Teaching Collaborative Skills

In my classroom observations I frequently find students working in groups but not practicing or developing cooperative skills. I often find students unclear as to why the teacher assigned the group the task rather than individuals.

I observed a middle school math class where students in a group of four were given 10 math problems to complete. Students understanding of task- ”Work together to get the problems solved as quickly as possible with correct answers.” They couldn’t believe it when I told them the teacher didn’t care how many problem they finished. Her goal was for all four of the group members to understand how to do the problems.

Timothy Quinn, writing in Group Work Doesn’t Spell Collaboration* states that, ”Group work is neither widely used nor as effective as necessary if we wish to produce a generation of learners adept at collaborating— collaboration is neither systematically taught nor modeled for students”.
I have often presented that whatever skills we want our students to practice, we as teachers need to teach the skills and model the skills. Most students have never seen their teacher cooperate. As Doug Reeves noted, most of the research we have on cooperative learning was done by a doctoral student working alone.

Quinn suggests teaching effective collaborative strategies including:
-Listening to others
-Establishing common goals
-Compromise
-Assign roles and responsibilities
-Determine measures for accountability
-Give constructive feedback
-Assess the group’s progress
As I consider that list, I realize we have a problem. Many professional learning community sessions and grade level team and department meetings I have observed would cause me to believe that many teachers have not been taught nor have they practiced the collaborative skills we want them to teach their students.
Quinn poses that students who work in isolation in their education career will be ill-equipped to handle the challenges of collaboration in college and careers.  I’ll pose that teachers working in isolation with independent accountability for student learning will be ill-prepared to teach and model the collaboration we want students to develop.
School leaders who invest in developing teachers’ collaborative skills will increase the likelihood that students will be provided the necessary instruction, practice, and modeling of collaborative skills and environments.
*Phi Delta Kappan, December (2012/January2013) Group Work Doesn’t Spell Collaboration, Timothy Quinn,(46-48)
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3 Responses to “ Teaching Collaborative Skills ”

  1. Linda D. Says:

    Wow! Two things jumped right out when I read this, Steve. The first, Reeve’s note that “most of the research we have on the topic of collaborative learning was done by a doctoral student working alone”, and the second, your suggestion that “teachers working in isolation with independent accountability for student learning will be ill-prepared to teach and model the collaboration we want students to develop.” For ANY teacher who wants to be of value to his/her students, we will NEED to teach and model this 21st Century skill! Great blog….thank you for posting!

  2. Stephen G. Barkley Says:

    Linda… thanks, I do think we need to assist teachers in practicing all the skillls we want them to develop with students.

  3. D. Garth Holman Says:

    Steve,
    Yes, I agree with what you have posted. I think you might find this as a good example of collaboration. Three teachers, 2 districts, 350 kids http://www.studentsfortomorrow.net/15/category/1/1.html
    Or an online book created by students for the last six years http://dgh.wikispaces.com/

    We give kids this chance everyday and it pays off in the behaviors they display. Garth

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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