If you are trying to encourage collaboration in your classroom and are having trouble, read on. You will see 7 steps that will help you build stronger student collaborators in collaboration activities.
What’s All the Hubbub?
Why is collaboration such a big deal all of a sudden? Everybody wants to collaborate: songwriters, businesses, school districts, teachers, and now students. What is it, and what, if anything, is its importance?
Well, as it turns out, collaboration boosts creativity and thinking. Teamwork works for big jobs and also for small jobs.
“The ability to work in teams is one of the most sought-after skills among new hires, yet research suggests that students may not be graduating with the level of skills needed to succeed on the job.”
That’s reason enough for me to start incorporating collaboration into my classes to allow my students the opportunity to practice and attain those collaboration skills.
For two years, I encouraged collaboration in all of the classes with which I worked. After awhile, I started to wonder whether all the work to set up collaboration was really that important. Then I was present for a presentation by Anthony Kim of Ed Elements. In that presentation, Kim shared some data with us from John Hattie’s Visible Learning. What caught my attention and subsequent dedication to collaboration is the graphic below.
Taken with permission from Anthony Kim’s presentation. @anthonx
In it, Hattie shows that 0.40 is the effect size for one year’s growth. The highest growth effect comes as a result of … you guessed it, peer collaboration and discussion coming in at a whopping 0.82!
That means that, according to Hattie, peer collaboration and discussion result in students learning more than twice what they would learn in a traditional classroom with a traditional teacher. Even more than differentiation and immediate feedback.
That’s worth restating. Peer collaboration and discussion result in students learning twice what they would learn in a normal year’s growth.
Whoa! That’s amazing! With growth like that, we should all be collaborating and discussing all day long, right?
Were We Successful?
Well, my teachers and I worked on collaboration in our classrooms. We learned about, planned out, tried out, and reflected on blended learning station rotation that required a collaboration station. The results were very telling.
At our end-of-the-year meeting we reported out our findings. Of our group, 95% said that the collaboration station was the least successful. Upon reflection, here’s what we surmised: students don’t need just the opportunity to collaborate; they need to be taught how to collaborate well.
How Can We Improve Collaboration?
All summer I thought about why we failed and how we could succeed. I knew there had to be a way to teach students how to collaborate well, and I processed and researched and finally put together this infographic called “7 Steps to Building Student Collaborators” (see right) for teachers to follow as a scaffold for building strong collaborators. As everything else in education, this is a work in progress, so please try it out and send me some feedback to improve it for all who might happen upon it and try it out. Here is a detailed description to help you get started. As it is a progression, feel free to jump in wherever makes the most sense for your students.
Step 1: Begin with open-ended discussion questions for the students to process their thoughts. Google Classroom is a great tool for this because the answers to Classroom discussion questions are hidden until after a student submits his/her answer. No copying, folks. What you see is what you get. Set the settings to allow students to respond. (This allows them to see other’s answers). However, you must go into the Student section and change the rights to “Only teachers can post or comment.” (see graphic) You want this because in step 2 you have to teach your students how to write an appropriate response to a post.
Step 2: Teach students what makes an appropriate, well-written response to a post. To do this, share How-To videos 1 and 2 below and Accountable Talk/Moves charts like the one below that demonstrate well-written responses, and practice, practice, practice. Maybe your students could be empowered to create their own video, blog, vlog, or infographic for others to use.
Step 3: Give students the opportunity to practice using accountable talk (found here and here), and practice responding as a whole group to one another’s posts in Google Classroom. As a modeling exercise, the teacher will type the responses as the students formulate them together. You can start out whole group and move toward small groups formulating responses as one entity. There are plenty of apps to assist you. Socrative allows students to post their answers and then vote on the best one. Google Classroom allows teachers to post a discussion question for group responses with only one person per group submitting a response. A shared Google Doc with a table can be used to share out the final group responses. A shared Google Drawing can be used with post-it note style text boxes for each group to claim and fill. Please know that once is not enough. Students need the opportunity to practice, practice, practice. Once you are confident that students know how to write group responses, change the Google Classroom settings to “Students can post and comment.” This will open up discussion questions for peer response. Once you feel confident that students understand the phraseology in writing, you need to transition to verbal responses.
