The beginnings of  teaching collaboration

As the term goes on, we are beginning to teach the children about collaboration – what it looks like, sounds like and feels like, why it is a powerful learning tool and how it is useful in life. We have done this by getting children to collaborate in lots of situations, challenge them to learn with new friends and to think about who they learn well with. Each year, I try to get better at explicitly teaching the children collaboration skills and to use collaboration as a way to strengthen and support their learning. I have had some really successful (and some not so successful!) lessons which have used collaboration in different contexts. Here are some examples (photos to follow!):

1) Collaborative problem solving in maths

The children were learning to solve problems using their mental calculation skills. We had this worksheet to work from:

I really wanted to bring it to life for them, so a gathered hoops and chalks, explained the problem to the children and asked them how they could collaborate to solve this problem. Most of the input was about the how of their learning and what good collaboration would look like (“we’ll take it in turns”. “We could make sure everyone is included”). The children then gathered the resources they needed and in groups of 4 went about solving the problems and recording on whiteboards. We hadn’t discussed too much how to go about solving the problems because I wanted them to work out their own strategies. There was the added problem that we only had 6 hoops (not enough for all the groups). Several children piped up and said, “we can just chalk the circles instead” – threading an element of being considerate of others into their learning.  

The children did some fantastic problem solving. All of them were engaged and involved – I was especially pleased with the engagement of children who would otherwise easily switch off if we had done this activity in the classroom or individually. One group even came up with an enclosed area being their “calculation room” and every time they had to work out a problem, the group stepped into the Calculation Room – I loved that use of imagination! The children all discussed their learning and corrected each other, really opening up their thought processes in maths. Some children had the role of ticking off each problem as it was solved, whilst others oversaw that everyone got a turn. I circulated the groups, “nudging” them to collaborate well, or to look back on their answers. The learning was generated by the children though. Here are some pictures of them:

2) Collaborative writing

The children are working towards writing their own version of Rapunzel.This week, we wrote character descriptions of a witch. I paired the children up and asked them to plan and write their character descriptions together. The idea being that by collaboratively planning and writing, they are verbalising their sentences before they write, supporting each other as they write, then editing as they go. This had mixed success. Some pairs did brilliantly. I have copied an example of their writing here. They thought really carefully together and were noticing when the other person was making grammatical or spelling errors-  exactly what I was hoping for. These examples were highlighted with the class and we discussed what had made their writing so successful (“we shared ideas.” “I noticed when … Made a spelling mistakes and I showed his how to write it”)

A few weren’t so successful! I think this is because I am still getting to know the children and know where the best pairings are. I also need to rethink where I focus my adult support. I think next time I will think about the key children who need support and sit them with their partners on one table, where I can support them at the beginning of the lesson. This is different to having a “lower ability group” where the teacher gives focused support. Their main support and learning will still come from their partner; I will just be more available to get them started and nudge them in the right direction. In fact, I tried this on Friday when the children were drawing story maps -the children chose where to sit and I placed myself by some children that needed more support to stay absorbed. I joined in with the activity, modelling my thought process and good absorption – this worked really well! It was as though we were collaborating as a class but each doing our own individual story map because as I was modelling my thought process, other children were picking up on that, mimicking and adding their own ideas. In fact, I got told off by one child at one point, as we had agreed the classroom noise should be “whisper spy” and I kept talking! I felt that doing the same learning as the children created a level of  togetherness and empathy and showed I was prepared to go through the same process as they were.  I picked this up from Big Write training where the trainer pointed out : “How often do you try to do what you have set for the children?” I thought this was a really good point. Adding on the extra layer of “thinking out loud” helps expose the “guts of learning” and give a model of the thinking process of a learner – I will try this again!

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