Student collaboration crafts classroom magic
- Working in teams is a difficult yet crucial element of our success as a society, Zachary Herrmann — director and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education — wrote in Edutopia. And while most teachers see the need to teach students to collaborate, they don't always see the results they hope for.
- To more effectively teach this skill, educators should resist stepping in and trying to fix issues they see during classroom team-building exercises. For students to truly learn the value of teamwork, they must work through their problems themselves — as a group, rather than as individuals — or risk falling into the same traps and needing rescuing again.
- Instead, teachers could help students tap into an after-action review, or ARR, a tactic developed by the U.S. military that helps groups self-reflect. Herrmann uses this tool to have students assess what they intended to do during their work as team, what results they achieved, and what they would repeat or change in the future. He says this helps them avoid the same issues — and prevents him from needing to intervene — when they try again.
The benefits of collaborative learning are numerous, yet educators find team building exercises can sometimes yield unideal results. A few students participate while others don’t, for instance, or disagreements can devolve into frustration. It’s understandable that teachers sometimes find the effects of team building exercises not as fruitful as they'd initially hoped.
But when students work together successfully, magical things can happen in a classroom. A 2011 study, “Benefits of collaborative learning,” found the upside of collaborative learning (CL) to be extensive. From developing speaking skills to giving teachers the opportunity to observe a child’s strengths and weaknesses, CL can also lead to self-management and student ownership centered on what they’ve learned. In other words, children feel more passionate about what they’ve discovered.
Ultimately, CL can bring about “higher achievement and greater productivity, more caring, supportive, and committed relationships; and greater psychological health, social competence, and self esteem,” wrote the study's authors. For school administrators, it arguably doesn't get much better than that.
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