One of the most powerful learning tools we have in the classroom is our students. As many of us have witnessed, students seem to learn better from each other than they do from us. Our students really do speak the same language! It’s amazing to watch a pair of students really supporting each other and learning together through supportive collaboration. Today’s strategy is a general one that can be used during any part of the lesson cycle. It’s called “Teach ‘n’ Tip” and encourages students to support their classmates during partner work with a series of questions or tips to help advance their thinking about a skill or concept.
An important caveat, however, is that most students do not know how to do this. They think that they are helping by giving the other student the answer. In order to help students develop the supportive collaboration skill, use purposeful questioning to support student thinking in classroom discussion and in your individual interactions with students. As students begin to experience this model, they will start responding to each other in the same way.
Teaching Tip: You may want to create an anchor chart with sentence starters or question stems that students can refer to during their partner work. In addition, you may also want to probe students to determine what questions they could ask their partner if he/she were stuck on a specific part. Either way, brainstorming responses in advance will help all students be good supportive collaborators.
This strategy is a great way to get students talking and learning cooperatively; however, you will want to be intentional about the way you group the students. Pairing students with a large difference in ability levels, i.e. students who do not have similar achievement levels, or different learning styles is usually not effective and can be a burden for the more able student.
The example below is a very basic conversation that occurred while two students were playing a fraction comparison game. Imagine the possibilities if all of our students interacted and collaborated this way. Wow!