I don’t want to learn alone…

One thing that I have come to value and understand at a deeper level because of [the IThink] practicum, is collaboration.  There have been times when we had to work on our own and most of us realized as the months unfolded that silos are pretty useless.  Our thinking is better when the experiences, deep thinking and reflections are shared.            —Heidi Siwak, Ontario Educator


Christopher Short via Compfight

I am your teacher. You are my students.


I dislike these roles. They act to separate, isolate, and compartmentalize us. And everyone acts as if this is the way it should be.

I want us to have a different experience.  I want us to feel the rush of each other’s insights and the weight of our collective thinking as we work together to first learn and then reflect on our newly acquired perspectives.

Imagine the possibilities!

Oh the places we will go

As I create/construct/write this post, I am conscious that I do so in the present tense even though the semester and our time together is drawing to a close. I don’t want this reflection to be an end though. I want it to be a beginning…a beginning for all of us to consider what collaboration means and what we need to do differently the next time we are in a learning environment (which for some of us may be all the time and everywhere) to move towards working together to do the learning that we could not possibly do alone.

This semester I created opportunities for collaboration by:

  • organizing seating in groups
  • encouraging you to share your thinking with each other
  • building in a peer review component for all writing/creating
  • using the question formulation technique to help us generate relevant and meaningful questions
  • having teachers model what small group discussion and collaboration can look like
  • bringing outside voices in like Mr. Chris Baird
  • doing the work with you like the poetry anthology and the re-framed blog
  • providing many exemplars of learning
  • holding a class read aloud of a common text
  • conferencing with you
  • blending our learning especially in Google Docs, but also with Mindomo
  • encouraging self-direction and reflection
  • building in metacognition

And yet, my voice dominated the space.

I don’t want to learn alone. I want to learn with you because your ideas, your questions, your challenges, your a-ha moments will not be the same as mine, and they will teach me.

Take a moment to reflect with me. What else do we need to do or to know that will move us along the collaboration continuum? What other types of support or strategies might you need to build your collaboration skills?

Collaboration Continuum


14 thoughts on “I don’t want to learn alone…

  1. Julie,
    I’m trying to think of the moment I realized I had transformed from an educator who wanted to be left alone so I could get on with the job of teaching, to an educator who values collaboration because the learning is so much richer. It was a gradual transformation and at a certain point I was just ‘aware’ that I no longer wished to be working on my own. One thing I recommend to teachers who are interested in creating collaborative learners is to design experiences where students gain insight about collaboration and reflect on how the experiences feel when compared to other types of learning. To do this I begin with what the research tells us. For example, vocabulary of the entire class increases when students are interacting with as many people in the class as possible. I then ask students to think about where they typically choose to sit and why they choose those seats. Next I ask students to move to a seat that is out of their comfort zones. At each stage we reflect and discuss how that feels. Finally, students participate in a group problem-solving activity at the end of which they reflect on what was learned about working with others and how it felt. Most students come to see that when they work out of their comfort zones they get greater idea diversity because they are now working with people who think differently. Becoming an effective collaborator is a gradual process. I’m curious about what your students would suggest to deepen understanding of what it means to collaborate.

  2. Collaboration is important because it exposes you to a variety of ideas and perspectives that can help you improve your own ideas and thinking. I think that the opportunities for collaboration you presented were good, and you often let us decide whether we wanted to participate in discussions or not. I think to move along the collaboration continuum you need to be willing to discuss ideas with others and participate in group activities. Most discussion and group activities have taken place in the classroom, but there is the possibility of collaboration online. There are a variety of ways that we can improve collaboration options through online tools. To improve my own personal collaboration skills, I think that other options for collaboration could be helpful. The discussion aspect of collaboration is the area that I need to improve my skills in. Some strategies I can use to improve my discussion skills would be to write down my thoughts and ideas and read them aloud to the group, and participate.

    • Derek,
      I so appreciate your frank comments. We do need to move to having some of the conversation online and with your prompting, this will happen next year. The challenge is that those who like to talk, often won’t participate, or not in a rich manner in an online forum, and those who will participate fully in an online forum won’t face-to-face. In a school as small as ours, this will mean that we are still very much in silos. Who we are talking to and hearing from will be the same three or four voices all the time. One solution is for us to reach beyond our classroom to speak and listen to others who are thinking about the same topics and issues that we are. Do you think that this is a viable solution for our school and students?

      I do believe that in post-secondary, you will be able to choose to take some online courses where you will be able to discuss and hopefully, create with other students. However, I do also encourage you to continue to develop some strategies (like the one mentioned in your comment) to get your voice out there. You have a lot to offer and others will benefit from your thinking.

