“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” Anthony Robbins
Communication and collaboration are important 21st century skills we need to teach our students. How do you teach these skills? I see communication as expressing thoughts and ideas in a variety of ways while also being able to listen effectively. Where collaboration represents the skills to be able to work efficiently in a group and be aware of what everyone brings to the table. Students today need to be aware of social and ethical etiquette as well when communicating and collaborating.
In my classroom, I taught these skills through modeling, discussion and facilitating. I wanted students to be able to work through their differences and find solutions. On the first day of school, I ask the students why it is important to be good communicators. I do this activity as a think, pair, share. When we share as a whole group, I make a circle map (I use the mind mapping website popplet) and I put in everything the students tell me that they equate to communication. I then modeled what effective communication looks like by role playing. In a new color we add our new ideas about what effective communication is. The next day I have them make skits that demonstrate what effective communication looks and sounds like. This gets them started on collaboration without them realizing it! When they are working in their groups I walk around and facilitate by dropping little suggestions such as is everyone sharing their ideas or are you listening to others. After the skits are done and we watch each other I have the groups come up with a definition of what good communication is. Then as a class we combined everyone’s ideas making our own class definition to hang up.
The next day, I mention collaboration during our morning meeting. I ask them what they think collaboration is and when they have had to collaborate in the past. Many times students say, in Physical Education and/or when on a sports team. Many students don’t relate it to class discussions, experiments etc. This is an eye opening experience usually for them. This is when I mention the skits from the day before. We talk about some of the problems that occurred when working in their groups. We have a discussion about why it is important to collaborate and how our communication skills are important while working together. Then I introduce them to the social skills cards I have created. I explain that every time they are in groups, such as for an experiment or project, these cards would be placed on their desks to remind them how to collaborate with others well.
Social Skills of Cooperative Groups
1. Encourage- Ask questions of others.
2. Listen-Use eye contact, respond to comments, and ask questions to show you are listening.
3. Allow for different perspectives- Be flexible and open-minded.
4. Take turns- Don’t dominate.
5. Do your share
6. Be a team player- work for the good of the group.
Every time the students work together I pull out these cards and place them on their desks. I refer often to them when walking around such as, “Is everyone following number four?” to get the group to re-adjust and get back on track. I let them work out their own problems even if that means they settle a dispute with rock, paper, scissors match. I think the most important things is to always refer back to what effective communication and collaboration is.
You, as the teacher, also need to be consistent and make sure you are putting these cards out for the students each and every time they work in groups. Re-visiting why communication and collaboration is important in the real world through classroom meetings through-out the year is also essential. This helps the students make the connection about how it will be useful to them. I think it is also important to show when you, the teacher, use these skills. I explain to the students how I needed these skills to work with the other teachers on the grade level and in the school so they could see the connection as well with someone they identify with.
As an educator, how have you taught these important skills, if so how? I am always looking for new ways and books to inspire me about how to teach collaboration and communication to elementary school students. Please share in the comments below.