Collaboration Should Not Be Parallel Play
Collaboration is all the rage these days. If you have read the Common Core State Standards (as I have many, many, times) you can’t throw a rock without hitting a standard where students need to be able to work together. Yet what we tend to see in classrooms – those activities where two kids complete the same paper, or the group projects where three kids sit together and watch the fourth kid (also known as, me) do all the work – let’s just stop calling that collaboration. Even tried and true teacher tricks like Think/Pair/Share and Turn & Talk, while great strategies for engagement and developing oral language, should not give us the confidence to check off that collaboration box if that’s where the buck stops.
So what is real collaboration, and why do we do it?
First, the why. I know it sounds crazy, but we don’t make kids collaborate just because Common Core says so. We do it because it’s a skill they will need for all of eternity. When you launch kids off into collaborative activities, it’s really because you want them to learn something from each other, and to see the inherent value that comes from working with people who think differently from them. Isn’t it?
So if that’s why we are doing it, what is collaboration? In truly authentic collaboration, everyone plays a part. This goes far beyond the jobs we are so fond of assigning to group projects. Just because I’m the timekeeper does not make me a valuable member of the team. If that were the case, you might as well give a participation grade to my smartphone. In a true collaborative task, the task itself cannot be completed without the thinking and work of everyone on the team. In true collaboration, the product you generate is better because you had more heads involved, not just many heads and hands working in parallel with each other. Finally, in true collaboration, each one of your students should emerge from the task thinking differently than when they started.
But what about blended learning? There is no question that in the world of technological collaboration, Google is King. Don’t believe me? Being ever the romantic, this is my very favorite video ever about the power of collaboration in Google Docs.
Now that I’ve made my point, on to the essential question of this post: How do we leverage those powers to their fullest potential? How do we also keep it real by using a few tools but using them well? Read on! Here are three of my very favorite collaboration activities using Google Suite.