9 Ways to Foster Collaboration through Cooperative Learning

This article is part of the 12 Days of Learning. Click now to see all articles.

Has the thought of working with a group ever made you cringe? Or have you ever been in a group with someone who just didn’t seem to be interested in contributing OR one person who seemed to take over?

We’ve all been there.

However, being able to collaborate and work effectively in groups is critical to success not only in school, but also in college and the workforce. Luckily there are a variety of cooperative learning strategies that can be applied to foster students’ collaboration skills.

What is Cooperative Learning?
Cooperative Learning is students working in groups or with partners to put together pieces of a puzzle, achieve a common goal, and learn from one another. It’s a powerful strategy to help students learn, get them out of the box, and get them discussing a topic at another level.

Research has shown that students who work in cooperative groups often perform better on tests, and are better critical thinkers. And, if that alone isn’t enough, it’s also said to improve students’ social skills, enhance oral communications, and even heighten self-esteem.

With cooperative learning, it’s also harder for students to fade to the background, and when their contributions are accepted and acknowledged, they are more engaged in the learning experience.

Putting it Into Practice
While there are a wide variety of approaches for cooperative learning, we’ve gathered together a list of nine popular options that you can quickly introduce in your classroom.

  1. Think-Pair-Share
    One of the most commonly used cooperative learning strategies in education today. First the teacher poses a question to the class, and then gives students time to think about their responses individually before having them pair up with a partner to discuss their response. Based on individuals’ responses and perspectives they could learn something new or be challenged with something they’d not previously considered, and have an opportunity to discuss it with their partner before the teacher calls the class back together for pairs to share what they’ve discussed.

    Think-Pair-Share is very easy to use and can be a powerful tool for learning. If you're interested in trying it yourself, you can learn more in Atomic Learning’s Think-Pair-Share course.
     
  2. Prairie Fire
    The Prairie Fire approach is designed to get your students talking in groups about more high-level questions. To start, gather students in groups of 3-5 before posing a question, then give the groups time to discuss and formulate a single group response to share. Next each group quickly shares their answer and learns the correct response before being instructed to continue their group discussion on what was shared, what they may have gotten wrong, and why.

    This approach is a great way to help students practice the group processing component of cooperative learning, including incorporating feedback from other groups.
     
  3. Four Corners
    Start by dividing students into larger groups – say where they stand on an issue, for example, and ultimately directing them to one of the four corners in the room to join a team with similar values, opinions, philosophies, etc.. Then pose a question to answer or assign a task for these groups of like-minded individuals to complete. After allowing time for discussion, have groups share out to the class.  

2 Insights for Leaders on Connecting with the School Community

This blog post is based off on an upcoming online course called “Connecting Through Vulnerability” by Dr. Matthew Arau, that will soon be available on Atomic Learning. Dr. Arau is an Assistant Professor at Lawrence University and has a background in student leadership. (More about Dr. Arau)

Have you had a teacher or college professor in the past that was a wealth of knowledge, but seemed unable to connect to the students? Because of that lack of connection, the students in that course were most likely disengaged or mentally checked out. On the flip side, there are also those instructors that are able to truly connect what they know with their students and engage in the learning process.

We all have had those teachers or instructors from the past that fit both scenarios. But, what’s the difference? That is what Dr. Matthew Arau calls “the missing link”, and he believes it is often connection and vulnerability.


Why Connecting?

In his online course, Dr. Arau tells a story of when he was teaching high school several years ago. Specifically, how he was able to easily develop friendships with his students, and had no problems having great conversations with them. However, the moment he took the podium, that connection seems to dissipate.

It wasn’t until a colleague mentioned how differently he carried himself when he was up in front of the class that he realized he was trying to be someone he wasn’t and it was negatively effecting his connection with the students.

The solution: He simply needed to be himself and be authentic.

That realization helped him understand the importance of connection.  When we connect, we can both increase learning and enjoyment of learning.

Dr. Arau’s story could also be true of school administrators, fellow teachers, and staff members. By being authentic and yourself, you can help create connections that will build and strengthen the greater school community.
 

Why Vulnerability?

Have you ever noticed that when you share a personal story–maybe even something slightly embarrassing– it opens a connection with the person you were speaking with? By sharing, you open the door for others to feel welcome to share something a little vulnerable about themselves.

The more vulnerable you are, the more connected you can feel with your audience. Sharing personal stories of struggles and real life can have a profound effect. When we as humans see somebody being vulnerable and speaking about their fears, hopes, or frustrations, we see them as being courageous.  

