Student Collaboration Options In A Blended Learning Environment

Importance Of Collaboration

I am not sure many people would disagree that students need to have collaboration opportunities. Even though many students like to work independently and thrive in that type of learning environment, they will be put into collaborative situations in the real world. Not all work is done independently in the real world and having the ability to collaborate effectively remains a top-skill for employers in today’s world.

Students are communicating with each other all the time online… text messages, snapchat, TikTok and the countless other platforms they use these days. This is a different form of communication, but none the less, it is communication. Communication is such a crucial part of the collaborative process. We need to give our students opportunities to communicate in a collaborative way other than social media platforms. We have to create a collaborative culture with our students. With the various tech tools at our disposal, our students can collaborate almost anytime and anywhere.

We need to have discussions with students about the importance of working with a team. Being part of an effective team means they have to be supportive, be active listeners, & develop trust. Students cannot grow in these areas unless we create opportunities for them. Collaboration can be messy. Think of some of the experiences you have had when working with a team of colleagues where it is difficult to focus on the intended task or one loud voice is running the entire conversation.

We want our students to be self-reliant and facilitate effective group work on their own. There will be conflict in groups and it can get uncomfortable for students to manage this. Setting up group expectations, norms, or group contracts are great ways for students to deal with conflict resolution. Disagreements are expected when teams of people are trying to find solutions to problems, working toward a common goal, or needing to come to a consensus. Conflict resolution is a great soft skill for our students to work on, especially in today’s social media world.

Creating a Collaboration Plan

I want to discuss a few building blocks to serve as a guide for teachers to create a “collaboration plan” for their classrooms.

  1. Our collaboration plan needs to minimize the chance for students to have other members of the group do all the work. There needs to be individual accountability built into the plan by having students providing feedback on how their session went. This accountability can be part of the norms, expectations, or group contracts students create prior to a collaboration session.
  2. We should model the collaboration process for our students in the beginning stages of shifting your class to having a more collaborative culture. Create small group sessions where the teacher is facilitating the process. Modeling best practices are essential. Do not just let students groups wing this process. Some groups may work well together, but without sufficient guidance and direction, groups can easily become frustrated and the process will become bogged down and can end up with unnecessary conflict.
  3. Students need a reason to collaborate. Students need to be placed in critical thinking situations. These situations will help foster the collaborative process. Do not have students collaborate on easy tasks. Those types of tasks are better served for independent work time. When we ask our students thoughtful questions, give them opportunities to solve problems, to objectively evaluate situations, or to make informed decisions, we are creating scenarios for them to work together to complete these complex tasks.

Collaborative Activities List

So what can collaboration look like in our classrooms? I curated a list of collaborative activities below with a short with a description of each to help you in creating a collaboration plan.

1. Think Pair-Share Consensus: strategy that gives students time to think about a topic, concept, or problem and collaboratively come up with a consensus to the prompt given.

2. Chunking Content Check-In: students have a conversation in a round robin format about the “chunked” parts of new content they are learning.

3. PBL Brainstorming: students will brainstorm solutions or approaches to how they are going to showcase their PBL project to community partners.

4. Analyzing a Text, Image, or Case Study: teachers provide text, images, or a case study to analyze. Students will take turns sharing their thoughts and interpretations with their group.

5. Problem Solving Activity: teachers give students a problem or situation. Students collaborate and work together to come up with one or more solutions.

6. STEM Building Challenge: teachers provide students with raw materials and have the group build something in a given amount of time. This can be structured as a fun competition with prizes for the winning or completed structures.

7. Student Voice Group Discussion: teachers create a template or a situation that ensures each student gets to have a voice in the discussion topic.

8. Structured Jig-Saw Activity: each student in a group will be assigned or choose one part of an activity. They will research their part and present it to the other members of their group.

9. Group Role Discussion (Speaker, Questioner, Note-Taker, etc.): students will be assigned or choose a role for the activity assigned by the teacher. The students will perform their role in the manner outlined in the activity directions.

10. Group Perspective Analysis: teachers provide students multiple perspectives on a given topic, idea, or solution. After each student reviews the various perspectives, they engage in a respectful discussion giving consideration to each perspective.

11. Group Sorting, Matching, or Ranking Activity: teachers provide students with objects, images, or text sets and give them the opportunity to work together to sort, match ,or rank the items.

12. Student Reflection/Peer Feedback Activity: students will reflect on a project, assignment, or activity and share it with a groups of students. Group members will read, watch, or listen to the reflection and then give that student feedback on what they liked, suggestions, and possible next steps.

Blended Learning Collaboration Activities

The activities above will work in a face-2-face environment, but can be modified and adapted depending on the learning environment your students are in. In this new way we are educating our students, we need to be flexible and adaptable to meet the needs of our students, wherever they are at. By providing blended learning opportunities, we can offer these and other collaboration activities online in our classrooms, remotely, or in a hybrid learning environment.

I have created some collaboration templates that can be used in a blended learning environment. Some of these templates can be printed off and used in a face-2-face classroom as a paper and pencil off-line activity. All of theses templates can be shared with students on your Learning Management Systems or though Google Drive. I have provide links for each template for you to create a copy. Feel free to modify and adapt each template to fit the needs of your students or learning situation.

These templates would work well in a station-rotation blended learning model. In this type of model, teachers are strategically creating small groups of students. This gives teachers options in how they want to institute collaboration activities. They could happen in an off-line, online, or a teacher-led station. As I mentioned earlier, I feel it is important that teachers model great collaboration. Having students rotate to a teacher-led station will free up time in that class period for the teacher to model this process for each small group.

If you are trying to do a collaboration activity online with hybrid or remote students, you have to be OK with the process being delayed or taking more time. We all know the challenges and equity issues facing students doing school from home. Plan for this and adapt because we want to ensure that each of our students has a voice.

Collaboration can be messy online, just as it can off-line. Do not let that stop you from providing these much needed opportunities for our students. Find out what works and what does not and keep working with your PLC, instructional coaches, and administration to come up with the most effective ways to provide these opportunities. I am hopeful some of these template ideas can spark you to create or consider other collaboration opportunities.

Link for Student Reflection/Peer Feedback Collaboration Activity Template:

Link for Think-Pair-Share Collaboration Activity Template:

Link for Creating & Assigning Group Tasks Template:

Link for Continuous Round Table Collaboration Activity Template:

Link for Collaboration Processing Activity Template:

Link for Critical Friends Feedback Template:

Link for Critical Friends Feedback Lesson Information:

Link for Perspective Analysis Template:

Link for Perspective Analysis Video Activity Template:

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