Stretch the possibilities for collaboration in your classroom.

What does collaboration look like in your classroom? Collaboration is one of the 4Cs for 21st-century learning, and an essential component of any learning environment. As Carol Dweck reminds us in her recent article, growth mindset is not about praising effort, but about continually guiding students (and ourselves) along a learning journey. So how can we foster a mindset for collaboration in students ... and in ourselves? And how can digital tools play a role? Here are three ways you can "stretch" the possibilities for collaboration in your classroom.

1. Use tools that promote student collaboration.

When you think of student collaboration, what comes to mind? You might imagine students working and talking in groups. But do you envision them chatting, providing feedback, and learning in online spaces? Try Collaborize Classroom to encourage student voice in discussions, and get those quieter ones participating. Use Voicethread for collaborative assignments and commentary on artifacts like articles, images, video clips, and audio files. You could have students collaborate toward a common goal, like creating a school newspaper -- see this great secondary lesson by Chad Shaner for ideas. And check out our Top Picks list on Best Student Collaboration Tools for more ideas.

2. Provide opportunities for students to connect beyond classroom walls.

How often do you connect students to other classrooms or experts outside of your school? Google Connected Classrooms allows your class to join live virtual field trips and talk with experts. You could use Skype or Google Hangouts to invite an expert to speak to your class (I've never heard of an instance where an expert was contacted by a teacher and declined!). You could connect students with other classrooms around the globe in a safe environment with ePals, which includes ways to share content and collaborate on projects.

3. Use mindset prompts to encourage students to collaborate.

When your students have a question they're exploring or a project they're working on, encourage them not only to explore the content and their questions with each other, but also to reach out to others in the school, district, or community. When students come to you with questions, try the prompt, "Great question! Have you tapped into the expertise of your group?" or "Who could you reach out to in order to help you explore that question?" The idea here is to encourage students to draw on others' expertise and collective knowledge -- not as a cop-out or to diminish your role as an educator and content expert -- but as a way to encourage collaboration with others to share ideas and information. This is an essential life skill.

Which of these three ways are you willing to try in your classroom?
Remember, when you start hearing that little voice say "I can't because ... " it's a signpost you should pay attention to and challenge with "I can, and I'm willing to try!"

Kelly Mendoza

Kelly Mendoza oversees education content and programs for Common Sense Education, including the Digital Citizenship Curriculum, Learning ratings and reviews, articles and newsletter. Her goal is to provide schools programs that support students to thrive as learners, leaders, and citizens in the digital age. She also has developed education resources and curricula for Lucas Learning, the Media Education Lab, and PBS' Frontline films Growing Up Online and Digital Nation. Kelly has a Ph.D. in media and communication from Temple University. Her daughter loves Harry Potter … and rock climbing.