, so they have no choice but to find compromise.
10. Feel Free to Test
Administer a pre-test and post-test during each collaborative session. These can be short presentations or quizzes. You do not have to grade these, as they are only used to gauge progress. These assessments can determine the quality of group learning and indicate necessary adjustments.
11. Use the Learning Process as an Assessment
In addition to grading results, also grade the quality of the discussion, level of engagement, and adherence to good group-work principles. With younger students, focus on their ability to follow collaborative learning standards. With older students, focus more on meaningful participation.
12. Mix Aptitudes
Students have different perspectives and talents. It’s their natural inclination to gravitate to the group members most like them, but this makes for static projects. Set up the groups yourself and rotate membership between projects, to ensure a mixture of personalities and talents.
13. Understand That Gender Is Important
An even-numbered group with equal numbers of boys and girls has been shown to work best. Everyone is more likely to feel comfortable communicating and exchanging ideas. In fact, it is best to emphasize gender equality as a whole in every class exercise.
14. Use Technology
Interactive whiteboards, iPads, and Google groups all speak to a generation that frequently prefers online communication. You may want to emphasize that planning conversations works well through these online platforms, but conflicts are best resolved face-to-face.
15. Work Up Different Learning Scenarios
Group work can integrate a mix of study teams, debates, lab work, and collaborative problem solving. Never make every group project the same, as different formats bring up new challenges.
16. Use the Scaffolding Strategy
Give the most direction at the beginning of a project. As groups gain momentum and improve communication, involve yourself less. Increase groups’ responsibility as they grasp concepts and learn to operate better.
17. Offer a Problem-Solving Structure
You may need to offer guidance in the area of critical thinking by offering an outline for students. Consider starting each group project with a review of the following seven-step structure for problem-solving, as designed by Mark Alexander:
- Identify objective
- Set goals
- Gather data
- Plan a course of action
- Use data to generate options
- Make a decision
- Implement decision
18. Choose Real-World Problems
Theoretical scenarios may fail to engage students, especially if they appear improbable. Look at recent events to create a scenario, even considering examples from pop culture. This encourages project-based learning with a link to the real world. It’s great for collaborative learning, especially if the students have been following the story.
19. Promote an Open Communication Rule
Collaboration cannot occur unless everyone feels they can communicate freely. Address conflicts immediately, rather than letting them linger. Help create safe spaces and never tolerate negative feedback that only serves to break someone down.
20. Encourage Diversity
When there is compromise, discussion, and respect in a group, reward students with high marks. Always emphasize the need for diverse perspectives and encourage independent thinking. Provide historical examples of the ways people found to agree, to encourage good modeling for this behavior. When groups show this good modeling, encourage and reward them.
The collaborative classroom is challenging because it requires working directly with personal dynamics. But it is also a satisfying approach that helps students take control of their learning, thus increasing their interest and engagement.
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For more information on collaboration and some collaborative lessons to try, check out our Collaborate to the Core 2 guide. Download Now.>>