Project Management: Collaboration

Collaboration is the ability to be a productive member of a team using communication, leadership, and initiative to attain common goal. Systems that scaffold collaboration promote:

  • Effective student roles and responsibilities
  • Group and Individual Accountability
  • Development of Students’ Collaboration Skills Over Time


Effective Students Roles & Responsibilities


Sample team roles:

Examples of students roles in groups include:

  • Team Leaders: help students set and track team /individual goals
  • Proof-Reader: check the quality of student work against the rubric
  • Materials Manager: learn how to check out, use, and return project equipment
  • Group Facilitator: help students observe the norms in their group contracts
  • Communications Liaison: help teams hold discussions that include meaningful contributions from all team members and help teams ask teachers for clarification and help as needed

For related reading on roles in math groups, you can read this related blog article.


Scaffolding team roles:

Teachers can train students on these roles in many ways including:

  • Facilitating discussions to brainstorm actions students will take while serving in roles
  • Mini-workshops with students about responsibilities associated with their roles
  • Short reflections that ask students to describe how acting in their roles impact their teams


Class officers

In addition to team roles, students can assume leadership roles within their classes.  Each six weeks, several classes at CINGHS elect class officers.  Examples of class officers include:

  • Facilitators who:
    • Go over the daily agenda with the class at class start,
    • Lead some class discussions, and
    • Lead class activities when the teacher is absent
  • Time Keepers who:
    • Answer questions about the timing of activities
    • Periodically announce how much time is left in class
    • Limit the lengths of class activities
  • Grade Managers who:
    • Use period task completion charts to remind students to turn in late work
    • Gather student work on grading days
    • Email reminders to students who need to complete late work

These officers are elected by their classmates at the start of each six-weeks grading period.  If they are not impeached for poor service, they act in their role for an entire six weeks.  They usually receive extra credit in exchange for their hard work.


Group and Individual Accountability


Group contracts:

One tool that promotes group and individual accountability is a group contract.  See linked example below.  In group contracts, students describe their goals and the norms and strategies they will engage in as a team to meet those goals.

Some contracts include a firing process.  Students who do not meet team agreements can be penalized with warnings that can eventually result in the firing of the student if he or she does not improve their contributions to the team.  A student who is fired needs to complete the project on his or her own.


Group Logs:

Students working in teams can set daily goals in a Group Log.  The group contract linked above has a group log template on the back of the contract.  When introducing the group log to students it is helpful to model how to set specific helpful daily goals.


Collaboration rubrics & evals:

Students can use collaboration rubrics to complete complete collaboration evaluations for their teammates.  These evaluations provide feedback students on specific collaboration skills.  Prior to completing collaboration evaluations, it is sometimes helpful to have students reflect on the contributions, strengths and challenges of each of their teammates.  They can share some of the highlights of their reflections with their teammates using Critical Friends language (I likes …, I wonders … , Next Steps ….). This discussion can prepare students to assign fair collaboration scores to their teammates and can provide students with specific feedback that explains why their scores are high or low.



Development of Collaboration Skills Over Time


Face-to-Face Warm-Ups

Teachers can include Face-To-Face prompts in regular warm-ups at the start of class in order to scaffold students’ collaboration little by little over time.  Sample Face-To-Face prompts include:

  • Discuss one thing your team did well yesterday.  How can you continue or improve on this thing to make your team even more successful today?
  • Discuss one thing your team did poorly yesterday.  What can you do today to eliminate this team challenge or distraction?
  • Share one positive thing each team member has contributed to the team and share one thing they can focus on to improve their collaboration.



Workshops involving Role Playing:

Students can practice handling challenging collaboration situations by role playing difficult situations and consulting with each other and other teams on positive ways to resolve the situation.  Situations they can role play and then brainstorm how to resolve include:

  • A team member is too bossy
  • A team member is not engaged
  • A team member does not communicate his or her ideas about how work should be divided
  • A team member is struggling to contribute due to many absences

After students act out the situations, students should come together to discuss what they noticed and to discuss possible resolutions to the situation.  Teachers can help students apply their discoveries by using their suggestions to create a Collaboration Strategies list that describes potential ways to resolve common group problems.


