When I was in school, collaboration was called "working in groups". At that time, members contributed an unequal amount of work but everyone got the same grade. I usually ended up in a group with one of the high achieving girls who didn't bother trying to get everyone to contribute but just did it and we all got the grade.
Over the years, people have developed methods to get everyone working such as assigning a team leader, materials person, the transcriber, etc so everyone has an assigned job but that didn't always work well. So what is the current thought on collaboration and using it in the classroom?
According to an article in Edutopia one of the first things students should do is to create a working agreement so everyone knows what the rules are they've chosen. The rules might include things like "One student speaks at a time."
The second thing they recommend is help students learn to listen and hear what is being said. This means that they need to practice restraint and not rush into the conversation. It is sometimes helpful to add in something that requires students to wait until two or three other students comment before they speak again otherwise someone might dominate the whole conversation.
In addition, students need to learn the art of good questioning. Teachers can sometimes provide question starters to help students learn to phrase their question properly. Instead of saying "What do you think?", the question might be "What comes to mind when I say _______?".
Furthermore, they need to be taught to negotiate because negotiation is an art in and of itself. It is suggested a teacher models listening, questioning, and negotiation so students are regularly exposed to it and learn how it works.
Another article suggests teachers should use conflict within the groups to help reinforce negotiation. with direction, students learn the art of working with each other to solve problems. In addition, the assignment should contain problems which require students to use complex problem solving and deep thinking.
It is also suggested that the whole class reflect on the activities and how well the groups worked together. These reflection times help everyone identify both good and bad examples of collaboration. It is important to identify examples so students know what they should be doing.
There are books out there filled with "collaboration" activities but not all of these require deep thinking or need complex problem solving to complete. When you choose activities ask yourself if they have these. More on this tomorrow.