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Collaborative Learning in the 21st Century

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"Aseh Lecha Rav, Ukneh Lecha Chaver."  For literally hundreds of years we have been teaching our children to learn from one another.  We have grown up in a world where learning in Hevruta is a norm, a given, we wouldn't think twice about the method.

'We must teach our children the skills to lead 21st century lives.'  'We are teaching for jobs that haven't even been created yet.'  'Our children will grow up to do things we can't even imagine.'

If you have picked up an educational publication in the last five years you have read one of these sentences.  They are so commonplace and hackneyed that I am surprised they are still making headlines.  So why are they still making headlines?

I think the reason that people are still talking about 21st century learning is because the concept is so vague.  We know it isn't about technology.  Students can lead 21st century lives with or without technology.  We do know, however, that it is crucial for our students to learn to work collaboratively to succeed in the world of the future.  They must work in a hevrutah.  We know this from our own cultural heritage, it is ingrained in our lives.

We tell our children that they need to learn to collaborate, this is what the industries of tomorrow will be looking for.  They need to be able to work on a team, to share ideas, to build off of someone else's ideas--unless they want to be teachers.  It is not unusual for a student to see only one adult in their classroom all day.  As teachers we are able to close the door, do our thing, and leave the building without ever having to collaborate or listen to someone else's ideas.  We know the value of collaboration, we even teach our students to collaborate with one another, we read about it constantly in our industry publications, we even practice it in our Jewish lives, but we spend most of our day alone.  How can we do this?  It doesn't make any sense.

When we teach kids to drop everything and read we know that we must model what this looks like for the time to be effective.  When we want kids to speak kindly to one another, we know that speaking kindly in front of them helps them learn.  When we want our children to study Torah we must study it in their presence.  So why don't we translate this to collaborative learning?  How can we teach them to collaborate all by ourselves?

We need to be more open and honest about our own learning in front of our students.  We need to show our students what it means to learn with and from one another.  We tell them to ask a friend, peer edit, do a project as a group.  When was the last time you did a project with a group of colleagues?  When was the last time you had a peer edit your work?  If you didn't answer "this week" then you are not practicing what you preach.

Open your classroom to a trusted colleague.  Ask him/her to observe your teaching and give you guided and honest feedback.  Take your lunchtime to look over an assessment with a co-teacher and ask him/her how to make it better.  Work on a third grade project with all of the teachers who teach third grade at your school. Aseh Lecha Rav, make for yourself a teacher--a teacher of teachers.  There are opportunities for us to collaborate, it just isn't ingrained in the culture of American schools, but it is ingrained in our Jewish identities.

If we want our students to learn the skills they will need to be 21st century adults we need to teach these schools.  It isn't enough for us to tell our students to learn from one another, we need to model this behavior for them in order to truly prepare them to be collaborative learners in the 21st century.


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