Workshops Involving Team Building Games:

Students can play ice breaker games that require students to interact in teams while playing fun games.  For suggestions, you can visit   Teacher can facilitate discussions about the ways teams succeeded (and did not) while playing the games.  Students’ observations can be compiled into anchor charts that list actions that promote good and poor teamwork.  Later in projects, students and teachers can refer back to these lists to look for strategies on the positive lists and to redirect team members using examples from the negative lists.


Workshops on Technology Tools that Promote Collaboration


Collaboration Tech Tools

Students can be coached on how to use technology tools that promote good collaboration.  Examples include:

  • Google calendar – students can use this app to setup team reminder notifications for upcoming deadlines
  • Google keep – students can use this app to share and update checklists of team To Do’s


212: Discussion Techniques (2 of 3)

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Discussion Technique 3 of 6: Buzz Groups
  • What this is:
    • Groups of 4 to 6 students who are informally gathered in order to quickly discuss a couple questions prior to sharing responses to the whole class.
    • The buzz group discussions are aimed at exchanges of ideas, not at developing consensus.
  • Preparation:
    • Design discussion prompts that are aimed at uncovering concepts, not facts and that can stimulate open-ended discussions.
  • Procedure:
    • Forms groups, announce norms and time limits.
    • Ask group members to exchange ideas in response to prompts.
    • Check in on teams to see if time limits are too long or too short.
    • Ask students to share their key ideas to the whole group.
  • Online implementation
    • Set up discussion forums for each prompt.
    • Require students to respond twice in each forum – once to the original prompt and once to another student’s response
  • Variations and Extensions:
    • Ask students to use buzz groups to generate questions, share information, or solve problems.
    • Hold more relaxed buzz groups that do not respond to specific prompts, but discuss assigned readings in general or general course topics.
    • Snowball discussion – At the conclusion of each buzz group discussion, have 2 buzz groups combine and engage in a larger group discussion.  Then have these combine and discuss until the whole group = whole class.
  • Implementation Tips:
    • To avoid students going off on tangents, use engaging prompts and time limits.
    • Be prepared to follow up buzz group discussion with related key issues – in case these issues did not come up in buzz group discussions.
    • Snowball Discussion tip – announce the format ahead of time and its purpose – to generate a lot of ideas in a short amount of time
    • Ask each buzz group to report out their most important idea that was not already mentioned by another buzz group representative
    • If buzz groups addressed different prompts, a member from each buzz group can form a panel.  The class can question the panel in order to learn the ideas generated by each buzz group.
    • Following buzz groups, follow up with Directed Paraphrasing.  Ask them to summarize the key points of the discussion for a student who was absent that day.
Discussion Technique 4 of 6: Talking Chips
  • What this is:
    • Students are each given a set number of chips.
    • They participate in discussions by surrendering one chip each time they speak.  They can only speak while they have chips.
  • Preparation:
    • Gather chips – playing cards, poker chips, paper clips, etc.
    • Design a discussion prompt that can stimulate open discussion.
  • Procedure:
    • Form student groups.  Hand out 3 – 5 chips per student.
    • Ask students to participate equally in the discussion and use the chips to track each person’s contributions.  Each participant surrenders 1 chip per contribution and can not talk after he or she runs out of chips.
    • When the chips are done, can redistribute chips and repeat protocol with another discussion prompt.
  • Online implementation
    • Waiting for all students to respond prior to leaving another comment can be very inconvenient and unwieldy.
    • Instead, set ground rules for the number of length of responses and enforce repeated violations with private messages.
  • Variations and extensions
    • Give each student chips of a different color.  Ask students to examine the colors in surrendered chips and reflect on how discussion has gone.
    • Can suggest that students current a chip every 3 to 5 minutes in the discussion
    • Give each student 1 chip and do not redistribute chips until all are surrendering.  This version could be good for brainstorming discussions.
    • Instead of chips, assign a record to keep a tally of students’ responses using a tally checklist.
  • Implementation tips
    • This protocol can be good to structure discussions on controversial topics and within teams that do not tend to have full participation of all team members in team discussions.
    • Use this protocol to build insight into the ways teams have discussions
    • Use sparingly because it can lead to superficial conversations if overused.
    • After the discussion, have students write a reflective essay that has them reflect on their performance during the discussion and set goals for improvement.

