Lured by a colleague to attend a professional development course online, I spent five weeks of my summer break studying about assessment and teaching of 21st century skills. The idea of the 21st century skills is to develop collaborative problem solving expertise, which individuals increasingly need to develop for new ways of working, living, learning, and thinking. For this post, I would like to share with you my example of collaborative work which I submitted to the course. I hope this sample will give you a different perspective in terms of developmental approaches and new assessment methodologies.
In our Montessori After-School Program last school year, which consisted of preschool and elementary together, there had been a challenge for us to maintain a delicate balance between freedom and structure in our classroom. Since our children often times work independently or in small groups, our common concerns during work time were: 1) taking turns/sharing; 2) respect; and 3) cooperation. To resolve our concerns, we had employed collaborative skills among our students to reach our grace and courtesy guidelines in our classroom.
Following are the Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) features that we utilized:
It requires collaboration rather than a solo effort because different people bring different resources to the task, all of which are required to solve the problem(s)
Instead of our teachers dictating to the children what should be the expected norms during work time, our children were given opportunities to speak and create the guidelines themselves. The teachers only served as facilitators, helping the children to realize (intrinsic motivation) what guidelines would be fair for everyone. For instance, we discussed and deliberated on how many students can work together? What do we do when our friend would like to work alone and we want to work with him/her? How do we properly interrupt when someone is working or busy? How do we resolve disagreements in a group?
The solution to the problem needs to be negotiated and agreed between collaborators. The process involves: collecting and sharing information; organizing/categorizing information; setting up procedures and strategies to solve the problem.
Every child in the class was given the chance to voice his/her opinion. For instance, one child recommended that when a child would like to work with a friend he/she should ask permission. If a friend says no because he/she would like to work alone, the requesting child should respect his friend’s decision without anger and choose another work activity. Everyone weighs the significance of each suggestion, notwithstanding the importance of kindness and respect. From majority’s consensus, we established our guidelines.
These skills can be defined, assessed and developed
Proper communication and social grace turned out to be big players in the solving of our problems. We explored them in great detail through demonstrations/modelling and then practiced them through by way of role playing. We worked and validated the guidelines throughout the school year, making some modifications every now and then depending on situations and necessity.
During the collaborations, immediately we observed different levels of CPS skills from our children/collaborators. The elementary students (aged 7-9) were more perceptive and rational with their suggestions compared to our preschoolers. We can reason that the difference in CPS skills from our children are brought about by their age difference and maturity.
Since in our Montessori school children are immediately introduced to true discipline that comes from within, our older children have more exposure and experience to the development of internal focus of control, which enables them to choose what a good behavior is for them and the whole community. For instance, when we discussed our ideas on what is proper respect, the elementary students immediately had ready suggestions. From experience, they are aware of our practice in the classroom that every time we want to get the attention of a teacher or a classmate, we have to tap the person’s shoulder. If the person is busy, they have to move on and look for someone else to assist them. They know that they should not interrupt a person who is working because it is distractive and not respectful.
Our preschoolers, on the other hand, although they have already been exposed to this practice, have not fully embraced the concept yet. They are young, and still learning. Many of them are still self-centered and self-serving. Not surprisingly, during implementation of our grace and courtesy guidelines, we still encountered variances on the agreed norms, mostly from our young ones who still needed to learn about patience and cooperation. Many times we experienced buckets of tears from our preschoolers because they did not get what they wanted.
When this happened, I noticed that our elementary students would always find a way to bridge the gap with their younger counterparts. And, this is when we sometimes modified our guidelines to accommodate the emergent needs. For instance, if a child would like to work with another person, and the latter would like to work alone, the requesting child could stay and watch the other person work, provided he/she would only watch with his/her eyes, and would not make noises that could interrupt and affect the concentration of the working person.
I believe this collaborative work helped our children to develop self-discipline. Allowing them the opportunity to handle personal situations on their own and among themselves, e.g. conflict resolution, gave them opportunity to experience a great sense of accomplishment.