“Me teaching! You Learning!” – When Teaching Meets Learning@NB2B conference in Swaffham

Thank you to Denise and Norfolk Better to Best for bringing in Laura Kearny, Mark Burns et al. to present research from John Hattie, great reflections on developing teachers and teaching practice through Visible Learning and Outstanding Teaching, and especially relevant to my own work, SOLO Taxonomy.

I plan to break up the conference into a series of posts and present them integrated with the ongoing production of articles on Stalham Academy’s journey to top 500, which would be highly relevant due to the incredible overlap between the ideas presented at the conference and Stalham’s use of Cooperative Learning. For example, based on a great number of meta-data, Laura gave evidence that Mr Howard’s very hands-on approach in the classroom is the way to go.


Here, Laura differentiated between the Transitional and Instructional leader, the first one a visionary looking at the far horizon, the latter taking a wrench to immediate problems (my paraphrase!). I could see a lot of attending heads got a surprise when it turned out how much more effective the Instructional leader is. 0.40 vs 0.19, in fact (We’ll look at what these numbers mean in detail later).  And that was one of the things I liked most about their approach, that like me, they work with the good practice already in place, rather than re-inventing the wheel.




Laura’s data is extracted from John Hattie’s famous book “Visible Learning – a Synthesis of 800 Meta-Analysis” (Amazon). Hattie is one of the Grand Old Men of student-centred learning, and his book basically analyzes and prioritises the impact of 100s of factors on learning, including ethnic diversity, homework, IBL, and use of various equipment.


Though much of the other data presented confirmed general assumptions, and specifically what we know about the components that make Cooperative Learning so effective, such as metacognition, some things really came as a surprise, and I got quite inspired to sit down with this book from a new angle.


An upcoming theme here at cooperativelearning.works will be precisely that data, and what it means to schools who are, or plan to get, engaged with Cooperative Learning – and the very real impact of what Mark termed “the Perception Gap” on school improvement and research itself.

Me teaching! You Learning! Metacognition is not just for pupils, Tarzan! Speakers brought that one home!

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Stalham Academy, What Went Right? Lesson#2: Dive in head first.

This is the second instalment of the Stalham Academy series, which investigates how a reeling Norfolk primary in special measures could reach UK top-500 in two years – for a £900 CPD investment.

In the previous post, we discussed the importance of knowing what you want. This second post examines the steps from the first CPD session to effective deployment of Cooperative Learning in the classrooms.

The Skills & Mastery course was delivered in three blocks of two hours after school, rather than one big, mind-numbing 6-hour inset. Not only does this mean there is no cost for cover, the bite-size format helps ensure no-one chokes.

It also distributes the cost over several months. At Stalham Academy, we did three CLIPs per session, 24 September 2014, 3 December 2014 and 11 February 2015, starting with the more versatile and working towards the more targeted, complex  CLIPs as teachers found their footing between sessions. My objective is always that whatever is trained is applicable the following day.

My objective is always that whatever is trained is applicable the following day. Because Andrew Howard had a vision for his school, and had taken the time to attentively go through the “instruction manual” with me, he was way ahead of the curve on this.

Mr Howard had, and has, a fundamental understanding that the Teaching & Learning is the core product of any school and that nice buildings, interactive whiteboards, intelligent assessment and budget systems, etc. are mere ancillaries to this.

Rather than sit in his office meeting out orders like some Lord Kitchener he did what real leaders do. They lead from the front. He actively used the CLIPs in his own teaching, working with Ms Gillespie and other SLT to quickly establish the best practice that would drive the vision he had already outlined to staff. He used what he learned from his own classes, and based on experiences he and his team demonstrated and observed lessons, coached, advised, and supported teachers, creating not only an engaged and excited shared learning environment, but a ditto teaching environment. And don’t teachers deserve that?

Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns are comprised of very simple steps, but precisely therein lies their complexity. Consider Think-Pair-Share, often attributed to Frank Lyman. Many, many teachers use it all the time – but most could massively improve the outcome of this activity by being aware of their timing of the stages, their modelling of specific outcomes, written evidence, and language, their use of sub-tasks, etc.