Step 4: Move to an on-the-spot, think-fast, response system that requires accountable talk or sentence starters. Socratic seminars are just the activity for this. If you are not familiar with Socratic seminars, they are basically student-led discussions with the requirement that everyone has to contribute something to the discussion. The teacher is responsible for formulating questions that are open-ended and draw out student interpretations that should then be supported with text or some other data. Great Book, Junior Great Book Shared Inquiry discussions, and Fishbowl discussions are similar to a Socratic seminar. It doesn’t matter what system you use as long as students have to piggyback on one another’s responses. This is where the accountable talk comes in. It gives students the phraseology to have civil agreement and disagreement. It also encourages deeper inquiry instead of superficial analysis of a topic.
Step 5: Now that students are becoming comfortable with more academic phrases and sentence starters as a whole group with teacher monitoring, it is time to set them into small groups to monitor themselves. Create simultaneous small groups each with the same task: run your own Socratic seminar or Great Books discussion for shared inquiry. Formulate starter questions as a whole group or as small groups, and then share out before beginning the activity. Formulating questions is a skill that our students could practice more. Scaffold here as needed.
After the activity, debrief and give students time to reflect upon what went well and what could be improved. Practice these small group synchronous discussions a few more times until you and they feel confident that they could monitor themselves completely during a station rotation class period. It’s now time to move toward asynchronous collaboration.
Step 6: Today is the big day! Your students should be better prepared to rotate into a collaborative station without needing your help. This is a huge accomplishment and should be celebrated by you and your students! Your job is to create 3 or more stations: Independent, Collaborative, Teacher Directed. If you are not familiar with Blended Learning Station Rotation, check out Blended Learning Universe through the Christensen Institute.
Step 7: Finally, take time to allow students to reflect on the experience. Debrief with them to get their feedback, so together you can build a better station rotation each time.
Reflection Tools: Journal, blogs, Google Classroom, Google Forms, Think-Pair-Share, ClassKick, Nearpod, Seesaw, Vocaroo, audio recorder, video recorder, Screencastify, etc.
The Power of Feedback
If you are ready to try collaboration with your students, please try out this scaffold and send me some feedback. I’d love to hear about your successes as well as your recommendations for how, together, we can make this process better. It’s all about the collaboration, right?
Here is the infographic in case you’d like to print it out.
Making English class relevant is not always easy. Knowing how to read, write, and communicate effectively are important life skills; however, this seems to escape teenagers. English class can be made relevant through authentic learning activities and authentic assessments. If you are looking for an authentic learning activity including Sharktank, a United Nations grant, a jury, and a solution to social issues, read on.
Mrs. Collier teaches block scheduled English I classes. This means that she has 3 classes a day for 90 minutes each. For a unit on the rhetorical triangle, Mrs. Collier decided to challenge her students with a problem-based scenario; her students were challenged to present to a panel from the United Nations offering a $4,000,000 grant to support the most innovative product to solve the social problem caused by fast food. Think Shark Tank here. The students were expected to apply their knowledge of the rhetorical triangle and their skills of research, analysis of information, creative problem-solving, and presentation to convince the panel that their team and their product was the most viable and deserving of the $4 million grant.
First, students collaborated in groups of three and were tasked to read one chapter in Fast Food Nation dealing with a specific social problem created by fast food. After reading the chapter, students had to research the social problem and come up with a Shark Tank-like product to solve the problem. Next, the students had to create a presentation to try to convince the United Nations Grant Committee that their product most deserves the $4 million grant.