  3. I personally feel like I work best alone, and find myself to be uncomfortable when I’m in a group. Although there are situations in which it would be hard to work alone and collaboration would work best, not everyone thrives in group conversation.
    If I had to place myself on the collaboration continuum, I’d say that I constantly go back and forth between autonomous and cooperative. This is my comfort zone because although I prefer to work alone, and strongly dislike group work, sometimes I need help, and I understand that sometimes we just need to get our thoughts out there as well as listen to others.
    Although I say this with much regret, the only way to strengthen and build collaboration skills is through learning how to step out of our comfort zones as well as help each other to do so as well.

    • Shaylene your comment reflects an deep honesty about the struggle of learning that we all feel-that back and forth-and the reluctance to leave our comfort zone. And yet you articulate so well the need to push ourselves to those things that we absolutely don’t want to. I wonder what your thinking is now about how you might do this next year? What can you begin to incorporate in your daily routine that will help you get your voice out there?

      Your comment also reflects back to me what I need to do better to support you in this area. We need to have more and more diverse opportunities for talk. We need to take more time to process what conversations work easily or readily and which ones take more time to ease into. This is work we need to do together and I really look forward to learning to make our classroom more accessible for you, with you.

  4. I think that students, to become more successful in collaboration, will need to practice as much as possible by working with others. It can start by partnering up with other students that know each other, then with someone not as familiar. Building trust with the class will also help move forward in the collaboration continuum. Collaborating will help students re-evaluate their answers by sharing ideas and the opportunity to see it in other perspectives. For me, the stage I have stayed in was only sharing my ideas with familiar peers, I have not yet shared much to the other students. I would like to see myself working better with other people, it’s just difficult for me to get out of my comfort zone. I’m more of a listener than a talker.

    • It is true that collaboration opens students up to new ideas, and the re-evaluation of our own ideas is important as well. It seems that almost every student finds themselves stuck in a “comfort zone”, and the only way to coax students out would be to teach students how to collaborate effectively as well as how to step out of these “comfort zones”.

  5. Jacqueline, I notice that you have used the word ‘yet’ in your reflection. You have absorbed the message that learning is a process well. I also like how you have identified that moving out of your comfort zone is hard to do, because it is. However, there is tremendous satisfaction in struggling through something that is hard and making it. No comfort zone can give us that same feeling.

    You also describe a clear process for developing collaboration.I appreciate such clear feedback from you. Do you think that this is a process that would work well in our classroom?

  6. I appreciate you for framing collaboration in this light. I am also impressed by the way these three students articulated their thoughts, infused with their honesty about themselves and their next steps. After digesting what everyone has said, I thought of where I am myself. This year I consciously and purposefully reflected on a regular basis. The majority of my reflections were kept to myself though. I think all of this reflection helped me inch forward a little. When I shared my reflections with someone else, the reflections invariably had more purpose, critical thinking was usually involved, and discourse many times led to these reflections being challenged and morphing into new reflections. My next step is to purposefully create an environment where I share my reflections more, and implement strategies to create a fertile ground for those I lead to do the same. The collaboration that will ensue will help ideas and initiatives move forward in a meaningful and substantial way.

  7. I do think that this is a process that would work well in the class. It’s pushing students out of their comfort zones but not jumping straight to group conversations. It is the building blocks as the students build trust. Trust will also make the classroom more comfortable to share ideas.

  8. I read an article by James Altucher called, “The Only Technique to Learn Something New” and one of the ten steps to learning something new is to work with others. Altucher said, “We need to work with groups to improve,” then he explained, “You challenge each other, compete with each other, love each other’s work, become envious of each other, and ultimately take turns surpassing each other.” And I believe doing all of what he said makes you a better learner.
    Collaboration is really important. You can’t learn well by yourself. You may work well by yourself, but you need others to judge you, and to help you get better because you can’t give yourself feedback. If you want to learn something, it’s best to learn with others, so you can all help each other out and help each other learn.

  9. It is interesting to read what other people think about collaboration. I have listed some ideas that would make collaboration easy for me, but I would like to know more suggestions that would improve the environment to make discussion and collaboration easy for others.

  10. Collaboration is important not only to the English class but is also important to any work setting or any situation involving groups of such. Collaboration however, is sometimes not always reached in the way we’d like it to…or doesn’t possess that certain something that makes it effective. This is because, we’ve been taught to rely on ourselves, to work independently. Not to say that this is bad. Independent work is just as important as group work, however working collaboratively can help students understand a concept better when everyone’s ideas and views are voiced. It is the key to effective learning. It strives more towards the academic way of thinking that we should work more on in the future -discussions, debates, and problem solving. It is the process to which divides and barriers can be breached, and ideal discussions can be made. (I’m sorry! was this too preachy??)

    • Not too preachy for me! I, too, think that collaboration is a key to solving the most challenging problems that face us today. We are now able to think with people from all over the world both asynchronously and synchronously. Imagine what these collective brains can do! So, yes we do need to get better at working together, thinking together, agreeing and disagreeing together. This is our work.

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