Posts Tagged collaboration

The Class Mascot Experiment. 1.0

Several years ago a colleague  of mine made the observation that the previous year 12 group had come together as a collaborative group after one of their  year group had been diagnosed with leukemia.  The whole grade had got behind this one student  and as a group started sharing study notes and other resources. It was my colleagues belief that the collegial nature of that particular year group was due to a shared adversity and was the reason the whole group finished with better than expected results.

Class Mascot 1.0

At the time this got me thinking about how you could replicate the adversity without having a student develop a life threatening disease. Thus I conceived the mascot experiment. Where I organized my Senior Biology class to get a mascot, a recycled stuffed toy from an op-shop, with the plan of allowing the class to bond with the mascot before causing some adversity to occur to it. So that I could develop a collaborative online space for the sharing of resources. I set the whole task up as a series of missions.

For example:

  • Your mission is to go to an op-shop and buy a stuffed toy for $5 or less.
  • Your mission is to name the mascot.
  • Your mission is to take the mascot on an outing and record the trip  in some way.

This all started as planned, but a real adversity occurred before  I could introduce my planned one.  The mascot was kidnapped by a member of another senior biology class. This caused  indignation in my class and they did devise a number of plans to rescue the mascot (none that succeeded). The other class sent ransom requests  (for party food) with a variety of threats to the well-being of the mascot.

At the time I though it was a bit of a failure as the collaborative sharing of resources did not eventuate.  What did develop was a collegial class atmosphere. Which in retrospect may have been just as valuable

After reading and reflecting on the benefits of cooperative learning I am thinking it might be worth another try.

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Visible Learning – Cooperative, competitive, individualistic and heterogeneous class environments.

Visible Learning by John Hattie (2009)

I have been reading Hattie’s  (2009, pp212-214)  summation of the research regarding cooperative learning and have been encouraged to see that there is a positive learning gain from its inclusion in our teaching as compared to individualistic teaching pedagogies.  Also there are links to some of the other  skills considered important in the 21st century such as deep/critical thinking,  problem solving, communication and social interactions.

I was interested to read about the comparison of cooperative and competitive teaching, where both are shown to have positive gains, though cooperative teaching had larger gains over competitive.  Rather than thinking I should be doing even more cooperative tasks I am considering including more competition between the different groups within my existing cooperative tasks.  Hattie (2009) also notes that providing tangible rewards to students in these situations has its benefits.

The most thought provoking aspect of Hattie’s (2009) summary is the links between cooperative learning and interpersonal relationships, which points to the power of friendships in producing  better student achievement.  Hattie includes the following  quote.

If you want to increase student academic achievement, give each student a friend (Roseth, Fang, Johnson, & Johnson, 2006, p. 7).

This has left me wondering about how to improve the social interactions of my students so that they experience an increased sense of well being, belonging, and self worth that produces  increased positive feelings about school and learning.  Hattie(2009) suggest that it is structured and well planed  tasks (cooperative or competitive) that unleash the potential of peer learning .

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.

Roseth, C. J., Fang, F., Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (2006). Effects of cooperative learning on middle schools students: a meta analysis. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

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Collaboration – Group work – Cooperative Learning

After looking at and reflecting on the list of different skills that are predicted to be important in the 21st century I have  decided to focus on just one; collaboration.  Well, at least have one as a focus while I continue  ruminating on the others, as I think in practice it will be hard to separate many of them as there is a level of interconnectivity.  One example is that  student thinking has been shown to  improve with  student  involvement in group work where they are required to verbalise their understanding or challenge others. Which leads to a deeper understanding and improved learning outcomes.

What is the best way to use group work?I have chosen collaboration as a focus because as a teacher I have at times avoided group work. Group work  often represents hard work having to negotiate the myriad of potential conflicts and relational difficulties that arise when students are allowed or are forced to work together.  When I have assigned group tasks often I have not thought them through as thoroughly as I should have.  Thus by choosing collaboration as a focus I plan  to reflect on the  research  of others that suggests that student outcomes are improved as students engage at a deeper level.

I have started to be more conscious about the use of group work in my lessons and I have started reflecting on how best to plan for and incorporate it. Here is a sample of the questions I’m reflecting on and looking for evidence to answer.

  • Do students performed better if they collaborate?
  • What  different forms of collaboration are used and which are most effective?
  • Is the size of a group significant?
  • Is how group formation occurs important?  (student choice, teacher choice, based on ability, friendship groups, age, ses, gender?)

There is lots to think about.

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Thinking, collaboration, problem solving, adaptability and creativity…

21st Century Skills

The ability to think deeply and creativity, to collaborate with others , to problem solve and adapt to rapidly changing situations are described by many as the key skills required for success in the knowledge age of the 21st century.  Is this the complete list?  Should we add other skills? Is one more important than the others? Which should we focus our energies on in the classroom? Will certain focuses produce better outcomes for students than others? How do we go about training students to develop, build and improve on these skills? How do we measure the attainment of  such things?

These are all questions I am taking into the start of this year, with the plan to investigate and apply some of the solutions / answers ( suggestions) I find in my classroom.

Note: Thanks to Kristy Brown’s helpful comment I have also added communication skills,  cultural understanding and sensitivity towards others and knowledge of digital media and technology to the list of  skills for the 21 century.

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