Tools for Encouraging Classroom Collaboration
Rachelle Dene Poth
There are so many options available to facilitate collaboration and communication in classrooms today, that it can be challenging to decide which tool would be the most beneficial. What do I recommend? When I got started, I took a close look at my classroom and the interactions in class. I thought about the different ways we had been collaborating, what was and was not working. I also thought about the students and their comfort level when speaking in class and collaborating with peers.
Let’s get them talking
Even as a teacher, I still find that speaking in front of others makes me nervous at times. There is something about speaking in front of others, even one’s own peers, that can be intimidating. As teachers, it is vital that we hear from every student, and because we know that asking questions or calling on students to discuss a topic can often make them nervous, we need to have different methods to help students to become more comfortable and confident in class.
Once a student develops that feeling of “being on the spot”, it becomes even more difficult to encourage students to share what they are thinking, what they are feeling and what their true opinions are. Technology can be of great benefit for this because the variety of digital tools available can offer security and different ways for students to express themselves. Of course, students still need to develop an ability and build their confidence to speak in class, but by using some of these digital tools, we can provide a comfortable way for students to develop their voice and express themselves.
So how do you find the right digital tool? There are resources everywhere: books, blogs, Twitter chats, Facebook and Google Communities, Voxer groups, your PLN, or even conferences, EdCamps, and similar professional development opportunities. But even with all of these resources available, it still comes down to taking a risk and trying something new.
These are some of the tools that we have used, and that may work well for you also. Simply choose one and see how it goes in your classroom or school. Always come back to the purpose, and keep focused on finding something that could be a positive catalyst for change.
Digital collaboration tools for the classroom:
- Flipgrid, a video response tool, has become one of the most talked about tools, and a favorite of my students for connecting with classrooms around the world. It is a fun and comfortable way for students to share their ideas and to learn about other cultures as well. Students can record up to a five-minute response and have the option to even add emojis to their photos. Teachers can post a question for students to respond to, to spark more curiosity in learning, or to ask for class reflections. There are so many possibilities, just ask your students!
- Recap 2.0 is a free video response tool, where students can respond to a prompt and all responses are compiled into a “daily reel” for teachers to view and provide feedback. A bonus is that it integrates with Edmodo, Canvas, Schoology, Google Classroom and Blackboard, which makes it even easier to use in class. It provides a comfortable way for teachers and students to ask questions by setting them up in a “Queue”.
- TodaysMeet is a backchannel tool that can be used in or out of class, as a way for students to contribute to a discussion or ask questions. It can also be used to provide “office hours” online, for students to ask questions beyond the school day. There are many possible uses for this tool, and setting it up is easy.
- GoSoapBox is a response tool that can be used to ask a variety of questions, without students having to create accounts. Students simply need an “event code” provided by the teacher, to access the activities available. GoSoapBox can be used for polls, discussion questions, quizzes and more, and provides a fast way to assess students or to simply learn more about them and their thoughts.
- Padlet is a “virtual wall” which promotes collaboration, communication, creativity and more because of its versatility. Students can write a response to a discussion question, add resources for a collaborative class project, work in small groups and use it for brainstorming, or connect with other students and classrooms throughout the world. If you are looking for a way to provide access to class resources, post homework, or even create a classroom website, Padlet would be a great option.
- Blogging: By having students blog, teachers can help students to gain confidence by writing, reflecting and using the blogs as a means to engage students in more conversations. Blogging is also a good way to help students develop their digital citizenship skills and learn how to interact in and create their online presence. We have used Kidblog as our blogging platform for the last three years and it has led to many positive benefits for student learning.
The best part of having these digital tools available is that discussions don’t have to end when the class does. We can choose any one of these tools as a way to get students talking, sharing their ideas, and collaborating- so that we can help them grow. And in doing so, we also help students to build those vital peer relationships and gain confidence in and out of the classroom.
These tools promote a more meaningful and personalized learning experience for students and can enhance and facilitate deeper and more authentic learning. We know that using technology “just for the sake of using it” doesn’t make sense. But when we use technology to help students to find their voice, to become more confident, and to better understand what they want to do, what they can do and what they need help with, it does make sense. Purpose.
About the Author:
Rachelle Dene Poth has been teaching at Riverview High School in Pennsylvania for the past 21 years. Rachelle currently teaches Spanish and a STEAM course What’s nExT? In Emerging Technology. Rachelle is an attorney and has a Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology. She was President-Elect of the Teacher Education Network and Communications Chair for the Mobile Learning Network and was selected as one of “20 to watch” by the NSBA and received the PAECT Outstanding Teacher of the Year for 2017. At ISTE 2017 San Antonio, Rachelle received the Presidential Silver Award for Volunteer Service to Education. She is a regular blogger for Getting Smart and Kidblog. Find Rachelle regularly on Twitter @Rdene915.