180 seconds of well-executed, targeted Think-Pair-Share – 30 seconds to think in absolute silence, jotting down 2-3 key terms, 60 seconds to discuss in pairs and 90 seconds minutes to share, directly with one partner only to secure accountability – will get you more than fifteen minutes of the sloppy, slippery and nebulous  version of the exact same activity.

This is why the more experienced members of senior leadership need to be in the classrooms. Not to micro-manage, judge and spy, but to give brief feedback that is practical and applicable.

Because Cooperative Learning is “instant coffee” outstanding teaching (just add pupils and stir) it does not take complex feedback to get really amazing results from teachers – even those who were on the verge of leaving the profession.

Essentially, observing SLT members simply draw attention to the checklist issued to everyone during the CPD – in 95% of the cases, the reason things are not optimal is because the simple basics were ignored, e.g.  the task is unsuitable for the CLIP, such as asking a closed question in a Think-Pair-Share: “What is the answer to the first task on your paper; 45 minus 56? Just turn to your (A partners) when you are done, and then to your (B partners)” 

Try this instead:

“You have one minute to work out as many of the tasks as you can on your worksheet, then you have 30 seconds to compare your method and results with your (A partners) and 30 seconds to share with your (B partners). Resolve any disagreements. If your team has resolved any and all differences when we finish, the whole team puts your hands up. I will time you. Go!”

Differentiation, because HAPs can keep working in Think stage – with written evidence. Then compare results, to promote language, higher level thinking, peer learning. Same result, good, next one. Not same, why?! Your partner didn’t do a single one? Help him work it out as best you can, or help each other (“Bob, the negative number is the larger of the two, you see? So the answer should be negative”) generating automatic, personalised and highly differentiated peer learning and feedback -across the whole class simultaneously.

The higher ability especially benefits from the metacognitive element, as s/he reflects on her own understanding to make it accessible to struggling peers, but in order to ask a relevant question, the lower ability pupils need to formulate what precisely they don’t understand. Feedback and Metacognition give 8 months of additional progress per pupil per year, according to the Sutton Trust-EEF Toolkit.

The “hands-up” add a sometimes beneficial competitive element. In the end, the teams that have their hands down are the ones you need to support. (But then you already knew that because you were monitoring, weren’t you?)

That took about 30 seconds to stage, and two minutes to execute. And all the observer needs to say is: “Always let Think-Pair-Share task volume be open-ended, and make sure they investigate why there is sometimes a difference between results. Otherwise good.” 

Quoting the Toolkit, “…it is important to get the details right.” And this is where SLT and the (acting) head stepped up at Stalham Academy in the weeks following the CPD.

Coming up: Ordered deployment or everything at once?  Stay updated on Twitter.

Interviews with Stalham Academy staff here. Reflections from senior leadership from Stalham and elsewhere here.


werdelin.co.uk is the business end of cooperativelearning.works.



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Stalham Academy, What Went Right? Lesson#1: Getting your Head straight.

Even in a Formula One racing car, it all comes down to the driver. If they weren’t so skilled, Stalham Academy’s senior leadership should be wearing fireproof suits and crash helmets.

This is the first in a series of articles discussing how Stalham Academy used Cooperative Learning to get from special measures to top 500 with nothing but the 6-hour Skills & Mastery course.

Cooperative Learning will always generate very, very good teaching if you follow a few basic rules in your classrooms. However, before we get to what these are, there is the issue of Senior Leadership.

(For schools in the  Norfolk Better to Best network especially – given the increased focus on leadership in relation to teaching and learning – this first article is a must).

Make sure to help us pick the right content for the upcoming webinar on Cooperative Learning, fill out this 60-second questionnaire. Link found at the bottom of this page.


What to do with something that can do everything?

