More than six ways to encourage collaboration in language class

Telling teachers to collaborate is a bit like preaching to the choir. Collaboration is the norm for teachers working together in social networks. Every time a guest author shares a post on Teaching Village and then interacts with readers in comments, we are collaborating in our own learning. However, bringing collaboration into our classes is often a different story. How do we include collaboration in classes where we have a syllabus to follow, or in a school environment that doesn’t encourage different ways of teaching?

That’s the topic on the iTDi blog this week–collaboration. Why we should encourage it, how we can achieve it, and what benefits our students will receive when we do.

Collaboration allows students to shine at what they do best while being supported in their weaker areas. That’s one of the benefits that Steven Herder offers in his post on the topic. He models this with a description of a collaborative book project he used with his high school students. If you teach teens, you’re going to want to try this out. I don’t teach teens, and I’m already thinking about modifying the project for my own students.

Nour Alkhalidy points out that collaboration is one of the four Cs essential for a 21st century education (the others are communication, creativity, and critical thinking). Nour offers specific ways that teachers can ensure that students will embrace a collaborative classroom environment, and (of course!) offers some of her favorite technology tools for the task.

In her post, Vicky Loras points out some of the ways that teachers frequently include collaboration in lessons–when we have students work in pairs and groups. We know that they’ve embraced the idea when they automatically turn to work with another student when we assign a task. I appreciate Vicky’s honesty in also pointing out that collaboration doesn’t always work with all students, despite our best efforts. However, when collaboration becomes the default, great things happen.

Naomi Epstein has the gift of noticing. She notices the students who might be overlooked, or who are at risk of falling behind in class. I love that in her post, Naomi offers ideas to make these struggling students valued members in any group activity. If you’ve ever had a student who couldn’t sit still, or became discouraged in games or competitions, or felt unwanted in groups, you’re going to love Naomi’s suggestions, too. Even if you don’t have struggling learners, you’re going to find yourself thinking of group roles in a fresh way.

Marco Brazil shows us that students don’t have to be fluent language learners in order to collaborate. He takes us step by step through the process his young learners used in creating their own game — identifying the problem, brainstorming and evaluating possibilities, implementing a solution, and  gaining a feeling of ownership. Of course, because it’s a children’s class, the process is much more fun than the steps I just outlined! It’s a great example of what collaboration can look like with young learners, and a model you’ll want to try in your own classes.

In her post, Yitzha Sarwono reminds us that collaboration is not just about completing a task; it’s about building a community. She shares a useful checklist for teachers who want to include collaborative activities in their lessons, and tips from her own classroom experience. I like her approach of developing trust among students before asking them to work together on bigger projects, and the idea of selecting appropriate projects so that we challenge students without overwhelming them, especially if collaboration is a new way of learning.

This summary is my contribution to our collaborative learning. Now it’s your turn! Choose one or more posts that appeal to you and visit the iTDi Blog to read more. Leave a comment for the author in order to add your own contribution to this week’s discussion about collaboration. That way we all get to learn from your experience, too! I look forward to seeing your ideas about encouraging collaboration in language class.


Note: This article originally appeared as a post on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.





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6 Responses

  1. Great post Barb!
    You’ve given me a great idea. I’ll tell you about it a little later. I love how you summarise the iTDi blog posts for us. I’m sure it goes a long way to increasing the readership. I also love how Chiew tweets about comments and replies to his iTDi blog posts -brill!
    One thing: you said collaboration is the norm for teachers working in social networks. Hmmm, maybe. It’s certainly the norm for iTDi faculty and associates, but I wonder…collaboration means many things to many people. Some would say sharing a link to a great article that inspired you was collaboration, and I suppose it is, but it an easy kind of collaboration. How about working on a lesson plan, project, long term action research, curriculum? That’s a lot harder, and what Vicky says about students is true for teachers too. Yes, creating an environment where collaboration is encouraged, promoted, and indeed – expected, helps, but there will be some who would rather go their own way. I’ve experienced that just this week in one of my learning/teaching contexts. Collaboration means suspending ego, and that’s just not easy. Frankly, I’m waiting for the day when everyone in the teachers’ room is dedicated to collaboration, hasn’t happened yet. If I ever become a professor and have my own office, guess I’ll have to no choice but to collaborate with my colleagues online, but i’d really like face-to-face collaboration too. Thanks again for a great post. Cheers!

    • Barbara says:

      I love your great ideas, Michael, and look forward to hearing more about it!

      Thanks also for the kind words about my summaries. I do hope that they encourage people to go read the full posts–there’s a lot of fine thinking going on there. You make some good points about collaboration. Developing an environment of trust online is just as important as it is in the classroom, and probably a bit more challenging because of the lack of face-to-face contact. I do think that sharing links and resources can be considered collaboration. We all work at the level at which we feel comfortable.

      I also love collaborating with people in the same room, but as more and more of my friends live in distant locations, I’ve come to find that skype feels an awful lot like face-to-face 🙂

      Thanks for always being so supportive and enthusiastic! I really appreciate that you take the time to leave these comments.

  2. Kristina says:

    Hi there,

    I agree with Michael. Your efforts and eloquence in summarizing the iTDi posts are much appreciated and admired. Also, his point about collaboration meaning different things to different people is well taken.

    In my opinion and experience, there is a big difference between collaboration and simply sharing. I am a huge proponent of both concepts, and constantly seek out new people and ways to engage in both. The online community is exceptional at sharing, and I am grateful for the opportunity to read, listen, download and comment on the almost overwhelming plethora of ideas being offered “out there”. However, I still crave and believe in the human aspect of putting our heads together and growing in the same direction for the betterment of ourselves and our students’ learning. It is something I call “Education Exponentiation”. I think this operation can only be done through a joint venture in actual collaboration. Whether it be “local” or “online”, the labor (of love, for me) can start with sharing, but for true collaboration, the idea and efforts need to be multiplied through a like-minded group to become more powerful.

    Thanks for letting me ‘share’ my ideas. Here’s to ‘raising’ it to a higher power.


    • Barbara says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Kristina, and for adding to the discussion about the difference between sharing and collaboration.

      I think you and Michael both make good points. Hopefully, sharing leads to collaboration, either face-to-face or online. But, I also think that sharing resources is a form of collaboration in that we are working together to expand our base of knowledge.

      And, for teachers who are new to working online, sharing links can be the equivalent of dipping toes in the water or playing in the shallow end of the pool before jumping off the high dive. One of the things I like about a broad definition of collaboration is that it allows all teachers to participate in an online community (like Twitter) at their level of ability and comfort rather than feeling as if they don’t belong unless they’re engaged in more extensive collaborative projects.

      I love your term “Education Exponentiation”!