How can we support and instruct students in effective collaboration techniques when learning remotely? At face value, collaboration would appear to be a skill that is not easily taught while students are remote. However, it is clearly a communication style that is occurring regularly in the remote work world of today. As my colleagues and I learned during the course of 2020, it can be done effectively at school with a bit of tweaking and scaffolding.
One of the competencies that is scaffolded into many aspects of my sixth-grade Humanities classes at Princeton Day School is collaboration. Over the past five years, my colleagues and I have made deliberate efforts to teach about collaboration and to provide students feedback as they develop this important skill. However, when we were thrown into remote teaching in the spring of 2020, we were faced with a challenge. We had to be creative and build in deliberate strategies for online collaboration.
When PDS began our remote teaching program, Panthers Online, in the spring of 2020, we were completely asynchronous. Concerns about equity issues and student ability to get online meant that we did not require students to be online for classes. This posed a significant challenge for our ability to scaffold tasks and support skill-building that would have supported and guided our students in the development of their collaboration skills. Four weeks in, however, we were allowed to “offer” non-mandatory synchronous meeting times on Google Meet during our regular class periods, allowing for a much more robust collaboration to occur.
Right before we began remote learning, we had started our “cross-cultural” Middle Ages study. As part of the Guided Inquiry Design model used in our classes, we present the driving question, How was culture shared and spread during the period 500-1500 CE? In previous years, after having spent time immersed in reading about the time period, students were divided into groups of three or four and assigned a culture to explore based on an indicated preference. The cultures have been chosen as ones that can provide solid evidence of the extensive cultural diffusion and borrowing of the late Middle Ages in particular, and they include Al Andalus, Medieval England, Byzantium, and the Silk Road. Students use driving questions organized by categories such as Trade/Navigation/Transportation, or Science/ Inventions/Discoveries to guide their research into their culture. These categories and questions serve as the scaffold upon…