Last week I began a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Coursera. The course is entitled, Shaping the Way We Teach English: The Landscape of English Language Teaching. It’s offered through the University of Oregon. It is quite intense. There are video lectures, quizzes, required readings, mandatory participation on the discussion boards, and a lesson plan project. For a free course, it demands much from the students. Still, it’s full of useful information and tips for educators. This is the second week of the course, and the topic for this week is on collaborative learning.
What is collaborative learning?
Collaborative learning happens when students are placed in pairs or groups of three or more to complete a given task. The task might involve a variety of skills such as finding information, answering questions, writing down ideas or making a story. According to a study conduced on collaborative learning:
Teachers need to make sure groups understand their task at the beginning of the project, and they need to help with academic problems throughout the activity. Teachers should be prepared to provide feedback to help solve problems and redirect students if needed. Elementary teachers should also incorporate manipulative materials when possible because such props encourage involvement and provide a focus for group activities.
Collaborative learning can lead to many successes in the classroom. It accommodates for different learning styles, and allows the students to think through concepts, practice using their skills, and voice what they think and feel. The Success For All Foundation’s website says this:
When students collaborate, they have an opportunity to discuss new concepts with someone close to their own level of understanding. They get to try out new ideas and ask questions in a small group before speaking to the whole class or finishing a written product. When students discuss and defend their ideas or solutions with teammates, they learn to think problems through, to support their own opinions, and to critically consider the opinions of others before coming to a conclusion. And they learn that, in the end, the responsibility for learning still rests with them.
It also gives the teacher a way to gauge the students’ strengths and weaknesses, and provide assistance where needed. That same website goes on to say this:
How will cooperative learning benefit my students?
- When students work together toward a common goal, academic work becomes valued by peers.
- Students are motivated to help one another learn.
- Students take responsibility for their own learning.
- Students translate the teacher’s language into kid talk for one another.
- Students learn to see situations from another’s viewpoint, justify their own viewpoints, and analyze ideas.
- Students have fun learning.
When students have to organize their thoughts to explain ideas to teammates, they engage in cognitive elaboration, or an extension of their thinking, which enhances their own understanding, even when they are learning in a second language.
Collaborative learning is very useful for both the students and the teacher!