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What's Collaborative Learning?

Collaborative Learning a system in which two or more people cooperate in a learning experience to share and contribute to each member's understanding of a topic and to complete a given task. Collaborative learning continues to be an increasingly popular option in our culture, as our school systems have recognized that American students can be overly competitive at times, causing difficulties for these students when they enter the workplace, especially in positions that require collaboration.

Collaboration is a natural part of life and should be included in the curriculum. Collaborative learning is designed to help students "play well with others," as many of us learned about in kindergarten. While this is highly valued by our school system, now, with collaborative learning, it can be a part of the curriculum.

Lesson plans for collaborative learning vary greatly. Sometimes teachers will build a lesson designed specifically to teach collaborative learning and teamwork. There are many teambuilding games and activities that can be done in a classroom that force students to work together to complete a task. For example, students might be broken up into teams and be required to build a structure out of note cards with the highest note card structure winning a prize. This can be fun while teaching important teambuilding skills.

Other collaborative learning exercises are designed around a particular school subject. For instance, in a speech class, a teacher might break students up into teams and have them work together to make a presentation on a subject together. In this scenario, students can learn just as much as if they were developing a presentation on their own, but they get the added benefit of learning how to collaborate.

There are some difficulties when designing and implementing collaborative learning, however. Since students have individual grades and not group grades in our school systems, sometime it can be difficult to know how to grade students who have been a part of a successful or unsuccessful project. Collaborative learning can also sometime backfire, as some group learning activities can turn into an argument or fight, and students can be left with hard feelings toward their classmates. Many teachers find ways to minimize these risks, however. For example, a teacher might allow students to "grade" each other on their level of participation in a group project and give each student grades based on the success of the project plus the ratings of the other group members. A teacher might also reduce the negative effects of an argument by having students in a group sit down and talk through what happened to cause the fight and why they feel the way they do. Instead of being a negative experience, this can be an opportunity to help students understand how they relate to others.

Collaborative learning is on the rise in our classrooms. Done correctly, it is be a great opportunity to break up the monopoly of the lecture, teach teamwork to our students, and help them to become more productive members of society in the future.

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