Using Online Reciprocal Roles to Support Collaborative Learning

A post from Bernadette

Peer-to-peer collaboration supports the acquisition and development of online skills and strategies in a number of important ways. Working in collaborative groups allows students to:
• Share and exchange effective online skills and strategies;
• Apply and hone online skills developed through explicit instruction by the teacher with their peers;
• Challenge each other’s thinking as students contest, examine, affirm and expand ideas through active engagement with inquiry-based tasks in collaborative groups;
• Develop self-regulation as group members keep each other on task to plan, monitor and evaluate online activity;
• Acquire a level of self-efficacy in developing online skills and a ‘can-do’ attitude with the support of peers.

However, as you will no doubt have observed in your own classroom, peer-to-peer collaboration does not occur spontaneously! So in order to develop an effective collaborative culture in an online environment a number of structures need to be put in place to encourage students to share and exchange ideas, insights and strategies.
In a recent research study, conducted with 3rd to 6th grade students (Dwyer, 2010), online reciprocal roles (emulating the Palinscar and Brown (1984) model), were introduced, with prompt cards as temporary scaffolds, where students took interchangeable, leadership roles in triad groups as the Questioner, Navigator, and Summarizer.

The Questioner (a) guides the group to devise higher level questions to focus online inquiry; and (b) directs, generates, discusses and monitors the effectiveness of search terms for the focus inquiry.

Eileen (pseudonym) explained the role thus,

“Their job is to make the question that you want to find out…shorten the search terms so it won’t be too broad …use the plus sign it tells the computer that you want the two of them.”

The Navigator (a) pilots the group to move effectively and efficiently across multiple websites; and (b) encourages the group to carefully scrutinize the search results by examining the clues provided in the abstract blurb and URL and matching both to the focus of inquiry.
The Navigator as Colm explains,

“is  a finder or clicker . They scan the [results] page and decide what to click into [as the] first one [hyperlink] might be good but the last one might be better.”

The Summarizer (a) ensures that the group judges the relevance of the information retrieved to the focus inquiry question; (b) encourages the group to monitor and clarify difficult vocabulary; and (c) guides the group in encapsulating and summarizing the information generated by Internet inquiry.
Katie explains the summarizer role,

pull the most important things, put it in your own words and size it down [and] say what it’s about in one sentence… and see the words we don’t understand.”

Examples of the prompt cards for each of the roles are presented in the embedded document which follows.

How do I introduce these roles in the classroom?

  • Brainstorm with students what each role may entail. If students are already familiar with the print-based reciprocal roles of predicting, summarizing, clarifying and questioning or literature circle roles they could draw on this prior knowledge in constructing the possibilities these roles present in an online environment.
  • Roles should be introduced individually (before combining them) using the gradual release of responsibility model (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983). Sample prompt cards can be used as scaffolds to remind individuals of their roles within groups.
  • Roles should be exchanged within the group to ensure that students internalize the skills and strategies necessary for successful online inquiry. As with all scaffolds, the prompt cards are temporary aids and become redundant as students internalize the necessary skills and strategies and develop proficiency with each of the online roles.

If you have comments or questions about these roles do email me (bernadette.dwyer@spd.dcu.ie), or if you try them out with your students, do let us know how you get on.

References

Dwyer, B. (2010). Scaffolding Internet reading: A study of a disadvantaged school community in Ireland. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Nottingham: U.K.

Palinscar, A. S., & Brown, A. L. (1984). Reciprocal teaching of comprehension-fostering and comprehension-monitoring activities. Cognition and Instruction, 1(2), 117-175.

Pearson, P. D., & Gallagher, M. C. (1983). The instruction of reading comprehension. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8, 317-344.

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3 Responses

  1. Thanks! I use the eVoc article from Reading Teacher (Dalton & Grisham) with my preservice teachers in elem literacy methods. Thanks so much for those great ideas as well as this blog. I’ll check out this blog more often and bookmark it for sure. Peggy

    http://literacyupdate.wordpress.com/

  2. Having the reciprocal roles introduced in this way is so helpful. Thanks for sharing your expertise in facilitating this kind of online cooperative learning. Your ideas are like a gold-mine of implementation strategies.

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