“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” – Charles Darwin
Darwin celebrates the power of collaboration in this quote. He notes its value in the development of humanity and the animal kingdom. The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework also celebrates collaboration as a key to success in supporting learning variability.
Checkpoint 8.3 in the UDL framework focuses on collaboration and community. Whilst communication is more difficult for some, it remains a goal for all learners. Working with peers in a community of learners provides opportunities to learn how to work effectively with others.
CAST, the home of UDL, recommends the following strategies to create opportunities to build community and foster collaboration:
- Create cooperative learning groups with clear goals, roles, and responsibilities
- Create school-wide programs of positive behaviour support with differentiated objectives and supports
- Provide prompts that guide learners in when and how to ask peers and/or teachers for help
- Encourage and support opportunities for peer interactions and supports (e.g., peer-tutors)
- Construct communities of learners engaged in common interests or activities
- Create expectations for group work (e.g., rubrics, norms, etc.)
Specific strategies, adaptable to all levels of education, include carousel brainstorming, cogenerative dialogue and the visible thinking routine called Give One, Take One.
Conversation, movement and reflection are hallmarks of carousel brainstorming. The strategy provides the opportunity for new learning and consolidation and review. In this strategy, small groups of students rotate through the learning space. They stop at different learning zones for a short time. At each rotation, students activate their prior knowledge related to a given concept. They share their ideas with their peers. Each group records their ideas and understanding at the rotation, which allows subsequent groups to build onto those ideas and reflect further.
This strategy can be adapted easily for online learning, using shareable documents, such as Google docs or breakout rooms in Zoom, for example.
Cogenerative dialogue serves a goal to improve community between learners. The dialogue occurs in small groups, usually between four and six students. Ideally, the groups are composed of a diverse learner group. The students meet, often outside set class times, to discuss and explore opportunities for improvements in the class. This strategy fosters students’ agency and ownership of their learning environments. In schools, cogenerative dialogue may be given alternate names, such as a Student Action Group.
Working together with a common goal to improve the learning experience fosters a positive class culture, building community through collaboration.
Give One, Take One
A scaffolded task promoting collaboration through give-and-take. Students reflect upon and respond to a prompt. They then share one understanding with a peer and take one of their peer’s understanding. This procedure can repeat as much as desired so students can collaboratively build their knowledge and understanding of a concept.
There are more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning on the CUDA website.