Supporting Student-Student Dialog in the Humanities

Ah yes, that fatal moment when you tell your students “turn to your partner and…”, and then the whole class blows up in your face. It may be a good time to catch up on student gossip (you can overhear A LOT during those turn and talks!), but ultimately it’s not getting done what you want it to. BUT, this is still a key priority for us this quarter. Ultimately, by the end of this quarter we really want to see what is articulated in Priority 2, and it will be impossible to get there without genuine collaboration in the classroom. Students are “On the hook” for their learning because they are hungry to discuss and engage with rigorous, compelling, and student-focused content.  This is because Teachers are ensuring students continue to collaborate daily, while also providing the rigorous content for students to collaborate around.

Collaborative learning helps your students feel that learning matters, and that it’s not an option (without you being domineering).

Well, here are a few things for ya to get going in this direction. This blog post contains: 1. Reasons why you should keep working on collaborative learning. 2. Some guidelines and principles for collaborative learning. 3. A bucket-load of resources for collaborative learning. Got questions, concerns, or ideas to share related to this blogpost? Email Jacob or comment below! For more on all of this, check out the fantastic Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen… a lot of what is featured here was drawn from that book!

 Why does Collaborative Learning matter in the Humanities?

  • The Humanities are about dialog: all too often, our students assume that history happened in the past, that culture is static and easily stereotyped, or that art, music, and dance are only something that famous artists and performers can do. Having students collaborate while tackling our content models for them the way these subject-areas actually work in reality – they are spaces for debate, disagreement, and mutual learning.
  • It will establish a more democratic classroom: it matters for Social Justice and Equity in our classrooms that we do not limit our students’ experiences to those controlled and dictated by a “classroom authority.” We need to be partners in learning.
  • Your students’ thinking will improve: if students feel safe and part of a team, they will be more willing and able to take risks. Better relationships in the classroom allow for more authentic and higher-level rigor, as well as a physically and psychologically safe environment. Plus, students will be owning more of the thinking!
  • Your students will be more confident: if students get a chance to practice with their partner first (and maybe even get your affirmation as you walk around the room), they’ll be more confident in participating.
  • Over time, side-chatter will decrease: while it may take practice, students cannot see talking with one another as ONLY a disruptive act. Students need to see each other as partners in learning.
  • Over time, it will make YOUR life easier: Lisa Ann DeGarcia wrote, in “How to Get Students Talking!” (2009) that “researchers have found that teaching is a ‘complex cognitive activity'” but that this becomes easier for experienced teachers because “they develop specific ‘routines’ for each of these activities, so more cognitive space can be freed up.” Collaborative learning is one of those key routines you can establish!

Classroom life should, to the greatest extent possible, prefigure the kind of democratic and just society we envision and thus contribute to building that society. Together students and teachers can create a “community of conscience.” – “Introduction: Building Classrooms for Equity and Social Justice”, Rethinking Our Classrooms, Vol. 1.

What are some guidelines and principals for collaborative learning?

  1. There are two parts to setting up strong collaborative learning.
    • Students need to have clear structures and ways of engaging with each other and with the content.
    • Students need to be engaging with strong, meaningful content (more on this in a post to follow).
  2. When working in small groups, everyone should…
    • …have a clear responsibility (and not just time-keeping!).
    • …have an opportunity (and accountability) to express their ideas.
    • …know WHY working collaboratively matters for this particular piece of learning.
  3. When working in large or whole-group settings, everyone should…
    • …be exposed to multiple perspectives from their peers.
    • …have a concrete way of following along with the conversation and react to the speaker’s thinking.
    • …be held accountable for expressing ideas about the discussion at the end.

Don’t let your collaborative time go poorly! Make sure everyone is on the same page about why partner work matters.

Do you have any resources for us?

Of course I do! Check them out below:

  • Collaborative Routines Galore! – An awesome list of routines and resources compiled by all your content specialists!
  • Ashley Lamica’s Socratic Seminar Worksheet – A great resource for holding students accountable during whole-group discussions AND guide their analysis of the texts they are discussing.
  • Collaborative Venn Diagrams – An easy-to-use Venn Diagram exercise in which students record their own thinking, their partner’s thinking, and their shared thinking on ANY topic!
  • World Language “Unknowns” – A few examples of what this could look like to pair students up in a World Language classroom, and have them interview each other to get the complete responses they need!

2 responses

  1. […] week, I posted some ideas and guidelines about setting up some collaborative learning routines for students, and mentioned that there are two parts to ensuring that student-student collaboration is […]

  2. […] this happens at the nexus of Culture and Rigor in our classrooms. I wrote about this previously in Supporting Student-Student Dialog and Questions and Tasks Worth Collaborating On. However, some fantastic new resources have been […]

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