Collaboration Should Not Be Parallel Play

thoughts by audrey

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?    

 “In a true collaborative task, the task itself cannot be completed without the thinking and work of everyone on the team.”

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:


Partner Venn Diagrams

When I was teaching, every first day of school, we did a Venn Diagram on how you are feeling – happy, excited, or both.  We actually did hundreds of Venn Diagrams throughout the year, as it’s such a great tool for comparing and contrasting, synthesizing, and analyzing.  
Using Google Drawing, students can insert images and text, as well as manipulate the diagram to suit their needs.  

SUPER TIP:  before you send the link, change “edit” to “copy” and it will force your kids to make a copy of what you’ve sent. 

Choose Your Own Adventure

Remember those books?  Or, did you see the Black Mirror episode? Google Forms has this amazing feature that allows you to jump to a certain section based on responses.  It’s not as easy as it sounds to create a CYA story, and there is a LOT of learning that goes on behind the scenes when you have students storyboard their path and then go through a revision process as they test their stories on each other.

Collaborative Newsletters

I know you know that feeling: every Sunday night…laboring over a newsletter for your families?  A few years in, I cottoned on to the fact that my kids should be writing (most of) my newsletter, not me!  But as we were pre-Google (I had an overhead projector, for goodness sake), every Friday I’d split the kids up into teams and have them write something about what we did.  Then on Sunday night, I’d still be typing all their little paragraphs into a newsletter.  

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