I have done quite a few teacher professional learning workshops on project based learning (PBL). Nearly all of them have involved telling teachers about elements of authentic PBL, how to design a ‘good’ driving question’ and the importance of formative assessment and feedback. I am currently working on another series of professional learning workshops on PBL, but this time the team is also focusing on the “soft skills” of PBL. These soft skills include collaboration, student self-regulation, creativity, critical thinking, etc. These soft skills are included in the NSW syllabuses for the Australian Curriculum as Learning Across the Curriculum. In this blog post, I’m going to focus on collaboration.
PBL often require students to work in teams. If students are to work in teams successfully, they need to know how to collaborate. One thing I learnt very quickly in my PBL journey is that collaboration doesn’t come automatically for students. Simply putting students in groups and getting them to sit in a circle won’t teach them collaboration. If students don’t know how to collaborate, they will find the PBL experience frustrating and the teacher will find it frustrating. Like reading and writing, collaboration needs to be explicitly taught. But how?
In my PBL journey, I have found teaching students how to establish group norms, how to determine and assign roles to team members, how to backward map from timelines of due dates of tasks, and how to negotiate and compromise, to be crucial in PBL to be a successful learning experience. However, I have found the most important aspect of successful student collaboration is a safe learning environment; an environment where students trust each other, respect each other, support each other and feel comfortable enough with each other to take risks in their learning. What are the strategies to enable this? How can students be assessed and receive regular feedback on these aspects. Just like reading and writing, students need to know how they are going with their collaborative skills and what they need to do next to improve?
How do you teach collaboration in your classroom? How do you teach collaboration in PBL?
I’m a high school teacher from Chicago, IL and I’m currently on sabbatical researching project-based learning in schools across the world. I’m heading to Australia next week and will be in Sydney from February 12-15 and Melbourne February 17-15th. I would love to sit down and talk with you if you’re available. And, if you have any suggestions on schools or teachers I should contact and visit while I’m in town, I would greatly appreciate it!
Hi Amy. Is there an email address I can contact you on?
PBL is my underpinning approach to working with new groups of students to build collaboration. In once class we ran a project around building a class website, and all students nominated an area they would like to work on. Some students were into the design, including image editing and site design, and other groups on content. This meant that groups had to negotiate their own outcomes in line with other (sometimes competing) aims.
I think that students need guidance in these instances as you have said, and I found that as we went on, we developed a set of guidelines for how we would like others to work with us and visa versa. Explicit teaching of what we expect and how to work effectively are paramount considerations in planning.
Thanks for a thought-provoking piece.
Thanks for your comment, Raegina. I agree that students need to be explicitly taught how to collaborate. Since the post, I’ve created a teacher professional learning course that supports teachers in doing this. It’s being implemented over Terms 1-3. Very exciting.