Collaborative learning or cooperative learning (the terms are used interchangeably) is a concept used in education, in order to make teaching effective and inculcate a spirit of inquiry and group/team work within students. This article provides some helpful guidelines on how teachers can incorporate collaborative learning in their lessons and the benefits derived from such an activity.
What is collaborative learning?
Essentially, collaborative learning (CL) is a method of teaching which involves separating a class of students into small groups, with the objective of facilitating active participation of each student within the group and ensuring that students work with each other to learn and contribute to the success of the group as a whole as well as each member of the group as an individual.
Collaborative learning encourages students to understand and incorporate interdependence, team work, improve their communication skills, interact with students with varied backgrounds, promote analytical and critical thinking and manage inter-personal relationships and conflict resolution.
The collaborative learning process
Broadly speaking, the process of collaborative learning works as follows:
- Break the class into small groups of not more than 4-5 students each.
- Provide each group the project that they need to work on and complete.
- All groups may get the same assignment (the full lesson) or you can allot different portions of the lesson to different groups and at the end get them to present their work to the whole class.
- Within each group, every member has to take up some part of the assignment to complete as an individual, then the group gets together and discusses each part and then works on the final project together, by way of discussion or critical argument, before reaching a final conclusion and then presenting the same to the rest of the class.
- At the end of all presentations, discuss with the class as a whole, what they’ve learnt and understood from their own group work and those of the others. This has to be an interactive session and both teacher and students will need to challenge each other’s assumptions and end the whole lesson with a “lessons learnt” session.
- This session need not be about the class subject, but should concentrate more on how the collaborative learning process worked, what areas required improvement or needed further discussion, and so on.
Incorporating CL in lessons
A few simple guidelines for teachers on how collaborative learning can be incorporated into lesson plans…
- Short quizzes or timed tests to reinforce ideas covered in the lesson; divide the class into 2-3 groups and conduct a TV-style quiz show, in order to encourage participation and healthy competition.
- Introduce short breaks in between lessons to have an open discussion or ask a couple of students to summarize the topic covered and have the rest of the class debate/argue the summary provided.
- Assign projects at the end of the lesson, such as making working models, role plays or skits which demonstrate the lessons learnt, depending on the subject and class level.
- Arrange for periodic competitions such as writing contests, “testing the teacher”, live demonstrations by students, etc to keep interest levels high in the classroom.
You may now have a fair idea of how collaborative learning can be used in teaching; this article is not for teachers alone, students, parents and working professionals can use collaborative learning techniques to facilitate active participation and team work in day-to-day life.