February 12, 2018
The Collaborative Classroom and Ensuring Equal Engagement
How do we achieve equal engagement within a collaborative classroom? The secret to success is tolerance, drawing on individual strengths, safety in community, properly working instruments (tools), and above all, passion. True engagement need not look the same for everyone.
In sports, engagement is not indicated by how hard you’re working at every minute of the game. For example, each member of any sports team will have different roles and tasks. Infielders see a different amount of action as do outfielders, for instance. What constitutes their engagement is more a head process—in essence, how much they want their team to succeed. Success comes in knowing when to back off when a teammate says, “I’ve got it.”
In the end, engagement lies in students knowing and communicating their individual strengths and what they can contribute. Once you know the individual’s preferences, and students can identify how they work best, it gives them somewhere to start. This is sometimes the first roadblock to be overcome. “How do I fit in? Can I work with these people?”
Building Teams in a Collaborative Classroom
The successful collaborative classroom depends on everyone feeling safe and confident that all will participate in their fullest capacity. It would be way too easy to make it mandatory that everyone participate. You could announce their grade depends on how much they show they are contributing, but that's compliancy by ultimatum. That's not the route you want to take, because learners won't respond.
Be honest with yourself—you can’t keep track of how each student is really contributing, much less assign a grade to that. This is why team building exercises and community enhancement workshops are useful. They awaken students’ individual passions to work for the whole team.
Going back to the earlier sports analogy, with the exception of someone being named MVP, it’s the team that either scores or doesn’t. “Harry, you played less today, and even though the team won the game, I’m going to pay you less.” That’s not how it works.
Have a Toolbox
Engagement lies in the capacity to harness and utilize the proper tools efficiently and precisely. Use online tools, tangible organizing tools, and workshops in design thinking. In other words, it's about activating student empowerment. Have online tools as well as offline alternatives to allow those that are less connected to be able to participate. Again, it all comes down to individual preferences and capabilities. True engagement also lies in accessing emotional buy-in, meaning students' passions and interests, and individual life goals. Being able to tug at their heart strings is how you get them for life.
Take a look at game mechanics. At the most basic level, student passions are driven by some key elements that game developers have tapped into. Whether you’re into music, sports, dance, or art, the elements of "gamification" keep students wanting to improve on their own. The seven elements mentioned here, if incorporated as a driving force within your collaborative classroom, will ensure maximum engagement.
Model your collaborative classroom after tried-and-true team dynamics. Team sports, games, and the collaborative fine arts are all models of learning that have proven to be passion-driven, fun, and inspiring. Within them lie the secrets of getting introverts and extroverts to work well together in whichever capacity suits them to achieve common goals.