As an external visitor to schools, I don’t walk in and tell teachers what to do. I believe they know their strengths, styles, learners, subjects and resources far better than I. Rather, I give a hands-on demonstration of how a set of content-free Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns (CLIPs) generate instant outstanding student-centred learning. I then hammer home that they are not required to – and indeed should not – use Cooperative Learning all the time in every lesson. I do everything to avoid delivering a straitjacket system. Cooperative Learning will only, in fact, do what you want it to when you want.

But precisely this “what you want” may be the head’s Achilles heel; what Senior Leadership chooses to do with Cooperative Learning after the training will in most cases determine what your school gets out of it. This holds true for Cooperative Learning as much as for any other CPD. We all know about bad habits and the gravity pull towards default. So what did Stalham Academy do right to avoid the black hole of bad habits?

Getting to grips with gravity

Andrew Howard, then acting head of Stalham Academy, decided to bring the school out of special measures virtually overnight, and so he did. But certain other schools have not achieved lesser goals in spite of running more CPD.

The advice that follows is based on certain assumptions that I hold:

First, I assume you want to work with me because you have some recognition of what Cooperative Learning can do. On the surface, it is true Cooperative Learning is “simply another strategy among many to get students talking.” But in fact, this is similar the now-famous 1943 statement by the then Director of IBM, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” That was not one of IBMs finer moments.

Second, I assume that Senior Leadership is to be held entirely responsible for the school – its ethos, results, staff retention, materials, the lot. If anything goes wrong, it is on them. Not poor teachers, not misbehaved children, not the lack of an IT-guy. At the very end, it’s all on the head.

Have you got a head on your shoulders?

If the school is the body, SLT is the nervous system. But what is the nervous system without, precisely, the head.

If yours is like most schools, the head navigates the complex role of soul doctor, mediator, and visionary, while constantly risking having its higher level thinking side-tracked by tasks it should really not be doing. When you drive, you do not consciously give commands to your foot to press the clutch or to your hand to shift gears. Bits of the nervous system do that for you. Rather, your head has the overview of the direction and potential traffic jams – It makes the life-and-death choices at the wheel.

Thus the first condition of Stalham’s success is the front line leadership of Andrew Howard.

From our first conversation, even without understanding in detail what Cooperative Learning was, he knew what he wanted it to do. Once we had outlined and delivered the first 2-hour slot of CPD, he followed it up with stick and carrot, guiding, nurturing, and challenging his teachers, observing them and coaching them, refining their use of the CLIPs, identifying lesson plan objectives, producing and organising targeted resources, etc.

Parent meeting Andrew Howard lesson presentation

Mr Howard in action, Stalham Academy, 2015.

Right for Success Trust hit the jackpot when they secured Glenn Russell to head the school. I know many an incumbent headteacher who would have walked in and made his mark by undoing all current programmes to make way for his own ideas. Not so with Glenn; for him, the children came first, and he correctly assessed, as he said in an interview “…the teaching is very, very good.” He simply brought his superior education and experience to bear, further refining and integrating data tracking and assessment, complementing and strengthening Andrew Howard’s in-class initiatives.

Problems & Solutions

In summary, this is Lesson One for schools wanting to copy Stalham’s success:

  1. Know what you want to achieve and tell me.
  2. Follow up the deployment of the CPD in the classroom.

As for number one, aside from the initial meeting, which is part and parcel of any budding relationship, I have begun to offer headteachers help to turn vision into flesh and bones. Not necessarily because they are not good heads, but because they are busy, swamped, and I should make their life easier. One of the brilliant things about Cooperative Learning is that once experienced, its application is so practical and its outcomes so delineated it’s almost like working with lego brick (or just “legos” as they say here in Norfolk). It very quickly gives SLT and governors a roadmap, with clear signposts to guide direction and measure the progress of roll-out.

As for number two, I assume that observing and coaching the men and women directly responsible for teaching is an embedded routine, and if not, it should be. Because the CLIPs are all about practical application, it is very easy for an observer to check they are being deployed in classrooms.  Remember that delivery is usually in short twilights so you can focus on one or at most two CLIPs per time. However, because of the incredible versatility of CLIPs, you need to break up the first couple into manageable chunks. Each one is a Swiss Army Knife in its own right. You need to distinguish all the tools, to pull them out at the right time and in the right order for the job. Are you looking for assessment? Do this. Formative or summative? Do that. Do you want written evidence? Do this. Etc.

