Collaboration in My Classroom – Group Reading
This is the second in a series of articles about collaboration and collaborative practices in the classroom. In this article, I give an example from my classroom and how I use collaborative learning. I also document my thoughts on the effectiveness of this practice in my class.
Collaboration in My Classroom
I teach in a small Lutheran elementary school in Omaha, Nebraska. Our school serves a total population of less than 100 students from preschool through eighth grade. I have the privilege to teach twenty-two students in my third and fourth grade classroom.
Recently, I have been conducting a lot of research about collaborative learning. Through my reading, I have become convinced that collaboration needs to play a very important role in education at all levels. Because of my relatively small class size and the amount of freedom my administration gives us teachers, I have been putting much of my research into practice. Here are several examples of how I have been incorporating collaborative learning in my classroom.
Before beginning any sort of collaborative work in my classroom, I spent several days teaching my students proper etiquette when working in groups. We also worked together to outline our procedures for when we work in groups. This gives the students ownership in the process and saves me from having to explain why we do things the way we do.
Based on my teaching style and the comfort level of my students, I started my collaborative practices in my classroom by incorporating a ‘think-pair-share’ strategy along with partner reading in science and social studies. After introducing the reading and pointing out main ideas, the students were put into pairs to read portions of the text. Because my students have a variety of reading levels, I divided the groups up based on abilities, placing students with weaker reading abilities with students of higher ability. This gave the weaker students the ability to receive more immediate help when they struggled, and it gave the stronger students the opportunity to practice communication skills.
After reading the assigned section orally, each pair was paired with another pair (one pair was split to form two groups of three) to complete a written assignment. The written assignments always incorporated questions at several different levels from simple recall to application and synthesis. At the end of the allotted time, each student would hand in his or her individual responses to the question. The papers were evaluated based on two different factors. One grade was determined by the individual students’ work. Another grade was calculated by averaging the scores of the rest of the group. This was very effective in ensuring equal participation and contributions because the success of the individual depended in some small way on the success of the group.
When I first started having the students work in small groups, I met with moderate success and a few challenges, as well. The most successful part of the attempt was the increase in student engagement. Every student was participating in the lesson and showed evidence of learning the content. It was also good to see my students thinking out loud and listening to each others’ ideas when it came time to work on the assignment. It encouraged me to see some of my students who struggle the most contribute to the conversation and demonstrate a grasp of the content they were covering.
One of the major challenges I faced in the beginning was actually establishing the groups. Each classroom has different dynamics, and though half of my class was made up of students I had the previous year, this was a very different group of kids. Some students I thought would work well together didn’t get along well at all, and others did not follow the guidelines we had set up for the activities. It took several attempts for students to figure out how to work with each other, to deal with conflicts that were arising within their groups, and to get used to the guidelines we had established.
The combination of group and individual accountability along with the conflict-resolution strategies that the students had the opportunity to practice give me hope that this approach will help my students learn more effectively. After these initial experiments, I decided it was time to do something a little different.
Next article: Collaboration in My Classroom – Using Skype