This week after seeing my students experience some amazing success by working together on their reading, I have been reflecting on all the different levels of collaboration that happen in my classroom and just how important this collaboration is for student learning.
I do run a non traditional collaborative style classroom and collaboration starts from day 1 when the students enter the doors for the first time and I tell them that they need to design how the classroom is going to look and that the only rules for the task is that there are no set desks for students and there is no front of the classroom. They get especially excited when I tell them that I will sit wherever they decide and that I don’t need a desk if they don’t want me to have one.
I always love what they come up with and we have some amazing collaborative spaces in our room.
This activity sets the tone for the year and provides the students with ownership of the classroom. They understand it’s theirs and not mine and shows them it is alright to experiment and take risks.
Collaboration in Mathematics
Peer tutoring – every lesson my students spend time working on their mathematical skills at their own level through an adaptive app called Frontrow. I love this app because students work individually through problems at their own pace but when they have difficulty with a problem the app recommends peers who have successfully completed that problem and can tutor them. I love this as it empowers students to collaborate and frees me up to conduct small group lessons.
Another collaborative strategy I use is Math with Someone during the Math Daily 3. Each day I set students a problem they have to work through with a partner, documenting each step they took to solve the problem and any errors they made along the way through photos and text in a blog. Once again this allows for peer tutoring and shared construction of the problem solving methodology.
Extension through global collaboration – a tool I use to extend my better students is Skype. I have used Skype to connect with a class in New Zealand and each week our top students get together on Skype to solve a challenging problem. Students independently explain to each other how they solved the problem, becoming the teachers. This has been a great way to challenge my top students and expose them to different ways of thinking.
Collaboration in English
There are always lots of opportunities to collaborate in English through co-creation of stories and peer editing but last week I decided to empower my better readers to become the teachers. I have 6 students who now read at a level well above age appropriateness so I assigned each of them 2 students who they had to tutor to become better readers. Each day after I teach a short mini lesson on our focus reading strategy the students then break up into their reading groups where the better reader reads a page of text modelling what it should sound like and explaining any decoding strategies they have used and connections etc they have made to the text. The other students then read the same page working on their reading fluency. This continues for about 20 minutes and then the students document how they used the focus strategy. Again this has freed me up to work with my students who need intervention. At the end of the week the students would then co-create a reading response blog from a template I had provided.
I was hopeful that this would be successful but the results have astounded me. Students quickly and independently improved on my idea for these sessions. One student decided to create a Google doc that had all the headings they need to record in their blog and started recording their group thoughts as they read, another group made it a competition to read the page the fastest, timing each other racing to beat the best reader. At the end of each lesson we have a debrief and when the students shared these ideas with us the whole class adopted them.
The engagement level is amazing, but the best part is the collaboration. The tutoring students are so excited if their prodegees can read as fast as them as it means they have been successful at teaching and the readers are excited because they are becoming better readers. There are no losers just lots of high fives, cheering and encouragement.
The result has been that after six lessons when I randomly tested three students on their reading fluency one student improved his fluency by one year level and two students by two year levels. This is more growth than I have managed to achieve in six months of teaching with these students. I now have students begging to be tested on their reading ability which I have promised to do in another two weeks time. Peer collaboration is powerful!
Collaboration for HASS
By far our favourite form of collaboration is on a global scale again. We love to Mystery Skype! What better way to learn about the world and it’s different cultures than by seeing it and meeting people of different nationalities, religious beliefs and economic situations. Not only have we expanded our geographic knowledge but we have learnt empathy and religious and cultural understanding.
To overcome time differences each term we sleep at school and Skype with as many different classes and experts that we can from around the World. I even have past students who have graduated requesting to be a part of our Skype Nights.
Collaboration has become the culture in our classroom. Students love to share their knowledge, ideas and expertise with each other and the World. They see their learning as a journey they are on together and one which I am a participant in rather than the tour guide.
I could never go back to the way I taught with students all lined up in rows and me the fountain of all knowledge. I rejoiced when my student this week said,”we don’t need you to teach us reading any more, we have it covered for you!”
Collaboration = Empowerment