Establishing Norms to Promote Collaboration in PBL

Previously, the Stride Professional Development Center shared the first steps to establishing classroom norms for collaborative projects. These steps included naming individual needs, sharing with the group, asking for clarity, and creating consensus with a group contract.

This blog continues that theme by exploring how the contract serves as a planning guide with a focus on tracking progress and providing student structure.

Track Progress. The group contract is an essential document in Project Based Learning (PBL) as students established their norms and steps of accountable to each other. Group contracts should be collaborative, working documents that are accessible to all members and can also detail roles, responsibilities, and progress monitoring. Through the contract, students take ownership of project components, check-in with other members’ progress, and compare notes. Teachers can use this document to monitor workload distribution and project completion status. When implemented with fidelity, the contract aides project management by fostering authentic collaboration.

Provide the Structure. The contract, albeit a great tool, will not ensure that student discourse is productive. Sometimes students need scaffolding or direct instruction around meaningful academic conversations that focus on progress. To support students with these conversations, consider providing collaborative structures or protocols that allow students to make the most of group work.

One, simple group structure that easy to use is called “Time, Task, and Takeaway.” In an easily visible location, post the time students are to collaboratively, the task(s) they can reasonably accomplish, and the project outcome to be turned in or shared in the allotted time. Initially, keep the time and tasks short but increase as students achieve success and gain comfort with collaboration. For the takeaway, do not skip this critical accountability measure. By giving students a required submission, the teacher decreases the likelihood that group conversations become less academically focused and that groups fail to meet their project timeline.

Even with the group work structure of “Time, Task, and Takeaway,” students may still need mini-lessons, sentence stems, or protocols to have constructive conversations. Teachers help their students by modeling productive group work, providing sentence stems or starters that match the desired student discourse, and finding other protocols that best fit students needs.

The structures outlined here will lead to collaborative success in any classroom. Remember, it starts with trust, and once that trust is built, beautiful things will happen!

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