Collaboration and group work can look very similar at first glance. They both involve students working together, they both may ask for solutions, and they both work best when there is a willingness to contribute. However, assuming these will produce the same results can send the wrong message to our learners and shed a negative light on real collaboration.
So, what is the difference? Here's my humble opinion...
Group Work is when students are put into groups to complete an assignment for the teacher.
Collaboration is when learners come together to create, produce, or solve a problem that may or not have a correct answer.
I believe that both of these can be used effectively in the classroom. There is definitely a time that as educators, we need our learners to work as a group to complete an assignment or accomplish a task. Group work often gets a bad rap because of its ability to individualize the members of the group. In other words, just because the educator gives everyone a role in the group and encourages them to work together, doesn't mean that will be the case. In fact, just the opposite may be true. Make no mistake...our learners have learned the "group work game". This is especially true of you group your learners according to their ability.
Let me give you an example. When we group our learners into groups that include a high ability learner, an average learner, and a struggling learner, we are setting the stage for everyone to play a role. They know this and fall right into their places without missing a beat. The high achiever feels like they are responsible for helping everyone stay on track, the struggling learner may not participate at all because of a lack of confidence, and the average learner might lean either way.
If group work is going to happen in the classroom and be effective, we have to be more intentional in how we set things up.
1. Assign groups randomly often using tools like Flippity, Team Shake, and Wheel of Names.
2. Allow and encourage students to use their strengths to play a role in the group and recognize their weaknesses to know when to lean on others.
3. Allow students to reflect on the group work through peer evaluations and group feedback before assigning a grade.
Learn more about effective group work here.
Encouraging collaboration as often as possible is a good idea. This involves giving students a problem to solve, an opportunity to create, or a challenge to produce. A solution does not always equal a correct answer. Often times, when challenged, students will come up with different ways to solve a problem and will create or produce different products. This is powerful in that it gives students an opportunity to invest and play an authentic role in the collaboration.
Below are some practical ideas for collaboration in the classroom...
1. Use tools like My Creative Type for learners to become self-aware and understand how they might collaborate best.
2. Encourage reflection throughout the process.
3. Focus on solutions rather than correct answers.
Learn more about collaboration here.
How do you use group work in your classroom? How do you provide opportunities for collaboration? As I said earlier in the post, I believe that there is a place for both, but I also think it's important to know the difference as educators and help our students understand the difference as well.