This brief article explores how Cooperative Learning seamlessly integrates Feedback, making it possible to reach a total of 8 months progress per pupil per year with an investment of as little as £5 in one-off costs.
(This article is a natural follow-up to EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit; a Cooperative Learning gloss, and of special interest to attendees of Charlie Hebdo in Luton and last week’s MTA event at Berrymede Junior School in London).
From the Sutton Trust/EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit definition:
Feedback is information given to the learner or teacher about the learner’s performance relative to specific learning goals or outcomes, to redirect or refocus either the teacher’s or the learner’s actions to achieve a goal, by aligning effort and activity with an outcome.
Information given to the learner
Feedback can “be about the output of the activity, the process of the activity, or the student’s management of their learning.” These three correspond roughly to 1. evaluation of a product, 2. formative assessment and even 3. self-regulation (which is a separate strategy from the Toolkit) respectively, all of which are ideally suited to Cooperative Learning activities.
First of all, because of the reflection and negotiation required by these three is built into any social activity, feedback is implicit. The teacher has only to adjust the volume or focus by dropping in questions.
Assume in the Charlie Hebdo lesson plan (see below), we have reached the stage where our students present their core arguments to partners, before a Live Opponent. Repeat that step a couple of times, but give the ancillary task: “Before switching to a new partner, tell each other how to improve your next presentation.” Then drive sub-objectives by giving detail: “Remember how we discussed pausing at commas and full stops when reading out? Same thing here. You do not want to rush through.” or “Is there a way to make the language more concise.” etc.
Remember that having the recipient writing down the feedback, and having the advisor sign it, again ensures accountability for both parties.
Secondly, because of the tightly controlled organizing of peers and teams means the teacher is able to control the who gives feedback to whom – negating the usual perils of less organised group work. This is especially important if you want to leverage Higher with Lower Ability Pupils. I hope to write more on that in a later post. In the interim, you will find some details on equal participation here.
Information given to the teacher
As for feedback to the teacher, there is obviously the information automatically culled on the learning process, implicit in all proper Cooperative Learning. Here, first port of call is again unobtrusive monitoring. Added to this is the activities staged with feedback as the specific product.
As an example, I refer to the newsletter eCL#3: Charlie’s Angels or Sympathy for the Devils… RE Lesson Plan on the Paris attacks. Attendees of last weeks MTA event at Berrymede in London will recognise the many levels information can be culled in written form – notetaking before presenting, note-taking during interviewing, during listening to other pupil’s presentation, as well as any other way one normally secures written evidence; with Cooperative Learning, it is never an either/or. The end of the plan also gives examples of homework.
Feedback studies tend to show very high effects on learning across all age groups. Generally, research in schools has focused particularly on its impact on English, mathematics and, to a lesser extent, science and recent meta-analysis of the impact of formative assessment on writing indicates gains of 8 months’ progress are achievable. Given feedback is integrated implicitly and may be explicitly organised with superior effect this makes structural Cooperative Learning exceptionally effective.
According to Sutton Trust research, some studies reporting lower impact indicate that it is challenging to improve the quality of feedback in the classroom. But with Cooperative Learning, because the individual accountability makes feedback implicit in the Cooperative Learning activities themselves with no further preparation from the teacher.
In a recent study, some teachers initially believed that the programme was unnecessary as they already used feedback effectively. For such teachers, Cooperative Learning would simply be a tool to further increase focus and effect of their feedback.
Working explicitly with feedback however does require some delineation – as I often warn teachers is that Cooperative Learning will give what you put into it. For example, the literature on feedback draws an essential distinction between feedback targeted at the self (‘Great sentence; you are a superstar!’) and feedback which promotes self-regulation and independent learning (‘You have learned some adverbs today. Check if you could add some adverbs to improve your sentences.’).
It was not clear in observed lessons that this distinction was consistently understood by teachers, and this is important because Cooperative Learning will engage students in both cases, but the outcome is very different. Precisely because Cooperative Learning multiplies the effect of the input, it is recommended that staff be provided with a large number of examples illustrating the variety of types of feedback.
This research is based on whole school intervention, involving 10 schools and around 4,000 pupils at a cost of around £88,000. The cost per pupil is approximately £22 according to the Sutton Trust research. Referring back to the previous articles, where we mentioned the price of the basic Skills & Mastery as less than £5 for a collaborative learning programme normally priced at £40, consider saving an additional sum by restricting feedback CPD to best practice questioning techniques, rather than a full scale package.
Evidence culled from the action research project Anglican Schools Partnership and Effective Feedback and Teaching and Learning Toolkit.