I was curious to discover my students' opinions on collaboration. So today, I asked them in an anonymous Google Form. Collaboration, one of my students said, "means to work together, share ideas and work and learn from each others ideas and thoughts." Another student indicated that he likes to collaborate with "friends, hard workers, smart people, good listeners, and people who will stay on topic." I asked when collaboration was most successful and they said, "when I work with people I like, when I understand the work, when the directions are clear, when others in the group are on task." Most of them indicated that they liked collaborating best when there are snacks involved.
Their responses underlined the need to set up any collaborative experience carefully. Students need to be clear about the expected outcomes of both the process and the product. Also, they need to be fed!
I asked them what they liked to collaborate over and the responses were varied. Anything from solar cars, to developing a video game, to writing a book, or (my favorite) creating persuasive political posters. These statements revealed the most important component of collaboration - SHARED GOALS.
When groups work together on things about which they are passionate, the outcomes are the best. The discussion flows, there is a positive exchange of ideas, people are motivated to work hard and the end results are generally better. This is universally true - and yet in schools we sometimes overlook the importance ownership and buy-in. If students feel that the work they are engaging in has meaning for them and is something that others care about too, they are much more likely to "work together, share ideas and listen." Oh, and the cookies don't hurt, either!