Monitoring and real-time feedback in the Cooperative Learning classroom

Workshop debriefing: As I have states in numerous places, the candid verbalization of opinions during the debate gives teachers a unique insight into the knowledge and thought processes of each individual student as thet work through tasks and materials.

Also, a lot of finer points related to personality and social skills are brought to the fore and hitherto unseen strengths and weaknesses are put on display, sometimes surprising students themselves. Whoever uses CL disregards social skills at the peril of his class – BUT whoever applies teacher-centred learning disregards social skills at the peril of society at large. Big words, but I refer the sceptical reader to the previous post On the Subject of Social Skills.

So the hard work on social skills should not be an excuse to back away from CL. As we have seen in a previous post On the Subject of Social Skills, high attainment and social skills go hand in hand.

So here we will focus on the assessment and real-time feedback into the learning process of observations made possible through CL. At  the beginning of the lesson, the teacher’s role is that of “task setter.” As groups work on tasks, the teacher acts as a coach moving from group to group to provide students with on-going feedback and assessment of the group’s progress, but most of all to monitor the learning process.

This observation then may impact the direction of the lesson in progress or the focus or tempo of future lessons as issues are uncovered, ideas are presented and unforeseen difficulties arise.



As a rule of thumb, monitoring should be unobtrusive, as to avoid students becoming self-aware and skewing the observation. This might mean looking towards a group at the other end of the room while listening to the one in front of you. Also setting up the tables forming a semi-circle , sides facing the area of presentation (WB, IWB) not only gives everyone equal standing on the comfort scale (no-one has to crane 180 degrees to see the board) and keeps all students within earshot without a lot of roving around. However, for every class, it is a work-around.  In some situations, simply standing in the middle of the room as soon as students are set on their tasks will be fine.


unobtrusive monitoring

unobtrusive monitoring indeed


To ensure equal dispersal of attention, keep a rota list for each class. Attention during lesson are allocated to 2-3 specific students, sometimes sitting in teams for convenience though this is not always possible. Obviously, the content of the lesson also affects the choice of student to observe.  The key is to keep track. With three student per lesson and four lessons a week, you can churn through a class of twenty every two weeks, enough to keep abreast of developments.

Note also that one may choose CLIPs for individual groups which touch the area of learning you want to observe in specific students. When working on good character description in creative writing, but you want to check if students have made progress on attention and  giving recaps, give them a four minute Recap2Pass, where permission for the next person to speak is only given if a concise recap of what was said is accepted by the previous speaker. Question: “What’s your favourite character description and why is it you favourite?” Prepares the written work, but allows teacher to check specific skills on the go.

Real-time feedback in class

Obviously, this is where a sound theoretical knowledge of CL comes in, so you know which areas of learning are facilitated by which CLIPs and with which tweaks. For examples of tweaks, check Newsletter #1Let’s say that two groups out of eight are struggling; send Two-for-Tea out to gather information from other teams, bring them back to recap new knowledge.

If there is a wide variety of the level of understanding of the subject matter, and you want to bring the struggling one’s up to speed without slowing the fast ones, let them Catch1Partner with questions from yourself and have them talk to partners across teams to share knowledge as prompted by your (clever) questions. This allows the quicker students to formalise their knowledge by explaining and phrasing it to suit the varying needs of his/her peers. A simple, generic (and clever) question might be: “Ask your partner which areas his group is struggling with at the moment. Find out how you can help.” A more specific one might be: “Explain the relationship of Henry VIII to the Church of England at the time it was founded and at the time of his death” or “What are the main functions of amino acids? Take turns.” Here,  taking notes is always good, as it supports debriefing once they return to their teams.

As for feed-back into following lessons, it no different from how you would respond if you had spotted problems through normal class teaching; the difference is that gathering intel via hands-up responses in class, compared to observing a lively, guided CL discussion, is akin to “looking through a glass, darkly.”

Assessment will be discussed in the following post Monitoring and Assessment. Stay tuned on twitter.




8 thoughts on “Monitoring and real-time feedback in the Cooperative Learning classroom

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  1. A related comment from Thursday’s (June 26, 2014) course at the University of East Anglia:

    “…the tools are very easy to use and I have particularly liked the assessment element.”

    – Kevin Blogg, Norfolk County Council

    This comment was made in writing during an “assessment-version” of a standard Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern to promote writing skills. Shows the versatile and hollow nature of Cooperative Learning.

    (more at


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