Journey to Excellence

Collaborative learning - Dylan Wiliam

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Explore Dylan Wiliam's views on the benefits of learners working in group situations and the importance of group goals and individual accountability.


Collaborative learning in the classroom works when you have group goals, so you have students working as a group rather than just working in a group, and individual accountability, so that every single student is individually accountable as well as collectively accountable so you can’t have any passengers. There are many ways in which teachers can set those two conditions but if you can establish group goals with individual accountability then the research evidence suggests that can approximately double the speed of student learning.When you create accumulative learners - when you create a group of people who meet collectively on shared goals to help each other master something - something rather magical happens. You actually get a higher level of achievement, greater sustained engagement than you can do on your own. The school, students and the teachers are collectively engaged, collectively participating, in this joint venture of helping everybody grow. And of course then you have all the consequences of that - teachers will still be learners as well as teachers, students will be teachers as well as learners. So a blur in those roles, shared goals, mutual respect, valuing each person as an individual and helping them achieve the most they can.A good example of a way teachers would set up group goals with individual accountability is set a task for a group in which different students have different roles. A common mistake teachers then make is to assign the role of the reporter to one of the students at the beginning of the task - that’s a big mistake because it doesn’t create individual accountability. You have group goals but everybody who knows they are not the reporter knows that they are not going to be required to speak on behalf of the group so their focus, their attention and concentration will dip. If everybody in the group knows that they maybe called on to be the reporter for the group then you have set up a situation in which they’re collectively responsible and individually accountable.The research shows that you have to create these two conditions - this collective responsibility group goals and making students individually accountable and that’s when you get the most effective group work situations. As Bob Slayven’s own research shows, most group work in schools fails to meet at least one of these two conditions and therefore is ultimately ineffective. Jigsaw groups don’t work: they have great fun but there is no evidence that they cause any more learning than other kinds of approaches. The only conditions under which you will get effective improvement of learning over standard operating procedure is to create group goals and individual accountability.

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