How do we achieve equal engagement within a collaborative classroom? The secret to success is tolerance, drawing on individual strengths, safety in community, properly working instruments (tools), and above all, passion.
True engagement need not look the same for everyone. For example, each member of any sports team will have different roles and tasks like pitcher, catcher, infield, and outfield. It is true in sports that engagement is not indicated by how hard you’re working at every minute of the game.
Infielders see a different amount of action as do outfielders. What constitutes their engagement is more a head process (how much they want their team to succeed). Indeed, success comes in knowing when to back off when another team member says, “I’ve got it.”
A running joke in the orchestra entails the trombones waiting for 100 measures to play only one note. It is emphasized that when they get to that note, it better be the best damn note they’ve ever played. In the end, they get paid the same.
Engagement lies in students knowing and communicating their individual strengths and what they can contribute. Once you know individual’s preferences, and students can identify how they work best, it gives them somewhere to start. This is sometimes the first roadblock to be overcome. “How do I fit in? Can I work with these people?”
I’ve taken a Meyers-Briggs test quite a few times in my life. What I like about them is that they give hints at how introverts can work with extroverts to achieve a unified goal.
Building Teams in a Collaborative Classroom
The successful collaborative classroom depends on everyone feeling safe and confident that all will participate in their fullest capacity. It would be too easy to make it mandatory that everyone participate, and that their grade depends on how much each student shows they are contributing, but that’s not the route you want to take.
Be honest with yourself—you can’t keep track of how each student is really contributing, much less assign a grade to that. This is why team building exercises and community enhancement workshops that awaken students’ individual passions to work for the whole team are important.
Going back to the earlier sports analogy, with the exception of someone being named MVP, it’s the team that either scores or doesn’t. “Harry, you played less today, and even though the team won the game, I’m going to pay you less.” That’s not how it works.
Have a Toolbox
Engagement lies in the capacity to harness and utilize the proper tools efficiently and precisely. Use online tools, tangible organizing tools, and workshops in design thinking— in other words, activate student empowerment. I would advise having online tools as well as offline alternatives to allow those that are less connected to be able to participate. Again, it all comes down to individual preferences and capabilities.
I have a son who can’t write well, and at best is a struggling typist. He might end up being the “ideas” person (as long as he can learn to allow for other voices, since his main mode of communication is talking, which I understand annoys others). His team mates would have to be equipped to strategically and respectfully temper his arguments to not overpower the group dynamics.
These are healthy skills to hone, and are the icing on the cake when it comes to group work if they can pull it off.
True engagement also lies in accessing emotional buy-in, meaning students’ passions and interests, and individual life goals. Being able to tug at their heart strings is how you get them for life.
Take a look at game mechanics. At the most basic level, student passions are driven by some key elements that game developers have tapped into. Whether you’re into music, sports, dance, or art, the elements of “gamification” keep students wanting to improve on their own. The seven elements mentioned here, if incorporated as a driving force within your collaborative classroom, will ensure maximum engagement.
Model your collaborative classroom after tried-and-true team dynamics. Team sports, games, and the collaborative fine arts are all models of learning that have proven to be passion-driven, fun, and inspiring. Within them lie the secrets of getting introverts and extroverts to work well together in whichever capacity suits them to achieve common goals.