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One on the most striking and pleasant surprises that I encountered in the Common Core Standards, was the prevalence of Collaboration. This alone says that we are on the right track with common core. What is a needed 21st Century Skill? Collaboration. What does Sir Ken Robinson say is required for a change in education? Collaboration. He says eloquently, that “collaboration is the stuff of learning.” What are experts and writers calling out for in books such as Curriculum 21 edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, and 21st Century Skills by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel? Collaboration. Whenever I conduct a training with teachers as ask them what they want their students to be able to do when they leave their classroom or school, what is the hot word? Collaboration.
If we truly want and need this for our students, they will need to teach and assess it. It needs to be leveraged in the grade book. This of course means we need to arm educators with the skills to effectively teach to the standard of Collaboration in the classroom.

Let’s be honest. I doubt many of us have our state standards by our bedside as inspiration reading. But I would say the standards including collaboration can allow for exciting and engaging teaching and learning. Here is the power from the English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects.
K-5 and 6-12 Speaking and Listening
1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners,
building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

This standard is even broken down with specific criteria for each grade level. Collaboration is going to look similar and different across grade level. Your job is to figure out an assessment that will accurately show that they have performed that criteria and made that criteria clear to all partners in the student’s learning, from the parent, to the administrator. Collaboration is best seen in solving a problem, so of course, I am bias towards PBL, Project-Based or Problem-Based Learning. This sets an authentic task in motion for students to work on collaboratively to problem solve.

So what could an assessment look like? Let’s use the example above as our focus. Here the content of the actual collaborative effort is completely open. In fact, this could be done across the classroom. Although this is defined as a Listening and Speaking Standard, there is no reason why it couldn’t be leveraged in a variety of disciplines, as it is a 21st century skill. So what could show these criteria regardless of the content?

Perhaps students create a portfolio defense for a one on one with the teacher, bringing a variety of pieces of evidence. Perhaps students create a podcast articulating how they solved problems and met criteria for collaboration. Perhaps students journal daily to critical thinking prompts on their collaboration, which is then collected as a summative assessment at the end of the unit or project. Perhaps teachers use a rubric to grade them as they actually work in class on specific day.

Of course these great summative assessment ideas need to be supported with ongoing formative assessment. Journals could be used as this as well as a summative. If you plan on grading students on collaboration, then you must provide feedback to the students using the rubric as the focus piece. You can set goals with groups and let them know you will specifically look for that in the future. You will need to collect drafts of a podcast and give specific coaching on what they can do to make it better. Again, you cannot assess what you do not teach, and good teaching includes useful, ongoing formative assessments.

There of course are more places to “push” and explore in terms of assessment of Collaboration. Perhaps you have students work collaboratively on a Common Core in a project that has a culminating product that showcases they know that standard. The key is to have both a Collaborative product, to grade them on collaboration, and an individual product that holds students accountable to the other Common Core Standard. If students are creating a research project that is targeted toward to a Common Core Research standard, have them create one product collaboratively and a separate on their own. Look, you have head students accountable to two powerful Common Core standards that are rigorous and real. Just remember you must teach your students how to collaborate before you can assess how well they do collaborate. This is good practice.

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