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Great Collaboration Takes Practice

By Claire Minnoe & Danielle Cronk

Creation and Collaboration is a classroom practice that allows students to have ownership over their learning, which in turn limits teacher dominated instruction. Although this practice seems to involve some extra planning and preparation; it does provide the students an alternative learning experience where they are in the driver's seat of their own education. The students in my fourth-grade classroom understand the expectations which are crucial to be able to execute collaboration correctly and efficiently.

As a teacher we’d love to see creation and collaboration happen right out of the gate, but this sort of teamwork takes scaffolding.

The first thing you want to do is create and establish group norms. Students need to be on the same page and need to understand that everyone has a voice and is being held accountable. One way to do this is by assigning roles. Once each student knows their role they will be more efficient and will know exactly what their responsibility is within the group.

The second thing you want to do is teach your students how to listen. Teaching students how to listen will prevent them from cutting off their peers. It also teaches them to make eye contact with one another. One activity that you could use in the classroom is “Three Then Me.” This activity requires students to listen to three other students before sharing again. It is also important that we teach our students the art of asking good questions. One thing you could do with students is teach them how to ask different kinds of questions. Students need to learn that open ended questions yield the best responses.

Last but not least, students need to learn how to negotiate. A good negotiator listens well and is patient with the rest of their group members. Once you teach students how to create and collaborate they will have a better understanding of their role and expectations within the group.

In our 4th grade classrooms at Genesee, the student groups are created by using data from an application called Happy Numbers. This application starts with an assessment to place the student based on standards they may be deficient in. Using this data, we are able to group students in pairs. It is important to group the students cautiously and wisely.

When creating student groups, I put a higher achieving student with a lower achieving student. By doing this it allows the higher-level student to help and guide the lower level student and they are in charge of their own instruction. The students then make their way around the room imitating a carousel answering long division questions. There can be anywhere from five to seven different stations depending on the number of students in your class and how many students are in each group.

All students are responsible for their own learning, being able to explain and justify their answer and how they got there while using the appropriate process. At the end of the math block, students will hand in their papers so I am able to use it as an “exit ticket” to evaluate the students knowledge on the concept. Assessing the students' knowledge on whether they understood the concept will better help me prepare for following lessons and ways to better meet the student's individual needs.

This practice allows my students to think at a higher-level, increasing their ability to work on interpersonal social skills, and self-management. My students really enjoy working with each other on all subjects, especially math, so this practice works well in our classroom setting.

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