So, in response to the needs of specific schools, I have spent time developing a “Deployment Plan” to further help SLT secure successful deployment of Cooperative Learning without having to do extra work. Rather than doing everything at once all over the place, this plan presents objectives with crystal clear success criteria which allows SLT to track each teacher and give him or her the support needed. By making sure teachers experience success, the element of empowerment is sufficient motivation for the teacher and the students to fuel success.

Small successful steps where everyone feels on board are preferable to arm-waving ambitions with big failures. But even the greatest journey starts with small steps.

So if you choose Cooperative Learning, trust you have made the right decision, work with people to feel safe getting onboard and press the speeder – gently, but firmly.

For next instalment follow on twitter.

werdelin.co.uk is the business end of cooperativelearning.works.

For video interviews with SLT and staff, visit the Gallery.



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Tea Party & Webinar – what would you like?

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Stalham Academy; what went right?

When I started Werdelin Education and mentioned that Stalham Academy was my first (and only) client back in 2014, everyone I spoke to seemed to have some form of horror-story about the school. Stalham Junior has been, I slowly discovered, a catch-phrase for everything wrong with primary schools in Norfolk.

Not so anymore.

I was contacted by Andrew Howard, suddenly thrown into the deep end as acting head, shortly before the Summer holidays of 2014. He had attended a seminar with the Sutton Trust which had flagged up Cooperative Learning in relation to effective Pupil Premium spend. We sat down and talked in the Millenium Library one lazy day during the holidays, dust dancing in the rays through the bay windows, “to see if Cooperative Learning could do something.”

The rest is Norfolk educational history.

Stalham Academy did three 2-hour CPD sessions, the first on 24 September 2014, the second on 3 December 2014, the third and final on 11 February 2015. Under the auspices of Andrew Howard, these six hours of CPD, constituting just a handful of CLIPs turned around the school, with impact after two weeks.

The trend became official with Stalham’s SAT results from 2015, which prompted this series of interviews with Glenn Russell, who had by then taken over formal leadership of the school.

And then everyone woke up last year,  when Stalham Academy had 81% of pupils achieving the expected standard or above in Reading, Writing & Maths, prompting Tim Coulson, the Regional Schools Commissioner, to promote them as one of only seven schools in the entire Eastern region to contact for good practice.


To put it into perspective, Stalham is in the top 500 nationwide.

However, not every school has benefited equally from the same programme. Over the next month, I intend to write a series of post for any responsible head teacher or governor now curious about Cooperative Learning and what went right at Stalham Academy.

There are lessons to be learned if you want to go outstanding.  Stay updated on Twitter.

In the meantime, please enjoy posts from the past two years about Stalham.

Here’s a direct link to the new Ofsted report.




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Tea Party & Webinar – what would you like?

Please help us make a free webinar a success by participating in a 60-second online survey.

Following Regional School Commissioner Tim Coulson’s endorsement at the start of the school year, Cooperative Learning has become the buzz of East Anglia. On 23rd of February,  headteacher of Great Hockham Primary, Alex Bowles and I will give a very hands-on presentation of Cooperative Learning at the Norfolk Better To Best Tea Party in Norfolk.

However, for the many, many headteachers unable to attend, we also aim to present a Webinar on how to achieve success with Cooperative Learning with other area specialists. Your input as headteachers would be greatly appreciated.

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Hope to see you online or off-line.


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Happy 2017, UK teachers

A Scandinavian educationalist presents a different view on the relationship between teaching systems – or why the grass is not always greener on the other side …


I have been wanting to say this since New Year 2016!

Click to open the video .

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Handle on New Year; new TwitterID

Dear All

As of today, @werdelin_CL is no longer active. My new handle is @werdelinEdu. Replete with new photo, which, though it is me, at least is not a Selfie. Especially important, given that we is more than me.


Season’s greetings


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