Persuasion and the Rhetorical Triangle
The students were tasked with applying the Rhetorical Triangle within their presentation to persuade the United Nations Grant Committee to choose their project idea as the most deserving of the $4 million grant. Having had training in applying logos, ethos, and pathos students were required to utilize all three in their presentations.
United Nations Grant Committee
Then, to make the activity more authentic, Ms. Collier invited
community and district members to judge the presentations over two days. Along with Lainie Berry, the District Director of Innovation and Digital Learning; and Caroline Mullis, a representative of the Coast Community Foundation of SC; I had the honor and thrill of serving on the UN Grant Committee to judge 4 of the 8 projects. The 4 products included a citizen watch-dog project to monitor pollution, a government-led pollution-monitoring system, a machine that detects E.coli in fast food burger meat, and a biodegradable and edible food packaging.
The Google Slides visual presentations were of varying quality as were the live student presentations. Overall, the 3-person jury was impressed with the level of research and creativity presented by each group. Mrs. Collier provided each jury member a rubric to judge the product, the presentation, and the rhetorical triangle and invited the jury members to ask questions for clarification before making our final decision. We three jury members discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each group, narrowed it down to two, and finally settled on one group to receive the grant. The winner was the biodegradable packaging to slow the pollution in the Arctic Circle.
Authentic Jury Feedback
Finally, understanding the power of outside influence, Mrs. Collier invited the 3 jury members to give constructive feedback to the teams. This particular team was powerful because one member is a former high school English teacher, one deals with budgets and deciding longevity of a project, and the third deals with grant applications daily and knows what to look for. The feedback given to the students included standard points about body language, confidence, volume, diction, and eye contact. After that, the jury explained the strengths of each group’s idea. Finally, the jury explained how important it is to cover all of the research thoroughly, and that knowledge of the subject matter is what ultimately gave us the confidence to grant one group $4 million.
Authentic Learning Take-Aways
This experience raised the level of engagement for the students because they had an authentic audience. Mrs. Collier did a fantastic job creating a real-world scenario with a real-world issue. Kudos to her and her students for their hard work and dedication to learning.
If you are interested in creating more authentic experiences for your students, I recommend heading to YouTube for a basic search. We found plenty of examples that served as an outline for what we wanted to do.
If you have participated in authentic activities with your students, please leave a comment to start a discussion. I’d love to hear from you about how things went and what we can learn from one another’s experiences.
Finally, if you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to receive more to your inbox.
For differentiation in the ELA classroom, No Red Ink is a godsend. Although it has always been available via the noredink.com website, many teachers learned of it through Edmodo as an app. However, it is migrating completely to its website on June 30, 2016. See the company announcement below.
As you may have heard, NoRedInk will no longer integrate with Edmodo starting June 30, 2016. On that date, we will transition your account to the NoRedInk website. Your data and classes will travel with you, and the site will look and behave just as it always has. The only change is that you will begin logging in at noredink.com rather than through an Edmodo app.
On June 30, we will send instructions to this email address. If you’d like to use a different address, please launch the NoRedInk app and go to your settings page. You can learn more about the change here. Also feel free to reach out with questions.
Thanks for all that you do,
The NoRedInk Team
If you haven’t already been using No Red Ink, now is the time to go to their website and set up an account. This app offers grammar practice with parts of speech, sentences, commas, parallel structure, MLA citations and more. This app could take you from 3rd grade through college.
If diagramming sentences did not excite you, try No Red Ink on for size. It just might surprise you.
As an English teacher, I saw my job as teaching people to think well and write well. The thinking was not nearly as difficult as the writing portion, and after leaving the classroom to coach teachers on how to effectively integrate technology into the classroom, I realize that writing was just a byproduct of what my real job was: to teach people how to communicate effectively. Writing was just one way to effectively communicate.
With technology becoming ubiquitous in our personal, professional, and now educational lives, we have so many opportunities to communicate; learning how to communicate effectively is becoming more important than ever with the organization of ideas and the quality of speech and text being the main focus.
