Collaboration…..food for thought

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Collaboration: to work together.
That’s simple enough, isn’t it?
But what does it look like? And it what way is it different than cooperative learning or group work? Does it matter if I know the difference? I think we need a metaphor to provide some clarity.

I know that when I use cooperative learning strategies with my students, I need to do a lot of front loading and just as much scaffolding.Learning and working as a group, even when that work is compartmentalized as it is in a jigsaw or 4 corners strategy, is hard. Many students feel enormous amount of pressure in these situations, and they would prefer to work independently.

But cooperative learning is not collaborative learning….I mean that cooperative learning is a specific kind of collaborative learning. It is a set of processes which help us interact together in order to accomplish a specific goal. Its focus is on the product of the learning.  So in a jigsaw, students work to learn and share knowledge; they act as teachers of a component of the learning.

Collaborative learning is really working together to create or build new knowledge together. Collaborative learning requires that we all have input, that we all make a contribution, that we all learn from each other.

Have you figured out the metaphor? Thanks go out to Olga Kozar, a TESOL Master’s student at Manchester University for this idea.

Consider the metaphor of a pot luck dinner, where people cook and bring different dishes to the table. The dinner is more exciting than what each individual would have eaten individually—but the guests return back to their homes being able to cook only the same dish they brought to the pot luck. Even though they may have gotten recipes, they still need to learn to make the new dishes themselves. On the other hand, had they cooked together in the first place they would have observed and learned a lot more from one another; they would have taken away some practical, hands-on skills even if cooking together had meant a messier and a more chaotic process. So give collaboration a chance! It is worth the effort.


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