Structuring discussions to ensure active participation by ALL students can have numerous benefits for students.  Students can learn how to explain and clarify their ideas, become aware of their assumptions, learn multiple perspectives, and connect new and prior knowledge.  Teachers can encourage students who are used to having a passive role in learning activities to become active participants of discussions by implementing  protocols that  promote active participations for ALL.


Preparation Steps
  • Decide what learning activities can benefit from discussions
  • Select the discussion style that goes best with the type of ideas targeted for discussion
  • Design a discussion prompt that can elicit multiple responses
  • Design a followup activity that can be used to process ideas generated by discussions
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement the discussion protocol of your choice
  • Implement another activity that promotes reflection upon or furthering processing of information gathered by discussion activity
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Decide which discussion protocols are the most effective tools to practice speaking / thinking in the targeted discipline and incorporate these into class routines
  • Use student feedback to refine implementation of protocols


211: Discussion Techniques (1 of 3)



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Benefits of Discussions:
  • Students formulate ideas and learn to communicate them effectively
  • Encourage students to think and speak in the habits of the targeted discipline
  • Students develop awareness of multiple perspectives, ambiguity and complexity
  • Students learn to challenge their own assumptions
  • Students practice being attentive listeners
  • Students have opportunities to connect new and prior knowledge
Challenges of Discussions:
  • Students may sit passively during discussions because they are used to doing this during lectures
  • Students are afraid to risk sharing their thoughts and feelings
Overcoming Challenging:
  • Reduce risk by dividing class into pairs or small groups
  • Establish frameworks that encourage active participation for all students
  • Give students time to reflect and rehearse their thoughts
  • Give students time to find others who agree with them before they go public with their thoughts
Discussion Technique 1 of 6: Think Pair Share
  • What this is:
    • Students respond to a prompt individually and then with a partner before sharing ideas with the whole class
  • Preparation:
    • Develop engaging prompts that have multiple possible responses
    • Develop a plan for gathering responses
  • Procedure:
    • Pose question to class and provide time for students to devise individual responses
    • Pair students and ask them to share their responses
      • If they disagree, ask them to explain and clarify their responses
      • If possible, ask pairs to develop a joint response to the prompt
    • Gather responses from each pair and share with the whole class
  • Variations and Extensions:
    • Export “think” step to out of class time by asking students to prep their response to a question outside class time
    • Give students time to write out their responses – Write, Pair, Share
    • Ask pair to share their ideas with another pair before sharing their ideas with the whole class
  • Implementation Tips:
    • Give students sufficient time to develop their individual and paired responses – use volume ofsxall group responses to gauge appropriate time for the latter
    • While reporting out responses to the whole group, ask each pair to share their most important point that has not already been shared by another pair
    • To encourage attentive listening, randomly call on pairs and ask them to summarize the previous pair’s response before sharing a new point
    • For challenging responses, pair this technique with the Minute Paper with a prompt such as what aspect of the prompt was the most challenging for you to answer and why?
Discussion Technique 2 of 6: Think Pair Share
  • What this is:
    • Students take turn sharing words/phrases that are brainstormed responses to a prompt – all students respond without elaboration or judgement.
  • Preparation:
    • Develop a prompt that can create a diverse array of possible responses
  • Procedure:
    • Divide class into groups of 4 or 6
    • Explain brainstorming purposes and norms.  One key norm is to avoid questioning or judging ideas.
    • Each group assigns a recorder
    • Individuals in groups take turns giving responses to prompt – they can take turns by moving clockwise around the group.  Groups do this for a set time limit for a set number of turns around the group.  Set constraints to ensure that all group members participate.
  • Online implementation
    • Could use threaded discussion or a tool like TodaysMeet
    • Establish norms such as – each post contains new ideas, do not address or disagree with previous responses, every students must post a responses before another student can post a second response
  • Variations and extensions
    • Can be used to structure other discussions than brainstorming ones in order to ensure that ALL students participate
    • Can use Round Robin logistics to encourage ELL’s to practice using academic words and phrases
  • Implementation tips
    • Reserve this strategy for straightforward tasks that lend themselves to quick responses such as: generating lists reviewing materials, and identifying obvious applications of ideas
    • Give students to opportunity to pass if they can’t think of new ideas.  Stop when all students opt to pass.
    • Model types of response for students who are not used to discussions.
    • Offer student time to write up their responses prior to starting the Round Robin discussion
    • Process techniques generated in Round Robin sessions using techniques such as Affinity Groups and Concept Mapping.

