English - Collaboration is key

8th June 2012 at 01:00
There's strength in numbers when you work together

Collaboration is a buzzword that has been on the lips of senior managers for a few years now. It is, we are told, the future of education. But what does it mean for pupils and teachers?

It is certainly a requisite for staff at one of the world's most forward-thinking companies, Google, which asks its employees to be two things: communicators and collaborators.

Beyond the obvious discussion-based activities, collaboration in English is a challenge. But there are several free writing programs - Google Docs and PBworks to name just two - that give pupils an opportunity to think and write together.

The programs work well with A-level classes in particular, as students can write and edit in small groups. They - and the teacher - can track changes and see exactly who has done what. The discussion often moves from the online world to the classroom, especially when students want to debatearguescream about why someone else has deleted the paragraph they have written. This brings a real depth of thought to deciding what makes content valuable.

This is a useful process for peer assessment, but teachers can also provide feedback, which should make the finished work more informed and complete. Another bonus for the teacher is that the work is "cloud" based and so cannot be lost or forgotten. Students must stick to deadlines or face the consequences.

It does, however, take time for both teacher and students to adjust to this process and it certainly doesn't replace the need for the latter to work alone.

You will have to guide the students as they write essays on the first few occasions, but they soon learn how to approach such a task independently. And if collaboration is the future of the workplace, we are doing them a disservice if we fail to provide them with these opportunities.

Eventually I envisage students being able to collaborate not just with peers in their school or even their country, but with learners all over the world. Imagine how useful, insightful and exciting it would be for them (and you) to collaborate on essays and lessons with students in New York when studying The Great Gatsby or in Sydney when reading Walkabout.

Moving away from essay writing, blogging, Twitter, wikis and webinars all offer opportunities for students to collaborate on their work. And, if there is any doubt that collaboration is the key to success, just look to Wikipedia; the best example of how this approach can produce something remarkable simply by drawing on the strengths of all the individuals involved.

Adam Webster teaches English at an independent school in Surrey and blogs on creativity and innovation in education

What else?

Go online and watch Adam Webster's video tutorial on PBworks. Alternatively, read his article on English 2.0 for more ideas to prepare your pupils for the 21st-century workplace.

In the forums

With the move away from modular assessment are you still undecided about which exam syllabus to follow from September 2013? Join the debate on the TES English forum.

Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources038.

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