I began teaching a graduate class in Instructional Leadership last week. I focused on the concept of teacher practice around the 21st century skill of collaboration. I structured an activity to allow educators to explore their views of collaboration: how does it manifest in the classroom, what are barriers and successes, and so on using the following prompts:
- What is collaboration? What is the role of collaboration in instruction?
- How does collaboration promote and/or deter learning?
- How does collaboration look at different age levels?
- Provide an example/anecdote of collaboration in your own instruction.
Since this is the first class that the group of experienced teacher-practitioner doctoral students are taking, I wanted to take advantage of the expertise of the group by meaningful sharing. The discussion was interesting – full of back and forths, and, as a teacher, what struck me most was how the questions lead to a perspective that I had not considered. When writing the questions, I thought about collaboration from the student-student perspective. Although that was a meaningful part of the conversation, I was struck by the “collaboration from teacher-teacher” perspective. I am pleased, that as an instructor, I developed “ill-defined” (ala Jonassen, 1997) questions that lead to very meaningful discussions.
Once we had developed enough capacity around these ideas, I switched gears and related the concept of collaboration in instruction to Vygotsky‘s social learning theory. I think we had a few “ah-ha” moments during that discussion: good instruction is based on sound learning theory.
That’s not to say that you can’t have good instructional practice without explicitly knowing theory. I think the message is that when you are more AWARE of the connection between research and practice, you can more purposefully think about the decisions you make as a practitioner to improve student achievement and engagement.