HITS 3: Collaborative learning

HITS 3: Collaborative learning

Chloe Marie and Bez Tran, School Success Managers - Edrolo

As we progress through the school year, we’re often looking for ways to increase the amount of collaboration in our classrooms, to boost student learning and relationships. As friendship groups among students become more established, it can be a challenge to maintain a positive classroom culture where everyone works harmoniously with one another. 

It is well documented however that collaborative learning is beneficial, as students are able to interact with and learn from one another. One of the main challenges is that it relies on students actively participating in negotiating roles, responsibilities and outcomes. 

How can we set up collaborative learning tasks for success?

Know your students

When setting up student groups it’s worth considering:

  • Personality clashes - consider how different personalities will work together. Fro example it might work putting all the introverts in one group!
  • Friendship dynamics - students will obviously want to have a friend in their group. What you want to avoid is for a friendship pair to become a ‘click’ and then work independently from other group members. Consider these dynamics and set some ground rules.  
  • Current academic ability and confidence - I find that the groups that work best are the ones where students aren’t too far apart in their learning. You want students to be on a similar (but different) playing field in terms of their skills and knowledge, so that they feel comfortable approaching one another. 
  • Individual student learning needs - you might have students with additional learning needs in your classroom who need specific supports in place to ensure they can succeed. Placing them in the right group should always be at the forefront of your mind.  

Teach coll

Collaboration is a skill, and sometimes students might not actually know what good collaborations looks like or how to do it. 

Unpack this with your class to ensure there is a shared understanding of what collaboration is. Often, showing a little clip like this one can be a great talking point for the class. I would ask my class to watch once, then tell me if they thought it was good or bad collaboration. Then we would watch it again, and they would write down their observations/evidence of how they could tell. 

You might also get groups to set their own expectations like a contract, and assign group roles that can be rotated throughout a lesson or project. Group roles may include:

  • Manager or Facilitator: Supports the group by helping to ensure that the group stays on task, is goal-orientated, and that there is room for everyone in the conversation.
  • Recorder: Keeps a record of the ins and outs of the group. The recorder also records critical points from the group’s discussion along with findings or answers (like taking minutes).
  • Spokesperson or Presenter: Presents the group’s ideas to the rest of the class using the recorder’s notes.
  • Reflector or Strategy Analyst: Observes team dynamics and guides the consensus-building process and assists with conflict resolution.

Make it routine

Collaboration works best when used regularly. This gives your students a chance to acclimatise to your teaching and learning expectations, and also helps them become more comfortable with working with others in the class. 

My most collaborative class ever was a Year 7 class who I had hammered with collaboration from Day 1. We’re talking seating plans (changing every 2 weeks), group projects, practical work groups. By half way through the year I realised that every single student in that class would be happy to work with any other student. Now I definitely had the upper hand considering they had just started high school and had not solidified their friendship circles yet BUT, it’s possible. 

What are some Collaborative Learning tasks I can try now?

Critical Friends

Use data to pair students with a critical friend for peer feedback. As a general rule, critical friends should not be too far apart in their learning. You can also make critical friend triads.

Use the TAG Protocol to structure the way students interact: T- Tell something you like, A- Ask a question, G- Give a Suggestion.

Use the student learning progress data to easily pair students up for collaboration

Kagan Seating

Kagan Seating is a strategic seating arrangement in which students are grouped based on their current understanding and skills. Students should be at least one step apart in their learning so that they are able to learn from one another. The data dash can help to inform these groupings.

With their face partner or shoulder partner:

  • Turn and Talk
  • Think, Pair, Share
  • Predict, Observe, Explain
  • Annotate a diagram/image in a pair
  • Find the errors in an exam response answer 
  • Determine the marks break down in a pair

NOTE: Students diagonal from one another are not paired as they may be too far apart in their learning which will not result in robust discussion.

Setting up students to have a face and shoulder partner can help them learn from one another

Circle of Viewpoints

Circle of Viewpoints is a visible thinking routine that helps students explore multiple perspectives. For a more in depth outline see here. I’ve enjoyed doing this activity with my classes collaboratively as it can be difficult for students to step into someone else’s shoes and consider the views, values and opinions of different stakeholders.

Instead, get groups to complete this task together or compare notes. 

Collaboration with Edrolo

  • Science Practicals - Group students in pairs or groups of 3 to run Science Practicals. They can discuss their hypotheses, methodology and results as a group and analyse any potential limitations or errors.  
  • Case Studies - Case studies are in many of our textbooks and can be explored in depth with a collaborative task. You might give groups prompts or other tasks to complete such as the circle of viewpoints.

Use case studies as a collaborative learning opportunity, like this one from the Edrolo VCE Unit 3&4 Psychology Textbook

  • Difficult Problem Solving in Maths - In Junior maths there are ‘Extra Spicy’ questions in the Chapter Questions. These are perfect to be completed as a group due to their challenging nature. Of course, you could differentiate questions based on your students’ needs. 
  • In Senior Maths you can get your students to collaborate on Data Analysis, Exam Practice or Questions that cover multiple lessons.

The extra spicy questions (example here from the Edrolo Year 7 Maths resource) are a good activity for group work and collaborative problem solving

An exampleData Analysis Question that covers multiple topics in the Edrolo VCE Unit 3&4 General Maths

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