Boosting student collaboration in the classroom

/ Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad

Collaboration is a core part of every career field and subject discipline. The same holds true for the classroom. More than ever, learning should be part of a social context, as learners collectively rely on each other’s thinking to solve complex problems. No matter what subject or concept we teach, collaboration is a crucial component of deeper learning.

Creative learning in the classroom preparation stage

How do we support students and encourage them to collaborate? One idea: Provide opportunities for students to describe the challenges they experience while solving real-world problems, then have them create solutions together. The following protocol (I call it the Expressing Dilemma Protocol) can help students engage in structured academic discourse of a real-world dilemma. 

I adapted the Expressing Dilemma Protocol from the Consultancy Protocol developed by Dunne, Evans, and Thompson-Grove (2017) to help teachers solve dilemmas in the profession. The adapted protocol helps students solve dilemmas and encourage critical thinking, which then deepens and enhances their understanding of content and material.

Try it in your classroom

The teacher begins by organizing students into small groups of four to seven students. One student is a presenter, while the others are the consultancy group and provide feedback.

The presenter shares the dilemma that she or he is struggling with, and frames a question for the other students in the group to help solve. The focus of the group’s conversation is the dilemma that the student presenter explains. The small group asks clarifying questions—that is, questions that have brief, factual answers (for example, “When did this happen?” or “Where were you when…?”).

The group members can ask the presenter probing questions. They should word these questions in a way that helps the presenter clarify and expand his or her thinking about the dilemma. The goal is for the presenter to learn more about the question he or she asked, and think more deeply about it. The presenter responds to the group’s questions. Sometimes, a probing question might ask the presenter to see the dilemma in a way that the presenter might not have an immediate response to beyond, “I never thought to approach the problem this way.” 

There is no discussion by the student group of the presenter’s responses. At the end of 10 minutes, the group leader or teacher asks the student presenter to restate her or his question for the group.

The teacher then frames a focus question for the student consultancy group. The question is around the dilemma that seems to be the crux of the problem. The focus question will guide the student group in its discussion of the dilemma. All students then critique the focus question. Questions they might ask include, “Is this question important to my dilemma? Is this question important to my learning? Is this question important to others in my group?”

Another approach

Another option is to provide dilemmas using pre-crafted scenarios for the students to tackle. 

Communication with WeVideo

4th-6th grade example: You are part of the design team for a theme park. The residents of your town want a rollercoaster, a ferris wheel, and a water slide. The 0.5 by 0.5 mile area will traditionally allow for only two of these rides. How will you use this area to make the residents of the town happy?

7th-8th grade example: You are the CEO for a tech startup that has developed an app to help tutor students in mathematics. The initial investment was $50,000. The software will cost $20,000 in engineering costs, plus the cost of labor for software developers. How much more money will you need to operate the business in the first year? When will you be able to pay your investors? What will your cash flow be like? How much will you sell the app for?

9-12th grade example: The school wants to install a living, green roof. The roof is circular and some room must be left for maintenance. What’s the best way to create the maximum space for greenery and allow a small space for maintenance? Give dimensions and the shape of the space the greenery will occupy.

After sharing the dilemma with the small group, the presenter ends the description by asking a specific and thoughtful question, such as: “What do you really want to know? What is your real dilemma?” The small group will work together to solve the dilemma. The small group can create a video addressing the dilemma in a creative way. The following question prompts can help guide students on what to address in their video. Encourage students to be creative in the use of media, artistic style, music, etc. 

Questions to ask

  • What did we hear?
  • What didn’t we hear that might be relevant?
  • What assumptions seem to be operating?
  • What questions does the dilemma raise for us?
  • What do we think about the dilemma?
  • What might we do or try if faced with a similar dilemma?
  • What have we done in similar situations?

Month of Military ChildAfter the video is created by the other members in the group, it is shared with the group and/or the class playlist. Group members reflect on what they heard and what they’re now thinking, sharing with each other anything that particularly resonated with them during any part of the group work. 

This protocol is just one example of how we can support students in thinking deeply about challenges and how certain dilemmas elicit corresponding questions. It also presents unique opportunities for students to creatively tackle solutions together through video creation. 

Looking for lesson plans and more ideas for your classroom? Visit the WeVideo Resource Hub for educators!