4 Ways to Empower Students Through Collaboration


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If you want students to collaborate it is imperative that educators establish this as a norm at the beginning of the school year. Great teachers leverage group work and collaborative activities and projects in their curriculum and instruction, but oftentimes teachers “push-back” with the difficulties of having their students collaborate. I agree, it is a daunting task, but I always respond, “How have you taught them to collaborate and providing scaffolding of that skill?” This is the key! If you want your students to collaborate effectively, you must give the opportunity to do so, as well as give the necessary instruction in skills and scaffolding.

Team Building: Most teachers take time at the beginning of the to do team building activities to create a community in their classroom. These are great activities that can be intentionally tied to creating a culture of collaboration. Have students participate in an activity like the “Human Knot,” and then reflect individually and in a discussion about the effective and non effective ways they collaborated. After many activities like this, have students create or co-create the norms for collaboration in the classroom. When students create the norms, through reflective activities, they are more likely to own them.

Explicit Instruction: Teachers must model good collaboration. There are many ways to do that. Perhaps you get a group of teachers together and do a fishbowl activity where students watch for effective collaboration. Another lesson might be watching videos of examples and non examples of teams working together to analyze the best ways for students to collaborate. To build authenticity, consider bringing in adults from a variety of fields to share how they collaborate. Through this and other activities, teachers can give explicit attention to the collaboration in the instructional design and build the relevance for the skill itself.

Technology: There are many tools out there that can help foster a culture of collaboration. Whether Edmodo, TitanPad, or Twitter, use technology tools to push students thinking of what it means to collaborate. In addition, you the teacher now have documentation of that collaboration that can be used in the assessment process. Make you choose the best times to use these tools throughout curriculum, but also model and teach students how to use the tool. Teaching collaboration through technology can help build the 21st Century skill of Digital Citizenship. In fact, collaboration is leveraged in the ISTE NETS for Students, further espousing collaboration as critical in person as well as digitally.

Assessment: Coupled with instruction, collaboration must be assessed along with the content in the class. This leverages this as a true 21st Century Skill that is transferable across content and tasks. Using rubrics for collaboration, teachers gave give focused feedback to students on what they are doing well, and how to improve. As 21st century skills like collaboration gain more and more clout, they can be included in the grade-book, as a standard to be met and built upon. Great schools are assessing not only critical content, but also collaboration as crucial to student achievement.

As educators plan for the next year, it is critical that they use some of the strategies above, as well as others, to create a culture of collaboration. Through intentional instruction and scaffolding, we can set our students up for a successful year of collaboration with their teachers, their peers, and experts in the field. We can empower our kids to be effective collaborators in and outside of school!

1 Comment

  1. Dr. Born, cited a figure in his Powerpoint protantesien that one in five American children are living on or near the poverty line. Combined with Dr. Jensen’s clear description of the far-reaching affect that an impoverished environment has on the developing child, it has been clearly illustrated that the effective teacher will need to be constantly vigilant, understanding, and fluent in the language of compassion when providing for the unique needs of impoverished students. Given the current economic climate and forecast, this aspect of the educational process is almost certain to become even more demanding, requiring teachers to constantly reevaluate their individual methodologies and perspectives. Apart from the sheer volume of students, for whom silence and/or camouflage are often a common self-defense tactic, one may also deduce that the quickly changing realities of the current economy will likely result in a rapid growth in the number of children requiring an adjustment in educational delivery. As an Instructional Supervisor with the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, my position affords me a greater view of my student’senss respective backgrounds than that of the more traditional brick and mortar teacher. This information, combined with regular contact with both the student(s) and their parents provides me with an opportunity to develop and nurture the very kind of relationships that Dr. Jensen advocated in his video protantesien. The very nature of cyber education, because it is perceived by many to be a radical departure from the “tried and tested” traditional educational model, is based on a greater degree of trust than a brick and mortar school. This could be viewed as an advantage by those who would adopt Dr. Jensen’s techniques, provided of course, that the trust is reciprocated and maintained. One aspect of Dr. Born’s Powerpoint that was particularly striking was the student-produced video depicting a “interview” with a student who was voicing the unique needs of the impoverished student. The student stated that she rarely looked to the future, but preferred to focus on the “here and now.” But at the same time, it was plainly evident that the poverty-driven environment is far from stable and, as a result, the unique needs of an individual student my quickly change from one day to the next. Vigilance must therefore be adaptable to the changing situation, and the educational strategies employed with such students must be fluid and adapted to meet the changing needs.References:Born, C. (2011). Understanding poverty. [Powerpoint slides]. Franciscan University of Steubenville, Steubenville, Ohio.Jensen, E. (n.d.). How does poverty change the brain . [Web]. Retrieved from


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