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A Collaborative Atmosphere

By Vivian Resende, American School of Brasília – Brazil @vresende_eab

What should I do to capture my students’ attention? There are many tools (social media, music, blogs) that seems to be more interesting than my voice and getting students’ attention and engagement is sometimes challenging.

Teenagers like to be listened. That’s why social media gets their attention. They feel that anything they think can be posted, liked, commented and shared. So, why not make our classroom a place where sharing (experiences, points of view, different perspectives) is a key for learning? The comprehension of a topic is not supposed to be given, but built. And that happens collaboratively.

When a student feels that he/she is protagonist, that makes a real difference. When we let them know that his/her experience matters, they feel much more motivated. My class has been changed since I figured it out.

Analyzing a book may not be the most exciting activity. But it can be. So, when my current senior class was studying Claraboia, a novel by the Portuguese author José Saramago, they had to find literary features and identify relevant themes associated to the story. Instead of giving it to them speaking all by myself, I decided to empower them to find by themselves the relevant points of a certain extract.

“So, you have twenty minutes to read pages  273 to 275 and write down your thoughts about the conflicts, the themes and the stylistic characteristics that you find. Later, we will have the opportunity to share it with the whole class.”

After the twenty minutes, a few students wanted to express something found. And right after, even more students wanted to add ideas to what has been shared. Instead of giving them something ready, we built it together and I worked as a facilitator, detailing something that was said by a student or answering questions that were raised. When we see that students get inspired by others, it seems that this kind of collaborative activity represents an important part of EAB’s mission: “learners inspiring learners”.

After that experience, when I asked for a feedback, I got the following data: – 90,9% of the students felt “always motivated” or at least “most of the time motivated” to talk and share ideas after listening a classmate. – 81,8% of them consider a collaborative analysis more engaging and involving than individual presentations.

From that experience I have been trying to work and to provide collaborative activities more often. This kind of activity turns the classroom into a more welcoming place, where we see a lot of raising hands and the engagement is something visible. Of course, the activities are variable, and not only literary texts can be used. When I offered a song mixed with an article and asked about their similar and different points regarding a certain topic (related to exposure on social media, something that students really care about), the result was also great.

Even though this particular class is preparing for the IB exams, I never wanted to make the students feel that they are competitors. Instead of that, the message is that we can grow together.

For The Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence, “knowledge is a social construct” and one of the collaborative activities’ principles is that “the learner is the primary focus of the instruction”. Then, we, as teachers, should empower them to build the learning together, with each other’s contribution.

Some of the impacts of the collaborative learning are, according to the mentioned Center for Teaching Excellence, an “increase in student retention, self-esteem, and responsibility”, the “development of higher-level thinking, oral communication, self-management, and leadership skills” and “exposure to and an increase in understanding of diverse perspectives”.

As learning is not a competition, students are all potential contributors. It is our role to make sure that they know how valuable is their contribution and collaboration. A collaborative environment is made of people willing to participate respectfully, where learning is a common goal and sharing is a way to get there.

Work cited: “CTE – Collaborative Learning”. N.p., 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.


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