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Collaborative Learning Tips in Inclusive Classrooms

written by: S.A. Coggins • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 9/11/2012

Collaborative learning is known to have positive effects on students - with or without special needs. This article covers some useful tips for teachers who wish to use collaborative learning in their inclusive classrooms.

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    Using Collaborative Learning in Inclusive Classrooms

    Collaborative learning is an approach whereby students are encouraged to interact in pairs or small groups, as a way to encourage increased learning outcomes. Studies have shown different benefits to collaborative learning, including but not limited to: academic achievement, improved self-esteem, active learning, and social skill development.

    It is found that inclusive classrooms that need more individualized approaches to learning for various special education students benefit greatly from collaborative learning. Here are some tips that may be useful for teachers who are seeking to use this approach in their classes.

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    Teaching Tips for Collaborative Learning in Inclusive Classrooms

    1. Know your learning aims. When using the collaborative learning approach, it's important to know exactly what you're hoping to achieve when using this approach. Why are you opting to use collaborative learning and not any other type of approach for this particular classroom task? What should the students gain from this activity?

    2. Be aware of various issues arising from collaborative learning. Although there are many advantages to collaborative learning, there are also some issues that need to be taken in to consideration. One such issue, for example, is something called fragmentation (Malmgren, 1998). This is a situation whereby students with disabilities tend to miss class times whenever they have to see 'specialists' (social workers, speech pathologists, etc). Since fragmentation can be detrimental to students' abilities to work appropriately with their groups/peers, teachers need to make appropriate adjustments and management of expectations under such circumstances.

    3. Consider the best type of groupings to be initiated in the classroom. While some types of work will benefit from homogeneous groups, others may work better with heterogeneous groups. It's important to be aware of the tasks beforehand and plan accordingly.

    4. Allocate time for planning and initiating classroom management. Teachers may wish to include a session on setting collaborative group guidelines, creating posters, and such activities in order to prepare for possible issues in personality and behavior clashes.

    5. Prepare adequate self and group assessment guidelines. It is good for the students to be aware of how they will be assessed individually and as a group when working in a collaborative setting. Having self assessment and group assessment pro forma will be useful.

    6. Provide an environment where students are able to "test and re-check." Or, otherwise known as "trial and error." This way, the students can all experiment and find different ways to learn together.

    7. Learn how to develop successful relationships in a collaborative learning environment. There are many factors to consider when it comes to developing good collaborations in the classroom, including cooperation, communication and compromise. Make sure that your class is aware of these important factors to encourage successful collaborative relationships.

    Also See: Cooperative Learning with Gifted Students