What are the Keys to Effective Student Learning Collaboration?

Leaders create the conditions for effective learning.  In the classroom, the teacher is the leader supported by school leadership. Teachers effectively become the stewards of collaborative learning once the right conditions are in place.  They play a vital role as instructors, guides and facilitators of collaborative learning as well as modelling a co-learning stance.

Project-based learning or other inquiry processes are increasingly used as the frame for collaborative learning.  What follows are many of the vital steps to consider in the inquiry journey.

Attend to the learning culture – Collaboration needs an underpinning of safety, trust and strong relationships.  We also believe strongly in what we call “Parameter No. 1” (Sharratt & Fullan, 2009, 2012) which reinforces that all students can learn given the right time and support.   Such a positive belief also students to build a growth mindset.    Teachers as co-learners model a curious nature and the assurance it is important to risk-take in learning.  It is also important to avoid difficulties by being proactive.  Developing working norms for collaborative learning is an important part of the preparation as well as plans to support students who have focusing, learning or behavioral challenges.

Attend to learning processes – Teachers need to be skilled in both understanding collaborative learning processes and in assessing the impact of their teaching on student learning.  Attending to learning processes means that teachers have considered the scaffolds and supports students will need to be successful. The need for personalization and differentiation are realities to be integrated.  Teachers who understand the importance of creating deeper learning conditions prepare students to work together so that they can:

  • engage in research or inquiry about topics that interest them;      
  • involve student voice and choice in decision making about learning;                                                 
  • zero in on a specific question of inquiry with a clear focus and co-constructed criteria of success;
  • engage in frequent dialogue as a part of investigating authentic, real-world problems;
  • think critically about what they are learning and why;
  • consider different perspectives in what they are reading, researching and discussing;
  • engage in peer- and self-feedback and assessment as a part of collaborative work; and,
  • present their work to an authentic audience.

Attend to learning skills – Teachers need to be attentive to and keen observers of the need for large group instruction and “just in time” teaching for individuals as needed. As students work through the collaborative inquiry process, they will need to learn the specific skills in conducting a collaborative inquiry, such as: 

  • distinguishing between credible and non-credible research sources;
  • recognizing bias and separating fact from opinions;
  • selecting relevant source materials; (and delete) 
  • learning particular skills, such as analyzing, paraphrasing, inferring and summarizing; 
  • learning how to represent their learning using a variety of approaches and in a variety of ways; and,
  • learning how to demonstrate their learning to an authentic audience, such as: other peers, parents or community members.

Attend to on-going assessment – Assessment is an ongoing process in collaborative learning – from deciding how students will work together and how evidence of learning will be gathered.   Effective group work will involve opportunities to assess learning products as well as learning processes such as organization, self-regulation and initiative.  Most assessment evidence will be on-going formative information which can impact teaching and learning today and tomorrow.  Data today is instruction tomorrow, what we call “assessment-in-action” (Sharratt & Planche, 2016). At defined times, summative information based on the most consistent performance can be evaluated.  Student led-conferencing is a very valuable assessment tool in classrooms where collaborative learning is well embedded as students take ownership of their own progress and assess it against co-constructed Success Criteria.

For further information on collaborative learning for students and staff, consider –

“Leading Collaborative Learning: Empowering Excellence” by Lyn Sharratt & Beate Planche

(Corwin Press, 2016).

Blog for Larry Ferlazzo by Beate Planche and Lyn Sharratt, Corwin Authors.

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