Promoting collaboration in the classroom

Teach students to work with their peers while developing their online presence
By: | October 29, 2019
Rachelle Dene Poth is a foreign language and STEAM teacher at Riverview Junior/Senior High in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. She will be a featured speaker at DA's Future of Education Technology Conference®.

In classrooms today, it has become more common to see students working together in small groups or in stations around the room, rather than in assigned seats and lined up in rows. There are more opportunities for interacting with the teacher and with one’s peers because of new teaching methods and a variety of tools available for extending the how, when, and where students learn.

For some teachers, it can feel uncomfortable to make that shift, however, it is worth taking the risk to see the benefits for students.

Lee Vygotsky, a Russian teacher and psychologist, is credited with first stating that we learn through interactions with our peers and teachers. According to social learning theory, creating a more active learning community can positively impact a learner’s ability and help meet individual learner goals. People can learn in different social contexts and we can help students to build their social-emotional learning skills, develop communicative abilities and work as part of a collaborative team, that will promote discussion, social interaction and problem-solving. Within our classrooms, we have many ways to bring this about.

In my own classroom, a few years ago I made the decision to break apart the rows of desks and created stations of 2-4 desks so that I could promote more interactive learning experiences. I was able to move around and work with each group, and more importantly, the students had an opportunity to take more of a lead in the classroom, to teach and learn from one another.

We can also provide ways for students to interact in the virtual space by creating opportunities for extending the learning beyond our classroom and class period. An added benefit is that by collaborating in a virtual space,there can be a positive impact on their interactions in the physical learning space as well.

Ways to collaborate

There are many ways to collaborate that do not require the use of technology, although the use of digital tools promotes more active collaborations beyond the class period. The collaboration does not have to be tech-dependent but rather focused on giving students opportunities to work together on interpersonal skills, to become self-aware and to develop their awareness of others.

  • Google and Microsoft: Many schools either use Google or Microsoft as their classroom management systems. Using these tools promotes the opportunity for more global collaboration as students and teachers can connect with other classrooms throughout the world.
  • Blogging: Blogging is a good way to help students practice the content while developing their literacy skills and applying their knowledge in a more authentic way. It promotes student voice and leads to more meaningful learning.
  • A wall of discussion: Sometimes students may not feel comfortable speaking in front of their peers. I believe this is where tech can definitely help for building confidence in sharing ideas. A tool such as Padlet is quite helpful for collaborating.
  • Hands-on activities: We can use the traditional tools of paper, pencil, markers, and other classroom materials and leave it to students to decide how to practice, and what to create. Collaboration leads to the design of new, meaningful ways to review class material and it’s something that can be shared with other classes.
  • Games and activities: Providing opportunities for students to interact by using games and activities promotes the development of social-emotional learning skills. Students learn to problem solve, collaborate, think critically, and develop empathy through scenarios within the game or activity itself, or from being part of a team. It creates a sense of community and belonging, which promote collaboration and foster the social-emotional skills students need.

During these “collaborations,” students not only become more skilled at working with their peers but also working with other adults besides their teacher while developing their online presence and being responsible in the use of digital tools for learning.

Rachelle Dene Poth is a Foreign Language and STEAM Teacher at Riverview Junior/Senior High in Oakmont, PA. She is also an attorney and serves as the President of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She will be a featured speaker sat DA’s FETC 2020.


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