In the real world, working well with others is critical. Rarely is there a job, project, or task that doesn't have a better result when the minds of multiple people come together rather than going at it alone. Interviews for jobs and schools often include the question, "Tell me about how you function on a team."
The term "collaborative learning" refers to an instruction method in which students at various performance levels work together in small groups toward a common goal. Collaborative learning is a relationship among learners that fosters positive interdependence, individual accountability, and interpersonal skills, and critical thinking (Gokhale, 2012).
Collaborative group work at PS1 is a core tenet of our philosophy around how we teach and learn. Our students collaborate daily. Our teachers collaborate with their partners and in their Clusters. Our administrators collaborate with each other, with parents, teachers, and students. Collaboration is at the heart of what keeps PS1 a vibrant learning community.
Purely in terms of academic learning, we know that collaborative learning increases student academic knowledge acquisition and retention of higher-level cognitive activity and creative problem-solving. Research suggests that collaborative learning positively impacts verbal and mathematical tasks, procedural tasks, and unsurprisingly, students' self-esteem and positive attitudes about learning (Kuh et al., 2007; Johnson, Johnson, 2006, https://www.wabisabilearning.com/blog/how-collaborative-learning-activities-build-more-powerful-student-brains).
At PS1 collaborative groups are crafted thoughtfully, depending on the teachers' desired learning outcomes for the students. Students may be grouped with a social purpose in mind or an academic purpose or both. Teachers think about the academic and social elements that will promote the best possible outcomes for students in a group.
PS1 students in all clusters learn that they have individual accountability to the group and understand that they are accountable for contributing their share of the work to facilitate the group's success.
Our approach to collaborative learning is influenced by brain research. Research has proven that the modern human brain's primary environment is our matrix of social relationships. A human brain thrives on close relationships that provide learning.
Social benefits of collaboration:
- Helps to develop a social support system for learners;
- Leads to building diversity and understanding among students and staff;
- Establishes a positive atmosphere for modeling and practicing cooperation;
Psychological benefits of collaboration:
- Student-centered instruction increases students' self-esteem;
- Cooperation reduces anxiety, and;
- Collaboration develops positive attitudes towards teachers;
- Promotes critical thinking skills;
- Involves students actively in the learning process;
- Classroom results are improved;
- Models appropriate student problem-solving techniques
There are measurable responses that occur in the brain when working with others in a supportive and cooperative group. A release of dopamine happens during these activities. This neurotransmitter increases the feeling of pleasure, helping a child persevere and overcome challenges. The amygdala also activates. This area is part of the emotional-monitoring limbic system. It determines if stimulation goes to the prefrontal cortex, the seat of the higher cognitive brain, or the involuntary, reactive brain. Brain scans have shown that information learned among peers in an emotionally-supportive situation will be sent to the cognitive brain. (https://www.wabisabilearning.com/blog/how-collaborative-learning-activities-build-more-powerful-student-brains).
Through our approach to collaborative learning, PS1 students learn how to teach, help, support, applaud, and encourage one another to reach the group's goals. They learn how to challenge reasoning and conclusions constructively. Students develop and practice trust-building, leadership, decision-making, communication, and conflict management skills.