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Collaboration Improves Quality of Learning

Collaboration Improves Quality of Learning.

Collaboration is a much more effective approach to improve and enhance learning. Collaboration structures student interaction for maximum participation.


The traditional approach to involve students is to ask them a question. Students then compete for the teacher’s attention by raising their hands. Using this approach, the only winner becomes the student the teacher calls upon. In a primary class, one can see the hands dropping and hear the sounds of disappointment from those who were not called upon.

Instead of this approach of students’ competing for the teacher’s attention by the teacher’s asking a question, a more effective approach is to pose the question. Posing—in contrast to asking—infers open-endedness, invites students to engage in thought, and engenders dialogue.


Stephen Covey, in his provocative book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, refers to the concept of collaboration as synergy.  

Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It means that the relationship that the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part. (pp.262-263)

Collaboration is an integral component of synergy. Collaboration enhances success, perpetuates a positive learning atmosphere, and raises quality.

Here is how to do it. Have students work with a learning buddy. When students work in pairs, every student participates. Even a shy student will interchange with one other student. Therefore, working in pairs ensures that every student is involved.

At the beginning of a lesson pose a question. Students will first grapple with the idea or concept. This approach creates curiosity, a great motivator. When curiosity is fostered before presenting information, student interest and motivation are increased. So often we just give students information and then have them practice or review. But the critical component of first prompting interest is too often neglected.

In addition, by structuring learning activities to be primarily collaborative, learning becomes noncompetitive–an essential principle for increased quality.

Teachers who employ collaborative methods increase the quality of learning because students become more involved—which results in greater retention of subject matter and improved attitudes toward learning. Interpersonal relations and understandings are also enhanced. Students learn that others’ ideas and feedback can contribute to one’s success and that having a different perspective and even a different background is of benefit. Due to the interchange of ideas, collaboration also improves both listening and expression skills—oral as well as written.

The brain is innately social and collaborative. Learning is enhanced when the environment provides opportunities to discuss thinking out loud and to bounce ideas off others. The act of shared thinking, of having to put one’s own views clearly to others, of finding defensible compromises and conclusions, is evaluative and, therefore, educative.

At least once before class dismissal, students should participate in a think (one minute of silent thinking), pair, timed share activity—where students relate to their learning buddy what they learned from the lesson. (Each student shares for one minute.)

Using this technique can dramatically improve learning. Saying something to yourself is not nearly so effective as sharing it out loud with another person. You can prove the necessity of oral participation to yourself by first reading something and silently reflecting on what you have read. Then reflect out loud. You will quickly see how reflecting out loud is more effective in ascertaining what you remembered and what needs to be reviewed for additional reinforcement. In my book, I refer to this activity as “laser learning” because it is short, specific, and highly effective.

Here is another example of how collaboration along with the understanding that the brain remembers in pictures—rather than in words—improves quality of learning. A high school student accustomed to above-average test scores was disappointed in her last two test results. The student had grasped the prime concepts but did not do well on reporting details.

The teacher told students that details needed to be remembered in order to place concepts in long-term memory.

The student’s parent suggested that, as the daughter reads, she should make mental pictures of what she is reading. The daughter, being in high school, thought that this was too juvenile. The parent explained that when the brain attempts to remember words, semantic pathways to memory are being used. Semantic pathways require much repetition in order to be retained. On the other hand, the parent explained, when the brain attempts to remember visualizations, it uses episodic pathways which require little, if any, repetition. Episodic pathways are contextual or spatial and always involve location.

To make the point, the parent asked the daughter what she ate for dinner the previous Saturday and requested that, as she answers, to relate her thinking process out loud. The daughter responded by saying, “Where was I last Saturday?” “Exactly the point!” responded the parent. “You looked for a location because we are always somewhere, and we remember through images. This is the reason it is easier to remember images and pictures in contrast to remembering information from textbooks and lectures which usually involve only words.”

After the explanation, the daughter suggested to two of her friends that they also make mental pictures of their next reading assignment and share them. All three met and discussed the images they had created. During the discussion, each became aware of a few additional details that the others had included. Test scores dramatically increased.

Certainly, the strategy of creating mental pictures enhanced memory, but the collaborative sharing made the activity not only enjoyable but also enhanced learning.


By applying approaches of collaborative evaluation through feedback, teachers’ workloads can be reduced—while simultaneously increasing the quality of student work. For example, assume the assignment has to do with writing an essay. After an assignment is given, but before it is started, students pair with each other and then share their understanding of the assignment. Then the procedure of “three before me” is explained. Before the teacher corrects any paper, it will have to be seen by one other student three times. (A variation is to have the work seen by three different people, which may include someone other than a classmate. A parent qualifies.)

After the original oral sharing of ideas, each student writes a first draft that is exchanged with another student. Each student gives feedback to the other. A second draft is then written, again with each giving the other feedback. The final copy is then completed and submitted to the teacher.

As a general principle for quality work, a first draft should never be considered a final draft. The story is told about Henry Kissinger who submitted a report when he first started working for the government. His supervisor inquired if the report was his best work. Kissinger worked on the report for an additional two days fine-tuning it and giving the report greater clarity before resubmitting it. Again, a similar inquiry was forthcoming, “Is this the best you can do?” The report was worked on for an additional day. After further revisions, Kissinger submitted his work with some anger and confidence asserting that the report was the best he could do. His supervisor said, “Good! Then I will read it.”


Although competition can serve as in incentive to improve performance, it can have a negative effect on learning. This is especially the case where success, not defeat, is so necessary when first learning a skill. Competition also can have a deleterious effect because some students find themselves rarely winning, thereby decreasing their motivation. In addition, the focus becomes one of winning or getting the prize, often at the expense of the joy of learning and quality work.

Learning is greatest when people work with each other—not against each other. Collaboration and focus on continual improvement result in improved quality work because people use continual self-assessment and feedback. Collaboration results in joy of learning.

Finally, teachers’ workloads are reduced because the focus is on learning, in contrast to a focus only on teaching.


Dr. Marvin Marshall
P.O. Box 2227
Los Alamitos, CA 90720
Phone: 714.220.1882
Piper Press
P.O. Box 2227
Los Alamitos, CA 90720
Phone: 559.805.1389