3-sowhatStructuring discussions to ensure active participation by ALL students can have numerous benefits for students.  Students can learn how to explain and clarify their ideas, become aware of their assumptions, learn multiple perspectives, and connect new and prior knowledge.  Teachers can encourage students who are used to having a passive role in learning activities to become active participants of discussions by implementing  protocols that  promote active participations for ALL.


Preparation Steps
  • Decide what learning activities can benefit from discussions
  • Select the discussion style that goes best with the type of ideas targeted for discussion
  • Design a discussion prompt that can elicit multiple responses
  • Design a followup activity that can be used to process ideas generated by discussions
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement the discussion protocol of your choice
  • Implement another activity that promotes reflection upon or furthering processing of information gathered by discussion activity
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Decide which discussion protocols are the most effective tools to practice speaking / thinking in the targeted discipline and incorporate these into class routines
  • Use student feedback to refine implementation of protocols

210: The Case for Collaborative Learning

1-sourcesChapter 1 from Barkley, Elizabeth F., K. Patricia Cross, and Claire Howell.  Collaborative Learning Techniques: A handbook for College Faculty.  San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass, 2005. Print.



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What do we mean by collaborative learning?
  • Essential features of collaborative learning:
    • Intentional design
      • teachers use intentional structures that encourage students to learn in groups
    • Equitable engagement / co-laboring
      • all group members are actively engaged and provide meaningful contributions to the learning task(s)
    • Meaningful learning
      • students working in groups deepen their understanding of course objectives
What is the difference between collaborative learning and cooperative learning?
  • Cooperative learning:
    • students cooperate to achieve a common goal / task
    • teacher retains traditional role of subject matter expert
    • often students are striving toward single correct answer or best solution known by teacher
    • emphasizes cooperative and harmony among group members
  • Collaborative learning:
    • based in social constructivism, knowledge is constructed by the development of a consensus among members of a group that includes students and teacher
    • teacher, along with students, is a member of a learning community that is co-constructing knowledge
    • unlike cooperative learning which emphasizes harmony, members of groups may engage in debate and dissent prior to achieving consensus
    • group work addresses questions with ambiguous answers – answers are subject to doubt and must be backed by judgements grounded in evidence
Formal, informal, abd base groups:
  • Formal groups:
    • work together for the duration of a learning task which may last from one class period to several weeks
    • accomplish shared goals, utilize varied strengths of team members, maximize learning for all
  • Informal groups:
    • temporary groups that last for one discussion or one class period
  • Base groups:
    • long-term groups with stable membership
    • aimed at providing long term support and sense of belonging to members
Five Essential Elements of Cooperative Learning Groups:
  1. Positive interdependence:
    • success of individuals and the group are intertwined
  2. Promotive interaction
    • students are expected to actively support each other by sharing knowledge, skills and resources
  3. Individual and group accountability:
    • students are assessed individually and and as a group
    • each member is held accountable to group goals
  4. Development of teamwork skills:
    • students are taught content AND collaboration skills
  5. Group processing:
    • group members reflect on their how they are collaborating and plan next steps to improve their teamwork
What is the pedagogical rationale for collaborative learning?
  • Some Benefits of Collaborative Learning:
    • prepares students for teamwork that occurs in future careers
    • actively involves students in learning
    • helps students appreciate diversity of perspectives
    • honors and utilizes individuals’ past academic / life experiences
  • Connection to Research:
    • Neurological:
      • students build their brains (develop more neurological pathways) as they interact with other people and ideas
    • Cognitive:
      • students learn by developing schemata – networks of connected bits of information
      • what students are able to learn is highly dependent on what they already know (current schemata)
      • active ideas (as opposed to ideas) are well integrated into schemata and can be related to new and old ideas and problems
    • Social:
      • zone of proximal development – what students are able to do with the assistance of teachers or more capable peers
What is the evidence that collaborative learning promotes and improves learning?
  • a lot of research has shown that college students grow more and are more successful when they interact with faculty and peers in / our of classroom on academic work
  • one of the most effective methods of instruction is students teaching other students
  • research has shown success with collaborative learning techniques over a variety of grade levels and subjects
  • cooperative learning arrangements have been shown to be more effective than competitive and individualistic structures – leads to better solutions, better transfer of knowledge, higher levels of reasoning and higher achievement
  • research has shown that cooperative learning seems to have best impact when groups are recognized based on the individual learnings of members

