Collaborative Writing
Is this group work or collaboration? »
At a glance, it is sometimes difficult to see the difference between group work and collaboration. Are some writing assignments not conducive to collaboration? Are some writing assignments better achieved with some measure of independence? Does group work or collaboration guarantee improved writing?

  • There is no single right way of using collaboration with writing.
  • But there are several potential pitfalls:
  •    lack of preparation–of students, of task, of situation
  •    lack of structure–avoiding the “find a group and discuss” mentality
  •    lack of purpose–ensuring that the task truly benefits from collaboration

Further Reading:

Addresses the theory behind collaboration, its benefits, its challenges, as well as the need for effective assignments, training, and assessments
A practical guide to using technology for writing more effectively

Supplemental Materials:

A Discussion on Digital Writing

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Contribute Files to This Page:

Collaborative writing in my classroom: »
Rena Lesue-Smithey shares what collaborative writing looks like in her classroom.
Collaborative writing in my classroom: »
Sarah Johnson shares the challenges teachers often face when incorporating collaborative writing projects in the classroom.
Collaborative writing in my classroom: »
Whitney Weaver discusses the different ways in which students can collaborate throughout the writing process. She also recognizes the need for teachers to teach students HOW to collaborate before expecting them to work together for a common goal.
Collaborative writing in my classroom: »
Jollene differentiates between collaboration and group work in her classroom.

My experiences writing in a group weren’t always positive. In fact, like many people, I didn’t like collaboration in school. I didn’t like giving up some control for the quality of the final project. I didn’t like giving up my ideas for shaping or filling a text. I didn’t always get along with the people I was assigned to collaborate with. When I had the choice, as an adult, I tended to choose to write alone. But I’ve begun a collaborative writing project with a colleague that is bearing fruit and teaching me some enjoyable aspects about collaborative writing. And I have learned that there is more to collaborative writing than producing a single text together.

  • What were your experiences as a student with collaborative writing? What have been your experiences as a teacher using collaboration with your students?
  • In what ways do you use collaboration in your work now? In your writing?
  • In your mind, what is the difference between collaboration and group work?

“Simply putting students into groups does not make an activity collaborative.” Most of us have experiences that are best described as “group work” rather than truly collaborative work.

  • Although there are times when group work is sufficient for the task we give students, how can the principles in the chapter–preparation, structure, and purposefulness–help you re-see some of the uses of collaboration for writing in your classes?

Many students have had negative experiences in writing collaboratively–either as writers or as peer reviewers. Groups may have been ineffectively trained or inadequately structured.

  • How can a teacher who is trying to use collaboration to develop writers overcome students’ past negative experiences with this kind of work and help them see that improved practices  you’ll provide should be different, and should help them?

A challenge for collaboration on writing is time: a teacher’s time in planning for the task and grouping, as well as class time for preparing students to work effectively with others.

  • What benefits of collaborative writing do you see that might encourage you to make the time for these preparatory activities?
  • Not all tasks are benefitted by collaboration. Identify writing assignments that you currently teach that would benefit from collaboration.
  • What kinds of preparation would you need to make for those experiences to provide the biggest benefit to students? Make a list of ways you can prepare now to make these experiences particularly beneficial.