- Building opportunities for students to work collaboratively can benefit their overall learning, and educators can foster these peer-to-peer experiences by seeding curriculum with digital tools that can help students connect to each other even outside of the classroom.
- There are steps teachers should take before starting a group project to ensure it's effective so students feel supported when working collaboratively, said Justina Schlund, former senior director of content and field learning and current vice president of communications for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.
- “We encourage educators to work with students to design norms and expectations for working together, including how to handle disagreements and solve problems within teams,” Schlund said. “They can also model and explicitly teach what important elements of collaboration look like — such as communication, collective decision-making, and openness to diverse perspectives and ideas.”
There are advantages to collaborative learning in that students can learn how to develop their strengths, support their peers and also work to problem-solve when concerns or challenges arise.
However, one challenge for educators can be in the grading process and how to determine who handled which element of a project. Sometimes students may also feel uneasy if they come away from a project believing they handled more work than others in the group. That result can lead to pupils having negative feelings about being part of a group project and weaken their ability to work collaboratively in the future.
Teachers can address these issues in advance by setting up some ground rules and building in some processes before projects start, Schlund said.
To start, students can be given space to talk about their experience working in a group and offer suggestions on how to improve the project. Educators could also consider talking with students about their individual roles and expectations for what will be produced together and on their own to complete the project.
“Group work can also have an individual component, like a self-evaluation or a reflection,” Schlund said. “And establishing group norms and expectations beforehand also helps students understand how to share responsibilities and contribute equally to the group effort.
Ultimately, the work going into a group project by students and teachers can help build skills that students will need in the future, for instance, knowing how to work effectively with others no matter their perspective, background or the medium they complete their work in.
“We all need to know how to communicate, compromise, lead and treat others with empathy and respect,” Schlund said. “If students build a strong foundation for these skills in the classroom, they will be able to apply them in any setting or any medium of communication in the future.”