Tag Archives: collaboration

10 Ways to Teach Collaboration

So you’ve gotten to know your students and created “perfect” groups based on my grouping post. Since we know that there will be team struggles along the way, how do we equip students to handle them? What strategies should we use to teach, practice, and assess collaboration? Here are ten ways to teach collaboration to your students.

1. Be intentional about your grouping strategies.

First rule for teachers is to know their students. Use this knowledge to create teams that will be effective working together. For specific strategies see my post on grouping.

2. Create group contracts.

Students will not “naturally” work together without structure. Group contracts provide a way for students to safely negotiate how they will function before beginning the actual work. Consider using talking circles to have students make their contracts more personal. Check out my detailed post for more ideas on how to make effective group contracts.

3. Assign group roles by SEL competencies

Instead of assigning students to be a leader, timekeeper, researcher, or supplier, make the roles a more significant part of the project process. Assign students to take on the role of Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, or Responsible Decision Making for their group. Give them descriptions of their competency and build in goals, tasks, and reflection questions based on their role. Not only will this help student groups be more productive, it directly teaches Social and Emotional Skills.

4. Check In / Check out

At the beginning of class, ask students to focus on one item from a class social contract or other agreement such as the 7 Norms of Collaboration from Adaptive Schools. For example, “I would like everyone to focus on #2 Paraphrasing by rephrasing what someone else says before responding with your own thoughts.”

At the end of class, students reflect on how they did paraphrasing and respond with a thumbs up or down, fist to five, exit ticket, or turn and talk. Mix it up on different days. Making this short reflection a daily practice will build the collaborative culture in your class.

5. Critique a Video

Watch a clip of the Penguins of Madagascar or Big Bang Theory with a collaboration rubric and evaluate the characters’ level of collaboration. This is an excellent way to introduce a collaboration rubric and actually get kids to read and reflect on it! Assign different students specific characters to analyze or have them consider the group collaboration as a whole.

6. Use Protocols

Collaboration works when there are structures in place. Try using the Design Thinking Process from the Stanford d.school to help students develop problem solving techniques together. Kagan Strategies provide daily structure to cooperative classroom activities. SIOP strategies are effective for all students, not just English Learners and many build collaboration.

7. Fun Videos

Watch a fun video like the Rube Goldberg one below (or Bottle Boys, Airport Flashmob, or Star Wars) that demonstrate a task that requires teamwork. Afterwards, use the CASEL framework to talk about which skills were required to create the video. Use this as a talking point later with students. When a group is struggling remind them, “Remember how OK Go had to work together to plan out all of the details of their video? I think you all, need to work together right now to figure out….”

8. Team building activities

Try the one word story, marshmallow challenge, or chopstick challenge. Any team building activity works. The important part is the debriefing, just like the fun videos above. Again, have students identify which SEL competencies they needed to accomplish the task and list them out. The challenge debrief then becomes the anchor conversation to refer back to later when a group encounters conflict in a project.

9. Personality Assessments

Have students take the Meyers Briggs Personality Test and share their strengths and challenges with their group. Understanding the profiles of everyone in the group will help to prevent misunderstandings. For example, rather than assuming a classmate doesn’t want to contribute to the group discussion, students may not have considered that someone is an introvert. They might decide to use a written brainstorming process so everyone in the group feels comfortable contributing.

Compass Points is another activity that helps people understand how different kinds of people work. Some are task oriented, where others are more people oriented. Some like to dive right in and attack problems, whereas others want to take their time and contemplate the best solutions. Some like to go deep with every detail, whereas others see big picture visions.

The beauty is that all of these complement each others’ strengths and weaknesses. The danger is that if students fail to recognize the perspective that someone else brings they can become frustrated and misinterpret their intentions. This activity helps students talk about their preferences so they can truly operate as a team.

10. Scrum boards

Scrum boards (also called kanban boards) are a business project management tool from Agile methodology. A simplified version is an effective tool for helping students from kindergarten to high school manage themselves. Students collaborate by clearly defining and dividing tasks. Then they assign due dates and track completion. Collaboration is tracked and organized by the students themselves. They are also an easy way for the teacher to check in and conference with student groups about how a project is going.

Check out this link to my free student scrum board template.

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL Consulting?  Connect with me at michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele onTwitter.

Effective Group Contracts in PBL

When first shifting to PBL, you will quickly discover that coaching students how to function in groups becomes one of the primary teacher roles in the classroom. Students, and let’s be honest adults, don’t just naturally get along all of the time. Reflect on your last family gathering as proof. Everyone is unique with strengths and weaknesses that play out in interpersonal relationships. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) skills of relationships and teamwork must be taught, practiced, and assessed constantly. 

Another huge shift in PBL is turning more responsibility over to the students.

Remember, whoever is doing is learning.

So if the teacher is the only one planning and organizing, then they are actually stealing an opportunity away from their students to practice those skill sets. What better way for students to learn Self-Management than to project manage their own projects!  

Everyone who has ever been a part of a group project knows how rare it can be have an equal amount of participation and equal distribution of work among the members. You have probably had the experience of being the workhorse who gets things done. Worse yet, you may have been on the receiving end of a phone call from an angry parent who thinks that their student is doing everything while the rest of the group slacks off. So how do we create a safe environment where equal work is the norm, and all students develop the skills to do their part?

In PBL, we use group contracts to facilitate students working together. Students should set goals as a team and learn to hold each other accountable for completion. Each team is given a template (free download below) to fill out. Students list their strengths, SEL goals, and contact information. They draft agreements for how they will work together, expectations, and restrictions for the group.

When I introduce group contracts for the first time, I explain their purpose in great detail. I ask students to reflect on previous experiences of working in groups and what makes a group effective or ineffective in achieving its goals. Those reflections become the agreement section of the contract.

I always tell the story about the student who volunteered to write the contract for his group. It ended up being thirty pages long, and everyone signed it. When the project was over, the teacher told this group that they had done such a good job that they were awarded twenty points extra credit. The contract writer immediately interrupted, “I get all of the extra credit. It’s on page 23 of the contract.” The teacher honored the contract.The truth is, that story is fabricated, but I tell the story to make the point that students need to take the process seriously. 

At the secondary level, students who don’t pull their weight with the group can be fired. The contract has a minimum, three-step process before firing someone: 

  • Verbal warning  (documented)
  • 2nd warning and teacher conference
  • Fired

When a student is fired, they are removed from the group and must start the project over by themselves. They are not allowed to take any resources from the group, but must start from scratch. Students do not get fired more than once, and what normally happens is that once students receive their first warning, they start contributing to the group. 

By the time we launch our second project, I spend very little time on creating new contracts. I always have students reflect on the last project for what worked and didn’t in their groups. Then we talk about how lawyers do not write contracts from scratch. They copy and paste. So I have them pull out the previous contract, make a copy, and modify it based on their reflection.

We talk about how worthless the contract is if they don’t use it.

The rest of the year is spent on coaching students how to use these tools effectively to complete their work and get along. This is the challenging, but rewarding work of the PBL teacher. This is the pulse of PBL. 

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL Consulting?  Connect with me at michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele onTwitter.