Collaborative learning techniques help build students’ collaborative skills and help students deepen their knowledge with the assistance of their collaborative partners.  Collaborative learning experiences are “deliberately” designed to promote deeper learning, group/individual accountability, group processing, and active and equitable contributions of group members.  The 5 essential elements of collaborative learning (see above) can be used to design, evaluate, and optimize collaborative learning experiences.



Preparation Steps

  • Research and design activities that promote the 5 essential elements of collaborative learning
  • Evaluate past collaborative scaffolding using the 5 essential element of collaborative learning – use this assessment to improve scaffolding
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement scaffolding that teaches students the 5 essential element of collaborative learning and gives them practice / reflection opportunities
  • Design learning experiences that use collaboration to build content skills.
  • Give students opportunities to reflect on how their group processes are helping or detracting from learning and plan groups’ next steps
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Establish routines that promote 5 essential elements of collaborative learning
  • Provide regular opportunities throughout projects for students to give, receive and reflect upon collaborative feedback from their teammates.  Guide students to use this feedback to improve their collaboration skills.



190: Group Observation Checklist



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The following checklist can be used as a teacher-completed formative assessment or as a team group reflection:


Group Observation Checklist:
  • When starting a new task, group members:
    • Agree on agenda or plan
    • Begin work promptly
    • Get out project materials
    • Figure things out without teacher assistance
    • Share responsibilities
  • When conducting research, group members:
    • Consult primary resources
    • Take notes
    • Have relevant conversations
    • Evaluate the significance of new information
    • Stay on task
  • When discussing project work, group members:
    • Ask clarifying questions
    • Give each other a chance to speak
    • Make decisions efficiently
    • Record decisions and plans
    • Share essential information
    • Stay on task
For all these items, teacher or students can check off whether the following people contributed to the team criteria:
  • All members
  • Most members
  • Some members
  • Few members
  • Not applicable
The criteria in the Group Observation Checklists are behaviors that can be communicated, scaffolded and assessed as character learning targets.  The criteria formatted as a checklist can be used to gather and share formative feedback data on collaboration.  Analyzing the checklists over all teams can reveal collaboration gaps that need extra support and scaffolding.


Preparation Steps
  • Decide which Group Observation Checklist criteria you want to scaffold, observe and assess
  • Create handout or Google form based on selected checklist criteria
  • Research and develop scaffolding that relates to selected checklist criteria
Early Implementation Steps
  • Communicate character learning targets
  • Facilitate modeling/learning activities to scaffold character learning targets
  • Use assessment form/handout to gather and share formative feedback on collaboration processes
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Evaluate all team’s checklist data to identify trends that describe teams’ strengths and gaps
  • Communicate trends to the class and brainstorm with students how to overcome pervasive gaps in collaboration processes

189: 3 Helpful Student PBL Reflections





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The following prompts can be used to create reflection thinking sheets that get students to reflect upon their collaboration and learning processes.


Group-Contribution Self-Assessment (1 per individual student)
  • I have contributed to the group progress in the following way:
  • In this group, it is hard for me to:
  • I can change this by:
  • I need to do the following to make our group more effective
Group Learning Log (1 per student team)
  • We had the following goals:
  • We accomplished:
  • Our next steps are:
  • Our most important concerns / problems / questions are;
  • We learned
End of Project Self-Assesment (1 per individual student)
  • I completed the following tasks during the project:
  • As a result I learned the following:
    • About the subject matter:
    • About working in a group:
    • About conducting an investigation:
    • About presenting to an audience:
    • About ____________:
  • I learned that my strengths are:
  • I learned that I need to work on:
  • I would make the following changes if I were to do the project again:
Self reflection is important to learning in PBL projects because it makes students more self-aware of the skills they are learning while completing projects.  Some of the reflection prompts also get students to reflect on current problems and possible solutions to these.  Regular reflections can help students more self-aware and more in control of their learning, investigation, and collaborative processes.  Teachers can process reflections to improve upcoming activities and projects and to provide individual and team support to students in need.


