Techniques for Sharing Ideas

In traditional classrooms, kids sit in classes of 20, 30, 40 or more students, yet they largely work as individuals, taking tests in silence, competing for grades and constantly hearing things like "keep your eyes on your own paper," "stop talking" and "do your own work." Luckily, you have more flexibility in an out-of-school program to instill an atmosphere of community effort and sharing.

The Importance of Sharing Ideas

In today's networked world, teamwork is more than just a laudable goal—it's a required skill. If you're going to create a truly collaborative environment, you have to model, inculcate and reinforce the sharing of ideas for the following reasons:

    • So many of the influences kids get in a day urge them to work and think alone, yet no musician, artist or writer ever achieved greatness without studying the works of earlier masters and discussing thoughts with their contemporaries.

    • Many corporations are moving to team approaches because they get better problem-solving results. Teams allow people to build on each other's thoughts and prior knowledge to develop better solutions. One team member may voice a thought in passing which someone across the table may then turn into a new and elegant solution.

    • Sharing teaches and reinforces good social skills.

    • Sharing brings broad-based positive reinforcement that can help kids who have confidence and self-esteem issues. Shy kids can hide in a large classroom and never overcome their fears; and when the teacher is the only one offering compliments, they train themselves to seek approval from only one or two people they feel comfortable with.

    • Many times, kids learn better from their peers. With so many new and changing technologies, even you can't be the only expert in every detail. Let them become teachers as well.

Ideas for Sharing Ideas

    • The overall environment of your center and the climate of individual classes should reflect a spirit of collaboration and sharing, with kids' work hanging on the walls, seating around tables to encourage interaction and other cues reflecting your core values.

    • Always show kids lots of books, magazines or anything else related to a project you're about to undertake to serve as models and idea generators. Get them used to looking at the world for inspiration.

    • Encourage kids to communicate with each while they are working on projects. Model a spirit of inquiry that encourages asking questions.

    • Watch your kids to see who's shy about sharing and encourage them. Pull them out as assistants and ask them questions.

    • Structure all projects so kids work in pairs or small teams. Except for more complicated projects like creating a video, four people is usually the largest effective size for a team. With larger teams, at least one kid will tend to tune out.

    • Follow a pair-share model whenever you can, especially when introducing new projects and activities and at significant new stages of ongoing projects.

    • Use group mapping activities for brainstorming in the early stages of a new project. Be sure to encourage all kids to participate, not just those who are most verbal.

    • Use journals at every opportunity. If you value journals, kids will become proud of them and look forward to showing off their work. Group journals get kids used to working collectively on even small projects as a matter of habit. Use the pair-share technique with every journal activity.

    • Encourage peer experts in your classes. For example, if kids are working on a photo-editing project and you see that one or two have discovered Photoshop filters or some other advanced feature, ask the class, "How many of you have tried the filters?" When those kids raise their hands, point them out to the group by saying something like, "These are your filter experts."

    • Use community-building exercises frequently to help kids become more comfortable with each other.

    • Unless you're under strict time pressures or have very short sessions, try to leave five to 10 minutes at the end of every day for reflection and discussion. These kinds of everyday activities are important.

    • Always have a group share or other method of sharing projects once they've been completed. For inquiry-based projects, for example, be sure to include a reporting phase in which kids describe what they've learned.