Classroom collaboration can take many forms. Teamwork, group projects, and team games all fit under the larger umbrella that is collaborative learning. Working with other students can provide children certain benefits but may also come with its fair share of costs. Collaborative learning should only be used with a firm understanding of its basic advantages and disadvantages.
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Advantage: Responsibility and Respect
Students who work in a group as opposed to on their own must be held responsible not to a teacher, but to their peers. This is usually a powerful motivational tool, as students tend to worry more about their perception among peers than instructors. In addition to being more responsible when working in a group, students also learn to be more respectful and patient with others as they work through a problem together.
Advantage: Improving Social Skills
Many students have difficulty starting conversations with others and making friends. Putting students into group situations provides shy kids an opportunity to interact with people they may not have interacted with otherwise. This not only helps them to develop critical social interaction skills but also may land them a few new friends in the process. Group work also encourages listening as much as participation.
Disadvantage: Group Control
In any group there is usually at least one bright or aggressive student that will attempt to take control of the group. Group work is intended to be collaborative and democratic; each student should have the ability to affect the direction of the group. When your students are working in groups, you should carefully monitor them to ensure everyone's opinion is being considered.
Lazy students can ride the group's work without making a major contribution. While most students will work with the group and do not wish to disappoint their peers, some students may kick back and allow the group to do all the work. All group projects should be built with some level of individual responsibility so that you can spot these problems and grade accordingly. Allowing students to grade other members in their group is one way to get an idea of who did what.
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