it is largely understood that more brains are better than one! Combining ideas and thinking about problems with different perspectives often leads to better solutions. Another reason is that companies are asking for college graduates who can work as a contributing member of a team, bounce ideas off of each other, synthesize ideas from within a group to make fully-informed decisions, etc. Too many recent graduates can score high grades on tests, but don't know how to work effectively with others. It makes sense to work on that in the classroom!
I work with my students on their collaboration skills all throughout the year. There are opportunities to work with small groups of students whenever they are:
- participating in their literature circle (see this post),
- working on one of our PBL simulations like our Presidential Election (see this post), and
- partnered up randomly to accomplish a goal (see this post).
Here are some of the specific collaboration skills I try to teach my students to use while working in groups:
- be willing to share all appropriate ideas even if you are not sure they are good or not,
- always consider the possibilities of others' ideas even if you see some drawbacks,
- when someone shares an idea, reflectively respond to their idea before presenting an alternate idea,
- when disagreeing with someone's idea, start by pointing out the positives of it before sharing a criticism, and
- always use terms like "I respectfully disagree with ____" when presenting an alternate perspective.
By learning these skills now, students will have years to practice and get comfortable collaborating with others. They will become a valuable member of a group by learning how to be a positive leader and they will gain effective listening skills when letting others lead.
In order to assess this skill, I have taken the guidelines from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. They are a wonderful resource, and have graciously allowed me to reuse their information on my 21st Century report card located at the end of this post. In addition, I have used many of the ideas from Habits of Mind by Art Costa in my behavior descriptors.
Below is a list of the four behaviors that I look for when assessing my students on "Collaborating with Others." Under the behaviors is a sliding scale that has ten marks on it where a dot is drawn to represent their current aptitude. The labels, "Beginning," "Developing," and "Secure" attempt to describe the relative position of the dot that is drawn, in terms that make sense. I have used this as a self-assessment with my students (which leads into setting appropriate goals), and I also complete one and attach it to their actual report cards.
When scoring my students, I preferred to look at a skill, look at the behaviors associated with the skill, and determine who in my class was performing at a "10" level. Generally speaking, no one was at the beginning of the year, but by the end of the year I felt that several were! After recording the tens, I would go to the nines, etc. Wherever I ended up, that was the lowest score. I found myself having trouble giving out ones, twos, and threes at the end of the year, but they were fairly common early on.
I had some great discussions with some of my students about areas that we disagreed on last year. They thought they were a ten when I thought they were a three, for example. All I needed to do was point out the behaviors that were listed above. I would ask the student, "Can you give me an example of a time when you performed that behavior in front of me?" The answer was often, "No, but I do it all the time!" I would just reiterate the importance of doing it when the teacher can see it. At that point on, these students had more motivation to do the behavior because they had to prove me wrong!!! Either way, I was happy because my students were performing the behaviors that 21st Century students need to perform! And it's like dominoes. When one does it, they all start to do it. :)