FOSTERING STUDENT COLLABORATION IN A VIRTUAL WORLD: TIPS TO MAKE IT HAPPEN

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FOSTERING STUDENT COLLABORATION  IN A VIRTUAL WORLD: TIPS TO MAKE IT HAPPEN

By John Schembari jschembari@teachingmatters.org

Although we may be self-isolating, students are collaborating with each other in meaningful ways and teachers have been doing a yeoman’s job in planning out how this collaboration is occurring virtually.  As an educational coach, I’ve had the opportunity to attend virtual sessions and observe how New York City teachers specifically are addressing head on the challenges of engaging students remotely.

How are teachers engaging students in virtual discussion? Here are some notes from the field:

    1. Utilize chat features during instruction/Google Meet and other communication tools.  Consider posing questions during virtual lessons that allow students to provide verbal or written responses using chat features. As in traditional instruction, check that students have enough time to contemplate their thoughts before being called upon to respond/discuss ideas. Zoom has a break out room feature for private/small group collaboration. However, as with any technology, check that it is approved for use by administration. 
    2. Consider how Google Forms can help collect real-time (assessment) data to share with students before, during, and after instruction. Are you seeking quantitative item analysis data or qualitative short response data from students? Google Forms can be used in either case and be created on any topic. Consider providing forms, as opposed to using chat when seeking more in-depth and formal data from students. During instruction review/share responses with students and  have them discuss – i.e. “Why did you choose this response?”, “How do these responses differ?”, “With whom do you agree/disagree and why?”.
    3. Have students collaborate on work, before/during/after instruction, using Google Documents and online discussion boards.  Even before COVID 19, students were developing the career skills needed to thrive in the 21st Century, i.e. completing projects remotely and partnering with colleagues based around the world. Do not let a crisis go to waste! Student peer groups can collaboratively engage in completing project-based assignments that often deepen student knowledge. Projects can take multiple forms. Advance organizers that students can complete alone and/or together – i.e. Venn Diagrams, Frayer Models, KWL Charts, Cornell Notes forms, etc. also can be created using Google Docs. Have students discuss their process for completing projects and/or advance organizers, as well as learning outcomes, during virtual instruction time and/or on asynchronous discussion boards. 
    4. Share and discuss student work on screen during virtual instructional time. Share instructor screens with students using Google Meet; this feature can be used to present and discuss student work. Teachers also could consider sharing their screens while taking notes on synchronous student discussions which can then be saved as Google Docs and reviewed by students at other times. Take images of anchor charts and share with students to elicit knowledge, which, in turn, might inform student discussion. 

Develop one or two strategies for virtual student discussion at a time and see what works. Be kind to yourself, this is new for everyone, and try not to get overwhelmed. There are online tutorials on how to use Google Classroom and Meet, as well as on how to create and use Google Forms and Documents with students. Register for upcoming Teaching Matters webinars for support and resources on remote learning.  You can view topics and/or review recorded sessions posted on our website here

For more information, please get in touch: support@teachingmatters.org

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