Preparing our Students to Work Collaboratively

In my course, Educational Technology Leadership, we are currently exploring what 21st century learning looks like and how coaches can use this understanding to guide their work. Using the ISTE Standards for Coaches as a framework, for this module we are looking at 3 standards:

ISTE-C Standard 1: Visionary Leadership

  1. Implement strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations and manage the change process in schools and classrooms

ISTE-C Standard 2: Teaching, Learning, and Assessment

  1. Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences

ISTE-C-Standard 6: Content Knowledge and Professional Growth

  1. Engage in continual learning to deepen content and pedagogical knowledge in technology integration and current and emerging technologies necessary to effectively implement the ISTE Student and Educator standards

When I think back on my own education and my current work as a teacher as well as what I am learning in my own program as a student, one of the most significant shifts I see in 21st century learning is a focus on collaboration.  With the technological advances and increased access to both devices and information, it is often viewed that technology has isolated people and taken away face-to-face interactions. While this is true in some ways, I believe that technology has and should be a catalyst to increase, encourage, and make available opportunities for beneficial and meaningful collaboration in the lives of 21st century learners.  However, as educators, we are tasked with helping our students make productive and positive use of these opportunities.

The goal of collaboration is that more brains together increase the quality of the end product as well as the experience of the process. This happens because tasks can be shared, members can “specialize” in areas, and each collaborator brings a unique background and set of experiences.  Previously, most collaboration happened in person during real-time. Phone and email increased the options for collaboration but today’s technology allows for collaboration to occur on a much larger scale and can connect people who will likely never be able to meet in person.

Most teachers (and people) recognize that collaboration is an important life skill and something we should be doing in our classrooms, but often we forget that knowing how to collaborate is a skill-set in and of itself.  Just like social skills that we teach (and should continue to teach) in early education, our students need us to teach and model and scaffold collaboration skills. They need to understand the goal of collaboration and how to engage in the process successfully. In an Edutopia article, Mary Burns writes,  “Promoting real collaboration is hard to do well—and it doesn’t just happen on its own. If we want real collaboration, we need to intentionally design it as part of our learning activity (Burns, 2016).”

In Burn’s article, “5 Strategies to Deepen Student Collaboration” (Burns, 2016) she describes some very helpful strategies for teachers when they are using collaboration in their classroom. Below is her list (Burns, 2016) and my summary of her description:

1. Create Learning Activities that are Complex

When activities truly challenge our students, they are motivated to get help from others and need more than one idea or strategy.

2. Prepare Students to be Part of a Team

Students need to understand the goal of their group work. There needs to be some work done as far as expectations and building relationships before the “real” collaboration can begin.

3. Minimize Opportunities For Free-Riding

One of the biggest issues with group work comes when a member isn’t doing his/her share of the work.  By giving meaningful team roles and having students evaluate themselves and their peers (Burns, 2016) the likelihood that a team member will not contribute their share is decreased.

4. Build in Many Opportunities for Discussion and Consensus

As I mentioned earlier, the process is just as (if not more) important than the product in collaborative student projects.  Emphasizing this to the students and providing them time to learn from the experience is key.

5. Focus on Strengthening and Stretching Expertise

Not all students in a group will have the same level of knowledge. The goal really needs to be on what each member can bring to the group and how all members can learn something from each other. Like in all areas of our classroom, the focus should be on growth not solely achievement.


Mary Burns summarizes this all very well when she writes, ““As teachers, we can promote real collaboration by shifting our role from instructor to coach—promoting team autonomy, checking in on students and providing instant feedback, and helping them increasingly learn to work together productively to attain a common goal (Burns, 2016).”

One of my favorite places to go when I am looking for digital tools is Common Sense Media’s Top Lists.  They have list of Student Collaboration Tools which includes 28 resources, K-12.  While I don’t have experience with many of these, I have had good experiences with Google Hangouts, Google Drive, and Padlet both as a student and a teacher.  Since I teach Kindergarten currently there aren’t many on this list that would apply to my classroom, but I am interested in trying out Popplet and PenPal Schools, both of which are free or have a free version.



Burns, M. (2016). 5 Strategies to Deepen Students Collaboration.  (Retrieved on 2018, Oct. 30) from:

Common Sense Media website. Top Picks: Student Collaboration Tools. (Retrieved on 2018, Oct. 30) from: (2017) ISTE Standards for Coaches. (Retrieved on 2018, November 5) from:

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