Two’s Company: Creating Authentic Collaboration

Two’s company, right?  Certainly, my students seem to think so. I don’t know about your classroom, but oftentimes, I ask students to work together – both in the classroom and at home – because they prefer it.  In a perfect classroom, however, I would like students to authentically reach out to their peers across our Google+ Community, commenting on work, and through in-document chat, to deepen their understanding and improve their work product, not just because I’ve asked them to do so.  One of the challenges I’m looking forward to as we embrace the Common Core standards and GAFE is creating ongoing, authentic opportunities for students to collaborate because it improves their product – and because the nature of the assignment demands it.

IMG_0050One success I’ve had so far in encouraging students to engage in this ground-up collaboration is the Twain on Trial assignment for my upper division American Literature class.  Certainly, this assignment is an old stand-by of many English and History classrooms: students were asked to put Mark Twain on trial for charges of racism in his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  What Google Docs gave us, however, was the opportunity to collaborate on research, writing and performing both inside and outside of the classroom.  Moreover, classroom time gained a new sense of urgency and purpose as students worked to solve problems, negotiate roles, assign tasks, and confer with one another.  To organize their work, both the prosecution team and the defense team collaborated on their respective Google Docs to gather evidence and provide their witnesses and lawyers with testimony, questions, and rationale.  Once the assignment was finished, students returned to these documents to gather evidence for their individual verdicts assessing the trial.

Unlike other assignments I’ve given in the past, by its very nature, this  assignment demanded collaboration from the entire class because its end product was a performance in which each student played a role.  Moreover, during the trial itself, students engaged in a Today’s Meet chat in which the questioned, critiqued, and added to the content of the courtroom proceedings, furthering the collaboration and interaction of the assignment.  Because each student was a stakeholder in the activity, they were not merely passive observers, but informed participants.

Looking forward, I’m hoping to convert all of my final assessments into whole-class collaborative projects in which all students negotiate roles, contribute, evaluate, and revise.  Future ideas include:

  • Writing a whole-class, contemporary update to Romeo and Juliet (or any other older text) with smaller student groups responsible for each scene.  Each class period could stage their best scene for the other class periods.
  • With Their Eyes Were Watching God, acting as anthropologists to observe the natural behaviors, linguistic use, and rituals of our school site, then documenting these through interviews, video recordings and pictures on a shared website.
  • Examining the effects of illegal immigration and immigration reform in our community along with The Bean Trees to create a public service announcements or to appeal to our political representatives.



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