Collaboration in the Classroom
Collaboration is being used more as instructors search for ways to explode the traditional hierarchy in the classroom, to focus class discussion, and to encourage individual participation and leadership roles among students. Many jobs beyond the classroom, in businesses for example, assume collaborative competency.
As Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede report in Singular Texts/Plural Authors: Perspectives on Collaborative Writing (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Press, 1990), a study of writing in "real-world" jobs, "Ninety-eight percent of all the respondents reported that effective writing was either 'important' or 'very important' to the successful execution of their jobs. In addition, the results indicate that a significant number of respondents from all the professions (87%) sometimes write as part of a team or group" (151). Lisa Ede also asserts in her Work in Progress: A Guide to Writing and Revising (New York: St. Martin's, 1989), "study after study in business, industry, and education has demonstrated that most people find learning groups extremely effective for mastering complex performance skills like writing" (17).
Based on the research in collaborative writing, here are some general considerations concerning collaboration:
- Is the collaborative group work integrated into the design of the curriculum?
- Does the assignment demand collaborative work--that is, is it challenging enough to justify it as a group project?
- Is the purpose of the task clear to the group members?
The following are some logistical suggestions concerning collaboration:
- Most collaborative groups have between 2-7 members and are made up of members of various academic and social backgrounds.
- Students should have an opportunity to monitor and to evaluate the group process itself, both during and after the writing task.
- Students should be assigned (or assign themselves) various roles (chair, recorder, etc.). All members should participate in the project.
The writing task should be clearly structured, especially when the group is beginning to form, so that students can clearly understand the product the group is to produce. Many researchers recommend that instructors give collaborative projects a single grade—this will reinforce student commitment to the group writing task itself.
Besides mastering both the social and academic skills that are demanded by many jobs after college, the benefits of collaborative work also include the development of the ability to critique writing, to be flexible, honest, patient, and to listen carefully to others.
by Laurie Carlson, The Write Stuff, 1.2 (1991)