In order for successful group work to occur within the context of the classroom, or anywhere for that matter, there are several integral pieces that need to be put in place. One important piece of the puzzle is the utilization of effective collaboration. Most students are aware of the “idea” of collaboration, yet when asked what that will look like within the context of an assignment, many times they are unsure. In the past when I have asked students what is meant by successful collaboration, I would hear cliché statements like, we need to work together or teamwork. Even though they had the right idea, the actual lack of collaboration that took place proved that they weren’t clear about what it takes to truly collaborate.
This year while working with students early on, I made sure to spend a significant amount of time focusing on the notion of successful collaboration using the P2A Collaboration Continuum. The time spent has proven to provide incredible returns on its investment. The students in my room are aware of the different types of group members: dependent, independent, or interdependent. Furthermore, they have role played being the dependent group member: “Success depends on everyone else in the group”. They understand what it feels like to be the independent member of the group too: “Success depends on me”. Additionally, they know and understand the benefits of interdependence within group settings: “Success depends on us”. When students are intentional about collaborating with others they gain the true benefits of group work.
After going to a local “team building” ropes course I was able to truly see the importance of this tool in action. After being given a task to complete, all group members began discussing different strategies to achieve the desired outcome. In past years students would argue about different strategies which would typically result in one person beginning the activity while telling the others how to complete the task. All the while, a few students would stare into space, while others were waiting to be told what to do. This year was very different.
Although there were occasional arguments, students were more aware of the purpose for our trip; to practice the skills needed to work interdependently during group tasks. The students understood that interdependence was contingent on the entire group. “Success depends on us!” This statement was made several times throughout the day. I also attribute their ability to pull the group back on task to their understanding of collaboration. As the group would begin to stray or lose focus, you would hear at least one student ask, “Are we working interdependently?” This helped to tighten the focus and encourage students to focus attention back on the task.
At the end of the day, the head of the ropes course came over to our group to share an amazing compliment. He explained that he hadn’t seen a group work together as well as my students had in all of his 25+ years. He was so interested in what we had done to prepare for the fieldtrip. As I explained to him I said, “This year is different. We have taken some valuable time to teach tools such as the P2A Collaboration Continuum in an attempt to make the curriculum move more efficiently and effectively. As you can see, it’s working here and in the classroom too!”