Visiting fifth grader, Alex, joins in a literature circle with Erica Sharp, Ashley Fleming, Kelsey Shirey, Melissa Union, and Callie White.

In “ED 341: Methods for Teaching Elementary English/Language Arts and Social Studies,” one afternoon session every week in the 5-credit integrated course consists of a two-hour block devoted to collaboration time. Students participate in learning activities, plan projects, and complete assignments in small groups that change with each topic. The professor circulates around the classroom or meets with small groups while the rest of the student groups’ work independently.   Strategies also include using Blackboard Discussion, Blackboard Blog, and Google Docs to electronically interact with peers and complete assignments outside of class time.

Alicia Alexander, Kristin Haynie, Stephanie Miele, Shannon Stevens, Victoria Abrecht, and Laura Gordon

“Students are encouraged to bring devices such as laptops, tablets, and smart phones to class,” Professor David Nicholson explains. “Even a simple technique such as providing each student group with a portable white board has transformed the course. Rather than directing responses to the teacher, students converse with each other and share ideas. Assignments evolve and are less pre-determined as student feedback shapes the outcomes.”

 Erica Sharp and Melissa Union

Junior teacher candidate Stephanie Miele explains, “When collaborating with our peers, we are not only sharing ideas but expanding our thinking as well.” Brittany Somers agrees, “Discussing in small groups, we come up with higher-level thinking.”

Dan Murphy, Susan Michels, Stephanie Miele, Shannon Stevens, Jazmine Sneed, Laura Welch, and Megan Donovan

“One of my favorite strategies is Google Docs,” Michelle Grossman remarks, “Members of the group are able to seamlessly work together inside and outside of the classroom.” Kelsey Shirey finds collaborating in small groups “very motivating.” Gina Weber enjoys the freedom and independence collaboration offers. “We have found that we are completely capable of learning without being given step-by-step directions,” she says.

Victoria Abrecht, Laura Gordon, Megan Workman, Ruth Casadevall, Alicia Alexander, Stacy Kozub, Kim von Briesen, Brittany Somers, and Kristin Haynie

Dan Murphy believes the approach “has taught me how to use student-centered methods for instruction.” Collaborating in small groups “has shown me how to create a student-centered learning environment when teaching in the classroom,” Jazmine Sneed observes. Megan Donovan concludes, “As teacher candidates it is important for us to learn how to collaborate and work with others, because in our profession it is something that we will need to do every day.”