We all know that 21st century learners need to be excellent collaborators, but how do you ensure that students are truly collaborating? There are too many horror stories about “group work” really being one or two people working while the rest of the group receives credit. Fortunately, there are a varieties of strategies and resources to help with every piece of the process - from defining responsibilities, to managing tasks, to discussing ideas and creating deliverables. Here are some strategies and tools to help you ensure that collaborative learning is truly collaborative.
Make a Project Overview
Before students begin a project, they should work as a team to develop a project overview. This will help ground and guide students throughout the project. Parts of this can be created by the teacher, but as much as possible should be generated by students. This helps teams take ownership of their project, and they should refer back to it frequently as they work together.
Students should be able to answer these four questions:
Empowering your students to define the project and their responsibilities will help to ensure that they continue to collaborate closely throughout the process.
Good Projects use Great Time Management
Rome wasn’t built in day, and neither are your students’ projects! Project-based learning ideas are complex and students need to practice how to plan their time effectively. This will not only help them as they work in teams, but will also prepare them to be successful throughout their lives.
There are many ways to help students practice time management. You could create a project timeline that asks students to fill out weekly and daily tasks. If students are keeping track of their collaborative learning in a folder, they can keep their project overview and timeline in an easy-to-access place so that all team members can refer to it. Or, you can do this digitally by using shared calendars.
Once students have made a project calendar, help them self-manage with the use of a timer. It may sound a bit old school, but setting a timer for specific tasks helps students to maximize their time and practice self-management. You can use a simple timer or more advanced time tracking tools, like Toggl. Younger students may need a lot of teacher support with keeping track of their time, but older students should practice monitoring their own time.
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The Most Productive Teams Communicate Well
There are a lot of tools to help teams communicate with each other so that everyone knows what they are working on. Productivity tools help students track their own work and ask for help when they need it.
Teams should check in together at the beginning and end of the day to review their timeline and ensure they are on track to complete their project. You can provide a clear structure for students to keep these meetings short and meaningful. This is a time for students to clarify what each team member is working on and to identify any obstacles they may need help with.
Keeping project materials in one organized place is a great way for students to manage their team communication. Students can use a binder system or digital folders to keep track of their project overview, timeline, and deliverables. Wherever students store their project materials, the expectation should be that teams are discussing them daily.
Take it up a notch by integrating tools like Trello, which allows students to design their own workflow. Teams can communicate, keep track of project-based learning, and share resources and deliverables. Learn more about how to integrate Trello in project-based learning.
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Make a Dazzling Deliverable
As students work together, they need to be able to share and edit documents and deliverables. There are endless collaborative tools that students can use to produce their deliverables. Some of our PenPals’ favorite tools include Google Suite, Padlet, FlipGrid, and Canva - and PenPal Schools of course!
Collaboration shouldn’t be restricted to producing deliverables; collaborative learning should be incorporated throughout the project. Some helpful strategies to encourage collaborative learning include fishbowls, discussion prompts, and brainstorming activities that prompt students to make their thinking visible and discuss ideas with their teammates.
Collaboration Makes Reflection More Effective
It’s important for students to collaborate as they reflect on the project, too. Teams should work together throughout their project to adjust and improve their team dynamic. Teams also provide a great structure for students to receive individual feedback from their peers.
Teammates should always incorporate positive feedback in addition to constructive feedback. Teams can also reflect on their group dynamic, and discuss positive and constructive feedback on their team productivity in addition to their individual efforts.
Collaborative learning doesn’t just happen. Students need support and guidance to learn how to collaborate effectively. Project-based learning is a great opportunity to improve student collaboration, and these strategies can help you ensure that collaborative learning is truly collaborative.
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