Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Establishing a Collaborative Class with One Word

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Read these three statements.  A variation of each of them can probably be heard in your school as you walk through the hallways.

  1. "I want you to take out your notebooks..."
  2. "You need to open your book to page..."
  3. "We need to continue our discussion of ..."
Which of the three sets up the class for a collaborative and inclusive lesson?

If you said #3, congratulations.  You are correct.

Using "we" in place of "you" or "I" immediately sends the signal that the culture in the class is collaborative.

Collaboration as an essential skill.  Few people argue against building collaboration in their class, but many have trouble getting any traction in establishing a culture in the class that supports collaboration.  Trying to use "group work" fails and teachers are left frustrated.  Many times, this causes teachers to abandon collaborative exercises and return to the "I or you" class.  As with any successful change, establishing a strong foundation helps support the effort.  Students who were accustomed to the "I or you" class will not adjust well to a sudden shift to collaborative lessons.  Shifting the class to "we" begins to build that foundation.

How do you know the class has bought in?

My advice is to pay close attention to the language they use.  When you start to get more questions from students with "we" as the subject instead of "me or I", you probably have a foundation form which to successfully work collaboratively.

One of the best things about making this shift from "I or you" to "we" is that students should take to it very quickly.  Students, with few exceptions, are very social beings.  They WANT to be part of a team or group.  They feed off of one another and, given the chance to do real work in a collaborative setting, they will perform well.

A word of caution, though, students have highly sensitive "fauxnometers."  Fauxnometers are the internal devices that sense when someone is not being genuine.  Students are among the best at using them.  If you are truly not interested in changing your class from "I or you" to "we", it will be obvious to them - no matter how often you use "we."  You need to believe in "we."

In reflecting on this shift from "I or you" to "we" I cannot help but wonder if such a shift has any noticeable impact on student performance.  Is it possible that the simple act of using inclusive language and creating a collaborative mentality in class have noticeable benefits on student achievement?

In order to test this idea, I am going to challenge a few of the teachers I support to make an adjustment during their next lesson.  I will follow up with them about any noticeable change in student engagement, performance, and achievement.  After doing so, I will report their findings in a future blog post.

You, too, are welcome to test this out.  If you do, I am intersted in hearing your results.  Feel free to comment below or send me an email.
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