If organization of ideas is one of the big three factors, why does written text take precedence over spoken word? Perhaps it has been that way because writing is permanent and digital writing is searchable. However, things have changed. Now, video is streaming live through Facebook and it is searchable on YouTube. Audio is also more prominent and is also searchable. While writing used to be more permanent, it is now just as temporary as audio and video because most of it is saved digitally. So then, why are we still focused on writing as the apex of communication?
Organizing ideas for verbal communication such as a speech or a podcast is just as challenging as the written word save the grammatical hangups. For our more verbal students, organizing thoughts for speech might even be a stepping stone to better writing because the student will process the information in a way that is his strength. Just as with scaffolding, this could scaffold for a hesitant writer. Check out this slidedeck by Professor Tamika Taylor with instructions for how to prepare for a speech.
That’s where podcasting comes in. Podcasting is much like a radio broadcast. There are no images or written text. Everything is recorded in audio form. Some great examples can be found in iTunes and on StoryCorps.Org 1100+ of which have been shared on NPR.org. There are free audio apps available on all mobile devices from regular phones, to smartphones, to tablets. Apple or Android – it doesn’t matter.
Apps and Websites
For Apple users, the Voice Record Pro App is free and powerful. Among the many features it offers, it allows you to import and export from Google Drive, offers editing, and saves into multiple formats. The age label is 4+ which means it is easy enough for kindergarteners to use.
For Chromebook users, Vocaroo.com is a simple, web-based voice recorder that offers a simple record, pause, and stop dashboard. The recording is saved on Vocaroo’s servers for 2-3 months and then is deleted. It offers the user a link that can be copied and pasted to share with others. I love this app for simple checking for understanding especially for the younger children who can speak more easily than write. I have used this successfully with students as low as first grade.
The world is changing, and the good news is that it now offers us many new ways to interact and assess our students. Check out podcasting for a new and different experience.
How exciting are tides and currents? Very exciting when you have an awesome teachers and Chromebooks.
Students in Keith Pridgen and Francine Brewer’s 5th grade science classes are researching tides and presenting their information in various formats. They are working both independently and collaboratively to complete the task.
To prepare technically for the unit, all users installed the Screencastify extension from the Google Web Store. This was done whole class and was completed within 5 minutes. According to the Google Web Store, “Screencastify is a simple video screen capture software (aka. screencast recorder) for Chrome. It is able to record all screen activity inside a tab, including audio. Just press record and the content of your tab is recorded. So you can easily create a screencast for video tutorials, record presentations, etc. (Learn more here). Students were directed to explore the app and then were walked through some settings to make sure it will properly download and save into Google Drive. These settings will differ based on your school’s filter settings, whether you are a GAFE school, and whether students are using Google Drive.
The unit began with a rubric for their presentation which provided voice and choice: choose your group partners, choose additional information to share, and choose the format of the final presentation. Instruction began with a brief overview of the most common terms the students needed to know. Because the teachers were using this unit as a jigsaw in which students will learn from one another, they provided the students with questions to be answered. The students completed their research independently and then collaborated to create the final presentation.
Students were given the options to present live with a slideshow (Slides), verbally through a recording (Vocaroo), or in YouTube fashion (Screencastify). Not surprisingly, this generation who cut their teeth on YouTube videos unanimously chose to do screen cast presentations.
Because the students worked at their own pace, each group progressed to different stages at different times. A group of boys was ready to attempt the screencast using Screencastify. They wanted to be the stars of the show, so they set up their Screencastify settings using the CAM tab with the built in microphone and the built in camera turned on.
After getting the webcam lined up properly, the boys started their first take few takes. See the video below.
After watching the preview, the students came up with the idea to use a second Chromebook to run as a teleprompter, so they wouldn’t be looking at their paper while recording. To complete this, the students were shown Google Docs and shared a file with one another. The next step is to complete the teleprompter file and then practice and record again.