Tag Archives: collaboration

Collaborative Assessment

School is one of the only places left on planet earth that still emphasizes isolated, individual assessment. If a student talks to someone else, looks at their notes, or uses their computer or phone to look up something, it’s cheating. In any other life situation these actions would be considered obvious strategies.

I am not a mechanic or handyman, yet I fix many things around my house and on my car because I am frugal. There are basically two strategies that I always take: calling my dad and finding a tutorial video on Youtube. I never think to myself: “I am a problem solver so I can fix this all by myself.” No, I recognize that I don’t have a clue of what I am doing so I seek help from expert resources.

Thinking of problems as things for individuals to solve is hopelessly out of date.

Seth Godin

The world’s most pressing issues– adequate food, clean water, sanitation, climate change, poverty, waste disposal, ethnic strife, human rights, diseases–none of these things can be solved by an isolated individual but by groups of experts working together. So why is the education system obsessed with individual assessment through testing?

Even in education collaboration is an expectation among adults. Every school has a school improvement team, a collaboration of administrators and teachers to develop measurable goals. Teachers are no longer expected to “shut their doors and teach” in isolation, but to grow in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) where they are often required to develop common individual assessments for students. Oh the irony!

We recognize that teachers working together to improve curriculum, share teaching strategies, and conference about students is productive. We have plenty of research that when students collaborate and have academic discussions about our content it is some of the most effective learning. So we forms groups, initiate class discussions, and even implement PBL. So why do we still assess students in isolation?

Collaboration is one of the most effective learning strategies, but when it comes time for assessment it is taboo.

I am training my math students to collaborate in random groups on the classroom whiteboards, and it is working. They are having rich discussions, helping each other solve open ended problems, and explaining the math to each other. Students ask every day if they get to work at the boards and groan if I say no. Yet I still must give individual assessments. This makes no sense in the modern world. In fact, I am not sure that it ever made sense! Collaborative assessment is not a new idea. It is past time to reject the education textbook company-testing complex and move to authentic, collaborative assessments.

Pulse of PBL

Learn with me!

If you are interested in how your school can use a PBL framework to teach SEL skills. I would love to have a conversation on how I can help. I have limited availability for PBL & SEL workshops during the school year so contact me early. Check out my workshop page or drop me an email at mikejkaechele@gmail.com. I would love to chat and co-plan meaningful PD for the educators at your school.

When Project Teams Don’t Get Along!

This past week I was leading an SEL workshop with a group of teachers in New Mexico. We were discussing strategies to build the SEL competency of Relationship Skills, particularly communication and collaboration, and I shared some sentence stems that I use to teach students how to redirect group members when they are off task or not completing their work.

One of the teachers, Thomas shared a technique called OFNR, part of Non-Violent Communication by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. He pointed out that my sentence stems reminded him of it, and that he had been successfully utilizing OFNR in the classroom and with his personal relationships for years. Here is a quick summary of what OFNR means:

1. Observation

The first step is to state your observation of behavior without judgement:

“When I see/hear/notice ________________…

2. Feeling

Next share how that action makes you feel. It could be a positive or negative feeling:

…I feel_____________…..

3. Need

Then explain what you need from them (think Maslow’s hierarchy here):

…because I need/want/value ______________.

4. Request

Then make a specific request based on your need. It cannot be a demand, and you must be prepared for the person to say, “no.”

Would you be willing to …….

Student Examples in PBL

When I see your part of the project is not done I feel frustrated because I want to be successful in this class. Would you be able to finish it by tomorrow?

When I hear you say “I am lazy” I feel worthless. I want to get my work done but am unsure how to get started on my task. Would you be willing to help me?

When you listen to my ideas I feel like a valuable member of the team. Can I share my perspective a minute?

When I notice you watching videos I feel stressed because I need help completing the research. Would you be willing to pause and help me finish the task due today?

When I am interrupted I feel disrespected, but I want to contribute my ideas. Can I share my thoughts completely?


I thought it was great to find an expert validating my experience in the classroom: when students share how other people’s actions make them feel, it can be a powerful motivator for change. Empathy is important to teach and model, leading to higher functioning groups.

OFNR is not some kind of magic formula that works every time. It is sentence stems to help students clearly communicate issues with each other in a respectful manner. Some students avoid conflict, letting their frustrations stew below the surface until they blow up. Other students may use judgmental or hurtful language to attack one another. Many students have never been explicitly taught how to resolve conflict and resort to limited tools that they have. OFNR is a mindset that directs people to explain an issue so it can be addressed without it turning into an emotional argument. It recognizes that both people in the situation have needs that they are trying to meet. Sometimes the needs are divergent and sometimes the way students seek to meet needs sabotages the group. Calmly and clearly identifying needs leads to an opportunity to find common ground toward a solution.

What about you? How do you teach students to work successfully in groups?

Learn with me!

Interested in more SEL and PBL tips? I continue to offer virtual and in person coaching and workshops throughout the school year outside of my teaching commitments and am now scheduling for the summer! Let’s chat about how I can customize learning for your school.