Preparation Steps
  • Create handouts (electronic or hard copies) of reflection sheets
  • (Optional) Create Google forms to gather handout data
  • Create storage system (file or physical) for reflection sheets
  • Decide how frequently you want students to reflect on their work
Early Implementation Steps
  • Model how to complete reflection sheet by thinking aloud and by using a model reflection sheet
  • Allow regular times for students to complete reflection sheets
  • Analyze reflection data and use it to fine tune upcoming activities and supports
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Use trends in students concerns and problems to design new scaffolding in related 21st century skills
  • Share trends from analyzing reflection data and discuss how these can impact teaching and learning

148: Social Skills



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  • Social skills improve academic performance in elementary, middle & high schools (most research focused on elementary school students)
  • Exact effects of social skills on academic performance is unclear
  • Social skills:
    • socially accepted learned behaviors that enable a learner to interact effectively with others and to avoid socially unacceptable responses (Gresham & Elliot)
    • cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, self control (Malecki & Elliot)
    • self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationships skills, responsible decision-making (CASEL)
  • Hard to isolate social skills from other non-cognitive factors that support academic achievement in the research
  • Research shows that social skills (+ other non-cognitive factors) improve academic performance
  • One theory – effects of social skills are indirect, act through academic behaviors
    • developing social skills helps students have less behavior problems resulting in more learning engagement and better performance
    • social skills helps students actively participate in learning activities
    • social skills act as academic enablers of good academic behaviors
  • Another theory – teachers value good behavior and reward it with good grades
  • Behavior skill-building approaches lead to more enduring positive changes that programs that do not emphasize skills
  • Skills such as stress management, empathy, problem-solving, and good decision making can be intentionally developed in school-based programs
  • Classrooms play an important role in shaping students’ social skills
  • Interpersonal, instructional & environmental factors affect students’ social behavior including
    • norms for high expectations and high support to meet expectations
    • caring teacher-student relationships
    • proactive classroom management
    • cooperative learning
    • safe classroom environments that reinforce good behaviors
    • students feel valued
  • Teaching students to process, integrate, select and apply social-emotional skills in appropriate ways
  • Effective approaches involve
    • step-by-step approaches  that actively involve students in skills development
    • extended periods of time
    • clear and explicit goals
  • Research doesn’t indicate either way whether or not social skills will narrow achievement gaps in women and minority groups
  • Some troubling related research findings:
    • 57% of African American males are suspended – much more than any other race or gender (NCES)
    • Minority students may experience undue disciplinary action in school (Gregory et al.)
    • Race is strong predictor of the discipline gap
  • Social skills overlap extensively with other noncognitive factors
  • Without better delineation of social skills with other noncognitive factors it is hard to isolate the effects of social skills on academic performance
  • Social skills may be less (more) valued / practiced in schools that primarily focus on individual (cooperative) learning tasks
  • More research is needed that considers how classroom context affect how social skills contribute to student learning


 Implementing social skills training can help students be more successful in a PBL environment that relies heavily on group work.   Social skills act as social enablers that help students better leverage learning opportunities.  Effective social skills programs tend to be administered by teachers, involve step-by-step demonstrations of skills, extend over time, and have clear and explicit goals.


Preparation Steps
  • Identify what social skills will help students succeed in the conditionals of your classrooms.
  • Write character learning targets that describe desirable social skills in student friend language.
  • Research scaffolding strategies that relate to targeted social that help students with social skills.  See Agency and Collaboration articles for ideas.
  • Design a program that will teach students how to develop social skills related to character learning targets over an extended period of time
  • Build a positive safe culture that values the social skills that will be promoted and taught over the course of time
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement a program that will teach students how to develop social skills related to character learning targets over an extended period of time
  • Use student reflections and observations to see if program is working and to refine activities
  • Use student reflections to help students become more aware of whether or not social skills are improving their learning experiences
  • Be mindful of how discipline interventions may or may not be contributing to a discipline gap due to gender or race
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Use student data to identify what social skills scaffolding strategies are the most effective and incorporate these into classroom systems and routines



