How can small-group projects involve parents and the community?
Acting on the well-founded assumption that when parents participate, kids learn more, you can involve parents in a cooperative lesson by introducing the topic at a parent-teacher gathering and by modeling small-group learning with parents.
Invite parents to an evening meeting in your classroom to discuss a particular theme or unit to be taught in your subject area.
Brainstorm with them for their ideas on what you might include in teaching that topic. The strategy here is to include parents' ideas in order to make your content more relevant to their kids.
Ask them for contributions and suggested activities for presenting the unit. They may know of speakers or other useful resources. Ask them, for instance: "How would you like to play a more constructive role in helping your child's group?" Have them share in small groups and then list their suggestions on a chart for the whole group to share.
Discuss expectations you have for the students by the end of this unit and ask the parents to help their kids at home in reaching them.
Finally, plan some avenues and mark calendar spots for continued communication between the class and parents during the unit.
Parents can also help cooperative groups make progress in their work through shared journals. Every day each student could write an entry about the group's work to be responded to by a member's parent. Shared journals can also be exchanged among the group's parents for regular communication during a project. In these journals, the students should be encouraged to ask questions, reflect on their process, report findings, and make predictions. Parents can see what their children are learning and help guide them if they encounter difficulties.
Students often think they know something until they attempt to explain it. Learning gaps can become evident when a speaker hears limitations in his own knowledge as he tries to describe it. Parents can offer a forum for their children to discover what they know and expand upon it.
Students can also work together to publish their own Web site that will be available for viewing by anyone, anywhere, with a Web browser. A Web site is an ideal project for cooperative learning, because a Web page can involve the use of many media -- graphics, text, video and audio files, and animation -- and building one requires many skills (Web-page design, writing, editing, programming, shooting videos, etc.). Such a project invites contributions from each group member. And the product will help communicate with the community.