Eight ways to assess your collaborative learning tasks

Natalie Taylor

Natalie Taylor is the Communications Manager at Reflective Thinking and among many activities, contributes to the creation of collaborative learning tasks called Digital Mysteries. Her interests include exploring the ways in which young people use technology in education, and more specifically, the growing use of iPads in today’s schools.

Follow @Refthinking

Website: www.reflectivethinking.com Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Collaborative learning is on the up. All around us there are blog posts from excellent teachers, research from expert academics and articles from around the world, but so far something has been missing. We know the benefits of true collaboration and ideas on how to encourage it in the classroom, but do we know how we can assess the tasks themselves? Setting the right task is key for encouraging effective collaborative learning.

Although most teachers are creating collaborative tasks for their students, arguably it can be difficult to assess them. There are indicators, and the ability to judge the outcome, but what if the outcomes are skewed because the task itself is not quite right? As Harvey S. Weiner says, in his excellent article Collaborative Learning in the Classroom: A Guide to Evaluation: "Students put into groups are only students grouped and are not collaborators, unless a task that demands consensual learning unifies the group activity”. You can read the full copy (11 pages), but I thought I’d summarise the key things I got from the piece.

There are certain questions we can ask ourselves when setting a collaborative task for students. This is basically to judge if the task is suitable to, or has the potential to, lead to an effective collaborative learning session. Weiner states: “To look only at the outward manifestations of the collaborative classroom – the fact that students group together and talk within their groups – is to look at the activity with one eye closed.”

In conclusion from Weiner’s article and my own experience, it’s important to consider the following points. Of course, a lot of educators will be excellent at doing many of these, so I believe the four key questions to ask are:

1. Does the task split the exercise into workable segments?

If there are different stages set out in your task, whether explicitly structured or just how the task naturally flows, you are on to a good start. An example would be giving students a bulk of information then asking them to first read/make sense of it together, then to organise these pieces of information into groups of ideas or themes. Breaking up the task allows for providing instructions and feedback in a timely manner rather than only at the beginning and end of the whole task. It also helps in maintaining, more or less, the same pace of progress for all the groups by having clearly defined milestones.

2. Does the exercise encourage negotiation and moving towards consensus?

One of the key things to consider here is whether your task requires the students to work simultaneously on something with the final goal of reaching an agreement. Tasks which assign each student in the group a different role can have their place in the classroom, but one that requires regular discussion, debate and negotiation, holds the true meaning of collaborative learning. If consensus cannot be reached, they should at least explicitly agree to disagree.


3. Do the questions stimulate critical thinking? Eg open questions or an ill-defined task?

What you need to avoid in collaborative tasks are well-defined problems that have an absolute correct and knowable answer. Such problems constrain the students to one final solution by following a specific procedure. What is needed then, are ill-defined problems; ones that have conflicting assumptions, evidence and opinions leading accordingly to different solutions. Research shows that students’ performance on well-defined tasks is not related to that of ill-defined ones, reflecting the fact that different sets of skills are needed for each (ill-defined utilizes more critical thinking skills).

4. Does the activity call on what students can be expected to know in a way that will lead them together beyond what they already know?

Learning normally happens when students are challenged with a problem slightly exceeding their current knowledge but not by too much. That is, if the problem falls in what is termed ‘zone of proximal development (ZPD)’ (Vygotsky). In collaboration, different students bring with them different levels of knowledge and skills, allowing them to build upon those of each other. This then leads to solving problems they may not be able to solve individually, and learning throughout the process.

5-8 are just as important, but what most good teachers do anyway:


5. Do students know what to do and how to do it?
6. Is the task clearly worded and unambiguous?
7. Is the task pertinent to the students’ needs, goals and abilities?
8. Is the task difficult enough to challenge, but not too difficult to stonewall conversations?

So if you think these points sound useful, I suggest grabbing a pen and paper and going over the questions above. Let me know what you think and if there are any other points you think could be beneficial to consider.

Do you use such strategies in your classroom? Share your thoughts below.

Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support us.
When you register, you'll join a grassroots community where you can:
• Enjoy unlimited access to articles
• Get recommendations tailored to your interests
• Attend virtual events with our leading contributors
Register Now
Login

Latest stories

  • How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country
    How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country

    Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, relocating to a new home, and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand.

  • Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?
    Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?

    Over the weekend, my family of five went to an Orlando theme park, and I decided we should really enjoy ourselves by purchasing an Unlimited Quick Queue pass. It was so worth the money! We rode every ride in the park at least twice, but one ride required us to ride down a rapidly flowing river, which quenched us with water. It was incredible that my two-year-old was laughing as well. We rode the Infinity Falls ride four times in one day—BEST DAY EVER for FAMILY FUN in the Sun! The entire experience was epic, full of energizing emotions and, most importantly, lots of smiles. What made this ride so cool was that the whole family could experience it together, the motions were on point, and the water was the icing on the cake. It had been a while since I had that type of fun, and I will never forget it.

  • Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2
    Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2

    The Action Pack is back for the start of the brand new school year, just in time for Recycle Week 2021 on 20 - 26 September, to empower pupils to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The free recycling-themed resources are designed for KS1 and KS2 and cover the topics of Art, English, PSHE, Science and Maths and have been created to easily fit into day-to-day lesson planning.

  • Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu
    Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu

    Following the exceptional performance from British breakthrough star Emma Raducanu, who captured her first Grand Slam at the US Open recently, Emmamania is already inspiring pupils aged 4 - 11 to get more involved in tennis - and LTA Youth, the flagship
    programme from The LTA, the governing body of tennis in Britain, has teachers across the country covered.

  • 5 ways to boost your school's eSafety
    5 ways to boost your school's eSafety

    eSafety is a term that constantly comes up in school communities, and with good reason. Students across the world are engaging with technology in ways that have never been seen before. This article addresses 5 beginning tips to help you boost your school’s eSafety. 

  • Tackling inequality in EdTech
    Tackling inequality in EdTech

    We have all been devastated by this pandemic that has swept the world in a matter of weeks. Schools have rapidly had to change the way they operate and be available for key workers' children. The inequalities that have long existed in communities and schools are now being amplified by the virus.

  • EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab
    EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab

    The world is catching up with a truth that we’ve championed at Learning Ladders for the last 5 years - that children’s learning outcomes are greatly improved by teachers, parents and learners working in partnership. 

  • Reducing primary to secondary transition stress
    Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

    As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

  • Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?
    Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

    The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring platforms are an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

  • Employable young people or human robots?
    Employable young people or human robots?

    STEM skills have been a major focus in education for over a decade and more young people are taking science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects at university than ever before, according to statistics published by UCAS. The downside of this is that the UK is now facing a soft skills crisis and the modern world will also require children to develop strong social skills as the workplaces are transformed by technology. 

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"