The more vulnerable you are with your intended audience, the greater the connection.
 

Some Strategies to Try:

While these things may sound overly simple, or perhaps even silly, they can have a big impact on first impressions and connections. Whether you are connecting with teachers, students, parents, or other stakeholders, be aware of the following:

  • When someone walks into your office or classroom, greet them at the door and learn their name as fast as possible. Everyone wants to be acknowledged by name.

6 Ideas to Increase Parent Engagement [Infographic]

Parents and teachers have a shared interest in the success of individual students, yet there are often challenges to maintaining open communications by both parties. The infographic below, by National PTA, outlines six insightful ideas on how teachers can encourage and support parent and family engagement.

One of the basic tips outlined above that stands out focuses on communication—specifically about communicating “in a way that not only reaches them—but also generates a response.” This only reinforces the importance of two-way communication between teachers and parents.

For additional insights on fostering stronger communications, be sure to check out Atomic Learning’s online course, Improving Communications Between Teachers & Parents. The course explores best practices for communicating with students' families and tools that can make that communication easier, including apps for texting families from your computer, creating and sharing calendars, and more.

Don’t have access to Atomic Learning? Request information on how you and your entire school can access this course and hundreds of others focused on effective professional development, shifting instructional approaches, and other highly-relevant topics..

4 Soft Skills Every Student Needs Before College

While many occupations have specialized skillsets, there are underlying, often career-agnostic skills that individuals need to utilize on a daily basis. These skills, commonly referred to as career or soft skills, are a hot topic not only for many schools, districts, colleges, and universities, but also among companies seeking qualified job applicants.

A multitude of studies, surveys, education-related articles have published various takes on the importance of soft skills, yet often overlook what can be done to build these skills. In this post, we’ll examine four of the most discussed skills—and provide some of our own ideas and resources focused on building each individual skill.

  1. Collaboration
    One of the most sought-after soft skills is collaboration. It only makes sense, since so many professionals today work together on functional teams to achieve a common goal. As anyone who’s worked on a group project knows, collaboration is closely tied to other skills and behaviors, such as communicating, offering and accepting criticism, delegation, and a host of others.

    Students participating in extracurricular activities, such as a sports team or club, are already working on these skills.  Teachers can also support students’ skill building in the classroom with group projects. Outside of school-related activities, students can practice collaboration through volunteer opportunities or after-school employment. (If it seems like a lot to balance, be sure to check out skill number four: Time Management.)

    Looking for a place to start?
    Here are just a few Atomic Learning courses around this topic:
    Integrating the 4 C’s in Your Classroom

    Strategies for Working with a
    Group
    Evernote in Instruction
     

Understanding the 4 C's (and Why They Matter)

Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking—or what are commonly referred to as the 4 C's—are critical to preparing today's students for tomorrow's workforce. In the words of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the 4 C's are Learning and Innovation Skills that are "being recognized as the skills that separate students who are prepared for increasingly complex life and work environments in the 21st century, and those who are not."

More than likely, you've at some point viewed a Did You Know Video outlining how quickly the world changes, including startling stats for education, such as how the top in-demand jobs in 2010 didn't even exist in 2004, or how the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that today's learners will have approximately a dozen different jobs before they turn forty...

With so much change, it's become nearly impossible for educators to give students the knowledge they need to succeed in life, so, instead of imparting facts and figures that may be quickly outdated, the approach of the 4 C's focuses on practicing skills that will create lifelong learners who are both college- and career-ready.

Let's take a brief look at each skill individually:

  1. Communication
    Effective communication includes not only the ability to express yourself both verbally and in writing, but also use and understand nonverbal communication, listening (including deciphering meaning and intent), and use media to support communications appropriately. Additionally, communication can include languages—to compete within today's global workforce. 

    TIP: To instantly make an impact on your own skills, view Atomic Learning's Effective Listening Training.
     

Communication Tune-Up Training

Earlier in the week, Atomic Leaning's own Kara Gann shared her thoughts on organizing your inbox in the post Does Your Email Overwhelm You? Since it was so popular with our readers, we decided to share one of the most popular courses from our Career Skills training collection—Communication Tune Up—to build on Gann's topic and help you take your communication skills to the next level.

Join communications expert Brian Shapiro and special guest Bobbi Block in this online course as they discuss the important topics such as emotional context, language, empathy, electronic communication, perception, and intercultural communication.

Ready to get started? Simply click the video below to view the training introduction.

Don't have access to Atomic Learning and interested in learning more about this training series and hundreds of others? Request more information online.

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