Collaboration in the classroom, breaking down the barriers

By Gill Leahy, Head of Curriculum Development and Research, Promethean

Collaboration is a key skill employers are looking for and the benefits of collaboration for student learning are well evidenced.

When looking to introduce collaborative learning in the classroom, the development of a model and framework are useful building blocks. but, putting these in place is only part of the journey to achieving success. The potential barriers must also be considered so that leadership teams are equipped to overcome them and also ensure that the teaching teams are prepared for areas of change. Here we take a brief look at some of the most common resistances to collaboration.

 1.  I don’t think I have enough knowledge…

Genuinely collaborative learning ultimately requires a shift in attitude and an adaptation of role for teachers and pupils. It is demanding for both teachers and students, requiring teachers to be less controlling and students to be more autonomous and take greater responsibility for their own learning.

As such, effective collaborative learning requires teachers to view students as active owners of their learning and to be able to enable or ‘activate’ peer learning and other student centred strategies. Research shows these methods of teaching are more effective than limited approaches e.g. overly planned learning activities. 

2.  How can I assess effectively?

There is a five-step framework we recommend, used to structure collaboration in the classroom; it specifically addresses ‘identify appropriate assessments’ as part of the process. Best practice using this approach is to seek out examples of good collaborative assessments and adapt these to suit your specific needs. For example, use teacher specific assessments and tools such as observation rubrics, sampling and snapshots, group interviews and debriefs, chat analysis and activity reports. From a student perspective, self-marking, peer-marking, activity evaluation and personal learning stories are all proven methods of assessing collaboration. 

3.   There just isn’t enough time

Allocating a realistic amount of time for teachers to learn and develop new techniques is critical. Failing to make sufficient time available will be a physical barrier to the adoption of new styles and skills. As part of the introduction of a collaborative approach, allocate time within the timetable specifically for ‘collaboration’, whether that is planning, adaption of existing materials or training sessions.

4.   I just don’t know where to start

Using structured approaches and well-defined tasks where students and teachers can talk, interact and reflect on the processes is an excellent starting point. It is also important to allow teachers to experience what it is like to work in a collaborative community themselves – not just within the classroom environment with students. 

Existing lessons, curricula and courses do not become redundant when adopting a more collaborative teaching and learning strategy. Instead, use these as a basis within a collaborative framework and simply restructure them accordingly.

While resistance will occur which can potentially compromise the embedding of genuine collaboration within the school environment, it can easily be overcome by identifying the most prevalent concerns in your school and preparing a proactive strategy which addresses them right from the start of your journey. If you’re interested in learning more, our forthcoming e-book in this series has a lot of good advice on how to design and implement a school-wide collaboration strategy.