October 3, 2011

Getting students to collaborate

A reader e-mailed me about students wanting to work just for the sake of completing a task and also not talking enough. Sounds strange, I know, but in a successful workshop environment, communication is necessary. Here's my response to her queries.

First, I don’t think doing a task for completion is necessarily a bad thing.
Many people are task-driven, which can be positive when it comes
to achieving goals. Obviously, the learning is important, and we want to
constantly do what we can to develop that critical thirst for learning that
a ROLE typically creates.

Next, If they aren’t “putting it together” and not talking, there are a few steps you can take. Start with breaking the project into smaller steps and focusing on them one at a time. The kids may not be talking because they may be struggling. 

Be sure to move about after a mini lesson on the step you want completed and listen in. I often sit with a group but say nothing. (In my book, I write how difficult this is for teachers, because we’re so conditioned to simply give it to them). 

After some silence, someone will ask a question. Once you direct them a bit, ask your own questions, “What would you do? What do you think is the first step? Who will be responsible for what?”
Unfortunately, students don't take immediately to collaboration, because most have spent the bulk of their school years sitting in rows and working independently. So, don't be surprised if you have to teach them how to work together.