I read with great interest a white paper titled, Skills for Today: What We Know about Teaching and Assessing Collaboration. As a teacher in the 70’s, I approached many lesson designs, grouping my students for cooperative learning. I did all my teaching during those years as a member of teaching teams which reinforced my beliefs in collaboration to improve results. As a graduate instructor in the 80’s and 90’s, I built cooperative activities into my teacher training work and trained teachers to use cooperative learning strategies. My work with site-based management, school leadership teams, and PLCs continued to strengthen my focus on building teams with collaborative skills.
The white paper on collaboration, produced by Pearson and P21, is the first of four which will address the 4Cs of collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. As I have worked with educators looking at the need for students to develop their abilities in the 4 C areas, I increasingly realize the need for professional learning for teachers to develop the same skill sets.
When teachers share in a coaching preconference that they are planning to use cooperative groups in a lesson, I frequently ask about the reasoning behind their choice. Is the cooperative activity the best way to have the students master the content material or is the teacher focused on the students learning cooperative skills as well as the academic content? If the teacher says both, I request a balance scale description of the importance of each. This allows me to observe with some of the teacher’s thought process in mind. If students are lacking with collaborative processes, the teacher may change instruction to another format if the focus is mostly on the content. If the teacher is focused on students learning the collaborative skills, the teacher may put the content aside for a time to focus on instructing and coaching the cooperative skills.
I found these statements in the paper particularly interesting:
Cooperative learning should not be confused with teaching the actual skill of collaboration. Cooperative learning is a teaching method used to teach a variety of academic skills. In contrast, collaboration is a constellation of knowledge and skills…
If students’ collaborative skills are to improve, educators need to provide some combination of direct instruction in the skills of collaboration, opportunities to practice collaborating, and feedback.
The report lists conclusions and recommendations which provide quality discussion points for professional learning.
When you consider the collaboration that we are desiring in professional learning communities, we are in many ways forced to deal with the same conclusion: just putting teachers into cooperative groups is unlikely to generate their deep collaborative skills. Direct instruction, practice opportunities and feedback need to be provided.
The white paper identified the following levels of collaboration and teamwork performance levels. As you progress down the list an increasing complexity and depth of skills is required.
Does not participate in the task or is so often off-task that he/she makes no contribution to the group goal
Participates in the task, but does not cooperate with others or with the group process
Participates in discussions
Voices own opinion and views
Remains focused on the topic
Completes some tasks independently
Cooperates with the group process, but does not coordinate his or her contributions with those of others
Listens without interrupting
Actively solicits others’ ideas
Accepts assigned tasks
Goes along with group consensus
Builds on others’ ideas
Coordinates both processes and products with those of teammates, but does not resolve major conflicts
Gives and receives constructive feedback
Adapts ideas/process to accommodate teammates
Resolves minor conflicts effectively
Student coordinates processes and products with those of teammates
Resolves both major and minor conflicts effectively
Expresses disagreements honestly but tactfully
Supports group decisions even if not in total agreement
Compromises and negotiates to reach solution
What would you identify if you assessed teachers’ actions in PLCs for collaboration? What would teachers’ self- assessment be? Could these elements be used to provide feedback from observations of PLCs? As a leadership team, how well do you model collaboration and teamwork for the staff?