109: 5 Non-Cognitive Factors Related to Academic Performance



  1. Academic Behaviors:
    • “good student” behaviors
    • examples: high attendance, coming prepared to class, staying on task, completing homework, etc.
    • important for achievement
    • all other non-cognitive factors work through academic behaviors to get results
  2. Academic Perseverance:
    • completing academic tasks on task to best of one’s ability despite challenges
    • related attitudes: grit, persistence, delayed gratification, self discipline, self control
  3. Academic Mindsets:
    • beliefs that relate to academic work
    • 4 key examples:
      1. I belong in this academic community
        • relates to idea that learning is a social activity
        • feeling of belonging to a learning community improves student performance
      2. My ability and competence grow with effort
        • growth mindset
      3. I can succeed at this
        • people tend to embrace things they think they can do and avoid things they believe they can’t
      4. This work has value for me
        • attainment value: doing well on a task
        • intrinsic value: gaining enjoyment on task
        • utility value: task serves an important purpose
  4. Learning Strategies:
    • strategies that enhance thinking
    • examples:  strategies for …
      • better recall
      • monitoring comprehension
      • self correcting
      • goal setting
      • time management
  5. Social skills:
    • examples: cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy
    • behaviors that improve social interactions
Their model of how these 5 factor relate to academic behavior is shown below:




  • Interesting features of the model:
    • academic mindsets can give rise to social skills, academic behaviors, academic perseverance, and learning strategies
    • academic mindsets, social skills, academic perseverance, and learning strategies use academic behaviors as a vehicle for achieving academic performance
    • using learning strategies can lead to more academic perseverance and more academic behaviors that lead to academic performance
    • academic performance can influence academic mindsets


Knowing the research-backed factors that improve academic performance can help teachers plan classroom management systems that build the skills, mindsets, and attitudes that support academic success.  Having a model for how these factors interact can help one understand how focusing on one factor can influence the other factors.


Preparation Steps
  • Conduct more research on factors related to academic success.  See Agency articles and hyperlinked articles above for ideas.
  • Create character learning targets based on key features of 5 non cognitive factors listed above
  • Research strategies and activities that can be implemented to reach character learning targets related to 5 non cognitive factors
Early Implementation Steps
  • Throughout the year, facilitate activities and strategies that help students reach character learning targets
  • Use formative assessments and related reflections related to Agency rubric to see if activities and strategies are improving students’ agency
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Use student reflections and assessment results to identify most effective strategies.  Incorporate these into classroom routines.
  • Use model (see graphic above) to help students see and reflect upon the connections between skills, attitudes, behaviors and performance

104: Cooperative Learning





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Research on Cooperative Learning:
  • Homogeneous ability grouping can lead to widening of ability gaps in students
  • 5 Elements of Cooperative Learning:
    1. Positive interdependence
      • all members’ efforts needed to succeed
    2. Face-to-face promotive interaction
      • encouraging feedback
    3. Individual and group accountability
    4. Interpersonal and small group skills
      • communication, trust, leadership, decision making and conflict resolution skills
      • For ideas on how to scaffold these skills, see Collaboration articles
    5. Group processing
      • reflection on how group collaborates in order to improve collaboration
  • Cooperative learning has outperformed competitive learning and individual learning in several research studies
  • 3 Generalizations from research:
    1. Organizing groups based on ability should be done sparingly
      • homogeneous ability grouping does not help low performing students
    2. Cooperative learning groups should be kept small in size
      • suggest 3 to 4 members per team
    3. Cooperative learning should be applied consistently and systematically, but not overused.
      • signs of overuse
        • task is not designed to required team work
        • not enough time built in for independent practice
      • cooperative learning improves when applied at least once per week
Classroom Practices:
  • Use a variety of grouping methods
    • random – by color they’re wearing, picking out of hat, by birthday
    • by common interests – can build on common experiences
  • Use informal, formal and base groups
    • informal:
      • examples: pair-share, turn to your neighbor that last few minutes per class periods
      • uses: clarify expectations, co-process information, co-reflect/closure on activities
    • formal:
      • examples: project teams
      • tips:  design tasks that include 5 elements of cooperative learning
    • base groups
      • support groups that are long term (could be semester long)
      • sample use:  meet 5 minutes each day to discuss upcoming deadlines and homework
  • Managing group size
    • task should match size of team
    • larger teams require more collaborative social skills
  • Combining Cooperative Learning with other classroom structures:
    • allow time for individual processing and independent practice


