Have you ever tried to put together a jigsaw puzzle without seeing the picture first? It can be an overwhelming task that is fraught with frustration. Developing a collaborative classroom can sometimes be like that. As teachers, we want to see how collaboration will look. We want a clear visual exemplar of how the tasks will look, how the students will respond, and what our actions will be.
Fortunately, authors Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher paint a word picture of a productive collaborative learning environment in their article Making Group Work Productive. The authors share the follow descriptors:
- The tasks assigned are creative and require creative application of content concepts and skills.
- Students are collectively attentive to the task at hand. Student body language and gaze are fixed on materials or each other.
- Social skills, such as listening to others, avoiding hurtful statements, stating a position without defense, acknowledging concerns, and reaching consensus, are in action and continual development.
- The language of collaboration – us, we, together, teaming, and similar words – are heard and displayed throughout the room.
- Students are in groups of two to five, and the group composition is represents a variety of abilities and perspectives.
- The teacher actively monitors, directs, adds elements, and questions student groups throughout the learning process.
As you prepare for next week keep this vision in your minds eye. Replicate it in your own classroom and tailor it to fit your own student needs. You and your students will be glad you made the effort!