Friday, March 30, 2012

Year 2: Week 28 – Collaborative Learning

During a presentation about technology in education, I heard this fantastic quote about how to approach the integration of technology into curriculum: “Technology is not about presentation, it’s about allowing students new ways to experience learning collaboratively.” After hearing this quote, I decided to try to infuse as much collaborative learning into my classroom as possible.

The idea of collaborative learning is having students and teachers work in a way that they are helping each other learn. This is opposed to the idea of a teacher standing in front of a class and students learning simply by whatever the teacher is presenting.

While there were some things I tried that did not go perfectly well, my focus on this type of learning was a lot of fun.

In my 3rd grade class I had students play a game on the recorder. One person would play a five note melody using only the notes we had learned and the other student would try to mimic the melody in response. The idea was to see how many times it would take for the student to figure out his or her partner’s melody. What I discovered was that student spent a good amount of time not only playing and imitating but also helping each other out. By explaining a fingering a student is teaching the other student and reinforcing his or her own learning. Yes, it got loud and it may have seemed chaotic on the surface but the students had a lot of fun and worked really hard.

Another lesson focused on collaboration was with my 8th grade band class. During this lesson I divided up the band into three bands with equal instrumentation. I told them to choose part of the piece that we were working on and then told them to rehearse that section by themselves and be ready to perform for the whole group at the end of class.  I floated between the different groups and answered questions but overall I let the student figure out how to rehearse the music.

At first none of the groups were focused at all but then some students took leadership roles and started rehearsing the group. People were asking for help while having positive discussions about how to improve their playing.  By the end of the class I had three solid performances that demonstrated musical improvement.

With both of these lessons, I didn’t really have to do very much teaching while they were working but I did have to set up very specific expectations and a clear structure for the students to work within. Also, I was very deliberate in the partners the I assigned for my 3rd graders and the groups for my 8th graders.  These are also classes that understand behavior expectations very clearly after months of reinforcement.  I would not do these kinds of lessons with students who I did not know well.        

While there was a lot of good learning that happened, some students didn’t engage well and didn’t improve very much.  However there are always students who don’t engage in a larger teacher-centric lesson either. If you try a lesson focused on collaborative student learning you have to understand that a lot of what they are learning has less to do with the subject material and more to do with their experience as a learners.

The greatest part of these lessons was the fact that the students took ownership of the activities.  They wanted to make it work and they took pride in what they were doing.  It was like handing over the keys to the car.  Placing the learning in students hands gives them a feeling of self-determination.  This type of learning doesn't work for all students, but challenging students with this level of collaboration can have amazing results.

Yes, there is satisfaction in learning, but what makes it meaningful and exciting is when we share our learning with other people.  So, give this a try.  Let the kids have the keys to the car and see where they go.  They may end up in a completely different place then you wanted them to go but that may not be such a bad thing especially if they enjoyed the journey.

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