Cooperative learning is a regular feature of project-based learning (PBL).  The five elements of cooperative learning can be used to design and refine tasks that help students learn and work better in teams.  Using different types of groups (informal, base, and formal) can help students get peer support from multiple class mates.  Being mindful of possible overuses of cooperative learning can help PBL facilitator create opportunities for individual learning to balance out cooperative learning experiences.


Preparation Steps
  • Design lessons that leverage informal grouping to extend academic talk
  • Research strategies that relate to 5 elements of cooperative learning and incorporate these into design for content and collaboration scaffolding
  • Design group activities that incorporate 5 elements of cooperative learning. See above
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement group activities that incorporate 5 elements of cooperative learning.
  • Use informal grouping to  extend academic talk during scaffolding activities
  • Have teams reflect on which of the 5 elements of cooperative learning are at play in activities, how they are working and how to improve them
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Create notebook resources that provide strategies that connect to 5 cooperative learning strategies
  • Have students use collaborative strategies resource to help design and implement group contracts and to help facilitate team meetings
  • Explicitly teach students social skills needed to collaborate effectively.  See Collaboration articles for ideas.
  • Use base value groups to provide steady support for students – can use to provide encouraging feedback, reminders of deadlines, practice individual goal setting skills, etc



102: Assumption Ladder





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Assumption Ladder – from bottom rung to the top
  • Available data and experiences
    • Ask questions or report the facts and findings
  • I select data to observe
    • Ask questions or share
      • focus of observations
      • highlights of observations
  • I make assumptions based on what I’ve selected.
    • Ask questions or share
      • Assumptions
      • Possible causes
      • Possible next steps
  • I draw conclusions
    • Ask questions or share
      • Summaries
      • Conclusions
      • Learnings
  • I make actions based on my conclusions
    • Ask questions or share
      • Plan of action
      • Next steps
Uses of ladder:
  • Metaphor for communicating full problem solving train of thought
  • Easier to have a dialogue about the things at the bottom of the ladder
  • Disagreements at the top of the ladder (without knowledge of bottom rungs) are hard to resolve
  • Ladder slows down thinking process and makes it more visible to the individual and team
  • Once a decision is made it becomes a self fulfilling force – hard to change direction
How to use the ladder:
  • Create an Assumption ladder visual and refer to it during discussions
  • Facilitator asks questions and uses cues that indicate to the group what rung of the ladder they are on
  • Use the ladder to settle disagreements – try to diagnose at what rung of the ladder did the disagreement start
  • Do’s:
    • Get people to hold up ladder as you go
    • Open up for multiple viewpoints
    • Invite others to challenge you
    • Practice walking up and down the ladder
    • Listen and inquire versus just advocating
  • Do nots:
    • Use the ladder as a weapon
    • Try to knock others off their ladder
    • Get defensive
    • Expect this to be easy
    • Advocate without inquiry


Students and teachers are constantly making judgements about content and about character.  These lead to next steps related to improving academic  and character skills.  The assumption ladder is a tool that can be used to convey the full train of thought supporting next steps relating to upcoming goals.  This visual can be especially helpful when there are disagreements about next steps and new directions.


Preparation Steps
  • Look at project calendar and list of project actions and identify areas where teams will need to problem solve together to arrive at a consensus about their team or their products
  • Create Assumption Ladder visuals for classrooms and for student folders or notebooks
Early Implementation Steps
  • Model being different roles around a conversation that uses Assumption ladder
  • Scaffold lessons about Assumption ladder – in lesson offer modeling, role playing, discussion and reflection opportunities
  • Brainstorm uses for Assumption ladder with students
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Teach students how to facilitate team discussions using the Assumption ladder
  • Have students identify when its effective to use Assumption Ladder conversations and independently start these as needed