Collaboration is a tricky thing. Some kids are naturals; they know how to facilitate interaction, smooth things over, take the lead if no one steps up. Other kids go with the flow, happy to follow whatever path the group happens to take. For the most part, the students I work with do not fall into either of those camps. Instead, my students tend to struggle with the idea of shared control, or they lack the social skills to assert their ideas in an appropriate way, or they are easily distracted from the assigned task. I do understand that lots of kids need direct instruction in how to function in a group, and I know classroom teachers model and practice these skills. But my students frequently need support above and beyond the instruction they receive in the classroom, and often I need to decide if it’s more important for students to access the content or to work successfully in a group. The answer varies depending on the task and the student.
I think collaborative digital writing offers opportunities for success, but the challenges of working in a group are there whether the interaction is digital or face-to-face. Just as teachers provide group roles for students (the note taker, the timekeeper, etc) in hands-on experiences, we also need to outline how to participate in collaborative digital projects.
It’s not all gloom and doom though. My personal experience with kids and group work this week is coloring my perception of what’s possible. Tomorrow I’ll probably post a chipper little entry about how great collaboration can be! I know there are amazing possibilities for wiki use (so many ideas here), and I especially liked the little blurb here about the importance of scaffolding content to ensure kids are successful in their wiki participation. I’m also intrigued by the idea of Thinkature, perhaps for collaborative brainstorming, but I need to use it myself to really see how it can work with groups of students.
Stay tuned for a shiny happy hearts and rainbows post in the next day or two.