Do you hear a collective groan from your students when you announce that they will divide into groups and collaborate on a project?

The achievers hope the slackers won’t be on their team and shy students hope they won’t have to present. You just want them to learn how to work together.

You know collaboration develops leadership, communication, and organizational skills while preparing students for jobs where they are expected to be able to work with others to develop new ideas and solve problems. But how do you manage it? Try these steps to create team success.

collaboration1. Start Early

If you prepare a syllabus, include your expectations around student collaboration, communication, and class discussion. On the first day of school, discuss teamwork and how you expect it to succeed in your classroom. Post expectations somewhere in your classroom and refer to them before each group project begins. Use student input to develop rubrics and other assessment tools so that students feel true ownership of the process and the final outcome.

2. Get to Know Them

collaborationGetting to know your students is important before the groups are organized. If you want the students to choose their own groups, provide activities that will help them to learn enough about each other to know with whom they can collaborate. If you prefer to assign the groups, try to select teams according to students’ learning styles and assign tasks to fit their style. Groups of three to five usually work best, but you can start more slowly with pairs of students, then combine the pairs into groups of four as you learn more about the students.

3. Stay Involved

collaborationBegin by having each team write guidelines for the project, collaborating their ideas into an agreement by which the team will operate. You should also set up a system for team members to not only provide feedback to each other, but for the team members to let you know of team members’ intolerance or non-participation. It is important for team members to participate in assessment of their work to make you aware of students who need additional guidance or support. Consider giving individual grades to team members during the process in addition to a team grade so that those not living up to their commitments are not rewarded by those who do more than their share of the work.

4. Use Technology

collaborationUse the Internet to allow students to reach beyond the classroom to collaborate with students across the nation. Shy students who are uncomfortable taking part in a class lesson can more easily share with others online. The results of a finished team project can be shared in writing, for instance, on Figment, an online community of writers. It may be difficult for you to teach collaboration skills when you are isolated from the students sitting in rows of desks. Try a flipped classroom in which a video is shown prior to class to present information to the students, allowing them to spend class time doing a collaborative project, applying what they have learned, and expanding their knowledge of the material presented.

Implementing these steps will lead you and your students to a new level of collaboration – and help prepare them for life in the real world.

Want more ways to teach your students 21st-century skills? Check out these related articles:
Understanding 21st Century Learning
21st Century Skills: Critical Thinking
Developing 21st Century Skills: Creativity
Developing 21st Century Skills: Communication

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