More than Introductions: Seeding Collaborative Success throughout a Semester

Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla, Assistant Professor

Latin American and Caribbean Studies Unit Faculty & Coordinator,
Modern Languages Department Faculty – Humanities Department

 

This semester, I decided to load my first-day introductions game with a little more intention. As students and I sat in a circle, I asked them that, along with sharing their names and majors and personal descriptive adjectives, they shared a little of their larger picture—why you are here, at Hostos, what are your professional and academic goals? As students answered questions, their classmates stared with interest at those who were strangers just minutes before, nodded in encouraging agreement, or slightly gasped in admiration of the speaker’s goals! At that particular moment, fresh back from the summer and on the first day of class, each student was the owner of her future, even those for whom that future meant mostly exploring. At that moment, they knew that other students and I cared about it. We had almost magically, instantly become a team of sorts.

I had planned going a little further to magnify the potential benefits of this activity beyond the initial moment of empowerment and interest. My tone turned a little more serious when I asked, “these are great plans and goals—who do you think is responsible for making them a reality?” I sounded like a coach and I didn’t mind. Most students indicated that each one of them was responsible for their own commitment. I agreed, but I added an appeal”: we are all responsible for making sure that each one of you stays on track this semester, especially in this class. Are we ready to do this?” Students were a little surprised at the thought of this new responsibility, but they agreed to the commitment.  I was then careful to point out students in the class who were juniors and seniors in certain majors, and inquired to gage who might be the “transfer experts” in the class.  The ‘where are you headed?’ question had thus not only communicated that I trust that students were ready to take their destiny into their own hands. It had also turned our discussion on responsibility into a group pledge by explicitly making the ‘team’ accountable for each other’s performance and ensuring that we can rely on one another for success.

The idea for “collaborative success” (which goes beyond “collaborative learning”) is a developing one. Applying it in the classroom involves work that many of us are already doing. Some of my strategies for following up and sustaining such commitment include:

  • Alluding to and discussing individual student goals throughout the semester.
  • Emphasizing trust and the notion that we are a community of peers through collaborative learning activities.
  • Discussing equity, social justice, and ethics-related issues at several points in the semester as they connect to topics included in the course or events.
  • Engaging, immersive experiences that generate a sense of community (public engagement).
  • Creating opportunities in which students experience the benefits of working together vs. working in isolation since we live in a highly connected world. These benefits include obtaining feedback from multiple perspectives, having readers or a public to share your work with, problem-solving together, and contributing resources, among many other.

Undertaking collaborative academic projects and working toward collective success will not create a consistently rosy path. I trust, however, that our intentional intervention as educators may color such path more positively in more than one occasion, more than one semester.

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