Teamwork and Collaboration: These skills are essential for students to acquire if they are going to be successful in the workforce. Most careers require collaboration, so our students need to be prepared to collaborate with their peers. Our classrooms are the perfect place to nurture these skills. Teamwork and collaboration aren’t natural skills. Of course, like everything, they come easier for some students than they do to others, but they must be taught and cultivated. Teachers must guide their students as they learn to collaborate effectively with others. Teaching these skills is a daunting task, but like other SEL (Social-Emotional Learning,) it can be incorporated within the regular curriculum. It doesn’t need to detract from what students are learning, instead, it can enhance our teaching.
Teaching teamwork and collaboration isn’t without its challenges, but these challenges can be overcome, and the benefits far outweigh any issues that may arise.
Challenge #1, Too Much Talking: One of the biggest fears teachers must face when incorporating more collaborative learning into their classroom is the thought of giving kids a license to talk during class. When students work independently, a teacher can enforce quiet. When students are in groups, though, talking is expected. This can be a little unsettling if your yardstick for a successful classroom is tied to the decibel level.
Solution: Set expectations for your students (and adjust yours.) Teach students the expectations for noise levels during different activities and then practice, practice, practice. Find a noise meter app to help your students visualize the amount of noise they are making and talk about the importance of speaking loudly enough to be heard by your group, but not so loudly that other groups can hear. This way you can maintain a noise level just short of a dull roar.
Challenge #2, Arguing: Another issue that teachers encounter during teamwork is arguing. Students argue over who is going to do what, who is in charge, and pretty much anything else you can think of. All that arguing is enough to make a teacher say, “Forget it!” When you help students work through their arguments, though, you help them learn vital skills for later in life.
Solution: Assign roles. One way to dodge many arguments that might arise is to assign each student a role. When students’ roles are clearly defined, it helps diffuse many potential conflicts. If a particular group is prone to arguing, consider having one role be a student moderator that can help everyone feel heard.
Challenge #3, Off Task Behavior: You assign your students an assignment and the next thing you know they’re rehashing the latest Avengers movie. Another reason teachers often shy away from collaboration is that it is so easy for students to get each other off track.
Solution: More expectations. Practice what is expected of students and how they can best use their time. Also, assign a ‘timekeeper;’ a student who keeps track of time and ensures that everyone stays on track.
Challenge #4, Unequal Distribution of Work: Despite its’ advantages, many people hate working in groups. Why is that? Much of the time, in a poorly managed group, one or two students slack off while everyone else (i.e. the students who care) does all the work.
Solution: Have a clear grading structure that students are familiar with and understand. Have students rate each other on their performance in the group. Students tend to be brutally honest, and they will let you know if there has been a problem with one student not pulling their weight. A private survey of each others’ performance that you, as the teacher review, helps you to address any issues in groups.
Challenge #5, Effectively Grouping Students: Teachers often feel overwhelmed by creating useful groupings for their students. How should they sit? Do I need a different group each day, or keep one the same all the time? What about the students who tend to take over?
Solution: Start small, and don’t be afraid to do what works best for you. Start by seating students in tables rather than rows. Megan Olivia Hall, an educator and writer for Edweek, tries to group students with at least one ‘natural-fit peer’ (a friend or someone they have a lot in common with) as well as one or two ‘stretch peers’ (someone they don’t know as well or don’t have as much in common with.) She avoids grouping ‘conflict peers’ together (those students who have had conflict issues in the past.)
Once your students have internalized the expectations that go along with collaborative learning, and you feel that things are going smoothly, you can give students more responsibility and ownership over their groups. Students can choose who is in their group, define and choose their roles, etc.
What are some easy, concrete ways to incorporate teamwork into your classroom? Here are a few ideas:
By: Amy Curletto
Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.