Collaboration: The Lost Skill?

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This blog post is cross-posted over at Dangerously Irrelevant.

First I’d like to say thanks to Scott McLeod for the opportunity to write a post for Dangerously Irrelevant. The topic of student collaboration is one that has been bouncing around in my head for quite some time. I want to disclaim at the forefront that I want this to be a conversation. I want to learn from you. I want you to make me think. This is not the end-all be-all about collaboration. I want to talk about the necessity of this 21st century skill and how I think it dwindles as a necessary skill as students move away from elementary school.

My daughter is almost 6 years old. She just started Kindergarten. Recently she was at a playground with her brother and numerous other kids. As I watched her play, I noticed how comfortable she was going up to kids she’d never met, introducing herself, and engaging these kids in conversation which led to a new playtime opportunity. She was probably doing whatever she could to not have to play with her younger brother for a while. 🙂

If you have young children it’s really an amazing thing to watch. She just went right up to these other kids, and started in like she had known them already. Right away I thought about collaboration. Even if it’s in the most simplest form, she is collaborating. It doesn’t matter if it’s in her kindergarten classroom or on the playground. She wants to have a productive play/learning time. That is her goal. It would seem, that she is eager to collaborate for this to happen. I feel like I’ve been a positive guide for her to be this way; but it wasn’t decreed like, “You shall speak to all of your peers and engage them!” I am blown away by her comfort level. Even when I’m in a classroom of younger students (I’m thinking Kindergarten through 2nd grade), I am always intrigued at their collaboration skills (as basic as they may be) to achieve a common goal.

All of this thinking on collaboration and 21st century skills led me to ask this via Twitter, “What field of expertise DOESN’T require some form of collaboration to succeed?” I didn’t get one serious response. My friend Andy Marcinek, however, gets the award for funniest response. “A mime.” Seriously though, how can we say that students don’t need the skill of effective collaboration? I want to hear your thoughts on this.

I have seen tweets and blog posts recently about frustration that teachers are having getting their students to collaborate. These were mainly secondary teachers and library media specialists. It was even an #EdChat topic a few weeks ago: “How do we engage students who find participatory learning uncomfortable?” What do you find most difficult when getting students to collaborate? Criticism from their peers? A bad experience with a previous teacher? It seems like there’s so many factors that can come into play.

How are we fostering this skill beyond kindergarten? What have you found that really is motivating for students to collaborate? What gives them true ownership of their learning? There’s awesome digital tools that aid in collaboration, but those tools don’t MAKE the collaboration. It’s a skill that still has to be fine tuned. It’s a skill we should all be modeling effectively if we want our students to do it effectively. If you’re looking for some great suggestions on how to foster collaboration in your classroom, I would suggest reading Michelle Bourgeois’ post titled:  The Collaborative Classroom: It’s a Juggling Act. In this post Michelle tells a story of teaching students how to juggle and says. “Just like the art of juggling, there are several skills that need to be balanced and constantly monitored in a collaborative classroom to make it all come together.” Please be sure to check out Michelle’s post on how to monitor and keep balance of some essentials in classroom collaboration.

This leads to my questions, “Where does this skill go?” Am I the only one that thinks younger students are better at collaboration than older students? Shouldn’t this be the opposite? This is something we want our students to be better at right? We should be fostering this skill in our classrooms, not hindering it. How often are you allowing students to collaborate? Not to say that awesome things can’t come out of individual thinking, but as I always like to say, “We’re better together.” Sure, one mind can do awesome things, but a collective could really rock someone’s world.

Thanks for reading.

3 thoughts on “Collaboration: The Lost Skill?”

  1. Kyle, I noticed this phenomenon with both of my kids, who are currently in first and second grades. My wife, also a teacher, and I have discussed it often, wondering why older kids lose this innate ability to cooperate and collaborate freely.

    Although I have no data to support my claim, I believe kids stop collaborating over time mainly because they begin to be more critical of their peers, noticing differences that society conditions them to fear. Kindergarteners are far more interested in having a playmate than why their playmate may be a bit larger, walk with a limp or have different colored skin.

    As kids grow older, they start thinking about these differences in appearance and, suddenly and mysteriously, they become reluctant to mingle with their different peers.

    Unfortunately, I think we teach them to be discerning in this manner. It was only after a lesson during black history month that my 6-year-old son for the first time in his life questioned me about the color of someone’s skin.

    It was a very sad day for us all.

  2. Collaboration or the lack of it is why I wanted to become a
    teacher. I have seen so many intelligent people who are never given
    the opportunity to voice ideas, or when they do they are dismissed
    because it is not the way things are done. Eventually, these people
    (and many students) learn to sit back and keep silent. How many
    ideas have been lost because we have failed in this respect. It is
    time to change this in our schools!

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