You enter the classroom and see students working together in small groups. No two groups seem to be doing the exact same thing in the exact same way. The teacher is slowly moving around the room, as she confers with members of the various groups. The room is abuzz with energy, with an endless stream of chatter filling the air. Listening closely, you realize that everyone seems to be discussing some aspect of a potential community-recycling program. All of the students appear to be highly engaged and everyone seems to be enjoying the class session. What you’re likely witnessing is collaborative learning in full effect.
Collaborative learning is an education approach that is also a key component of student-centered learning. In this instructional model, two or more students work together to learn something. The teacher comes up with a strategic way to pair or group students with varying performance levels. The learner is the main focus, as attention shifts from a teacher-centered approach to a student-centered approach. The lecture/note-taking style of instruction becomes more of the exception than the rule in this team-based approach. Group work takes precedence over individual work.
Another term for collaborative learning is cooperative learning. If you get in close enough to one of the groups working on the community-recycling project mentioned earlier, you might see that students are actually teaching and learning from each other. They are actively involved in an exchange of ideas. The students are also learning by doing, as collaborative learning is highly interactive. Textbooks may be used as reference material, but the students are doing a lot more than sitting and writing answers to a set of short-answer questions. With guidance from the teacher, they are finding ways to make learning come alive.
In collaborative learning, students are often challenged to come up with solutions to real-world problems. As they work together to come up with ideas, they are able gain an appreciation for diverse points of view while at the same time defending their own positions. Furthermore, they can help each other discover weaknesses in lines of thinking. Collaborative learning promotes critical-thinking skills.
As students absorb new information and connect it to their prior knowledge, their overall interest level is likely to rise. This instructional method is based upon the positive interdependence of students in the classroom. Individual strengths and weaknesses within the group can balance each other out, as learners at varying performance levels work together to achieve common learning goals.
Collaborative learning can be short term in nature or take the form of long-term projects. Think-pair-shares are examples of short-term collaborative learning. A think-pair-share can take place when the teacher says or does something that sparks the interest of students or when a point is reached in a lesson that calls for deeper thought and discussion. The students take a moment to think on their own and then pair off to discuss their ideas with a partner, before finally taking turns to share their ideas with the larger class. This example of collaborative learning is a popular technique because of how easily it can be incorporated into just about any lesson.
Collaborative learning is central to student-centered learning. Have you incorporated this instructional model into your past learning materials and resources? If not, how might you do so in the future?