“Outstandingly Simple”follow-up; an introduction to Cooperative learning

Yesterday, 50+ internal and external delegates attended “Outstandingly Simple,” a 60-minute introduction to Cooperative Learning at Queen Mary’s Grammar School. This post contains some of the materials, extra resources and reflections on the event.

First of all, thank you to all attendees. With high individual accountability, Cooperative Learning is very demanding after a full day of teaching, and I thank everyone for mustering their last resources – and I especially wish to thank the staff at Queen Mary’s who dedicated time and resources to making this CPD available to other Walsall schools.

Note that bookings are now open for next events, courtesy of  Charles Coddy Walker Academy: Better Reading through Cooperative Learning on 18 Apr 2016 15:30 and Better Writing through Cooperative Learning on 25 Apr 2016 15:30.




Both of these, and “Outstandingly Simple,” are tailored modules taken from the Skills & Mastery course; in yesterday’s case, the highly versatile Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern (CLIP) Catch1Partner. The activity simply pairs up all students across the class, and guides their learning through questions or tasks provided either as physical materials, such as flashcards, or teacher questions. Input is discussed further down. (For a step-by-step activity description, please see this discussion on how to balance student and teacher-centering with hard and soft objectives using this activity – scroll down to section title Scenario One; boards to brains or vice versa).

Primary learning objectives at Queen Mary’s were to demonstrate how this single activity works across all subjects to facilitate  or secure:


We were a very mixed body of secondary teachers from more than 8 schools, covering quite literally every subject from Science to PE. Two primary teachers were also present – and made up for quantity with quality, I might add. But more on that later.

With such a mixed group, multiple learning objectives, and only 60 minutes, I dispensed with any semblance of theoretical background, but rather let the activity explain itself – aided by dropping in leading questions to make delegates reflect on the learning process, such as “What do you think of this way of learning.”

Indeed, facilitating meta-cognition and feedback were among the secondary objectives, both strategies which may yield up to 8 months of additional progress per year according to the Sutton Trust-EEF Toolkit. (EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit; a Cooperative Learning gloss discusses why this specific approach to Cooperative Learning is the most effective way to close the achievement gap for disadvantaged pupils. Also see Feedback strategies & Cooperative Learning).

Some practical examples of areas we dealt with using flashcards:

  • Higher level thinking and argumentation (e.g. “If God does not exist, then everything is permitted.”) taken from Bad Arguments in RE; Arming our children’s minds,
  • Higher level thinking and SMSC/Citizenship/PSHE: e.g. (“You borrow your friend’s bike without asking…what do you do when it gets stolen?”), and training personal boundaries in the safer social environment of school as a vital part of safeguarding (e.g. “Would you mind scratching my back?”),
  • preparing for course/lesson subject, e.g. “What does Student-Centred learning mean to you?”
  • and “Hard” subject knowledge (e.g. “Most ionising type of radiation?” – with answer on the back).


In this context, “Skills” relate to procedures, such as deploying grammatical rules, procedures in maths or science, correct use of foreign language dictionaries. “Mastery” relates to knowledge, the ability to not only retain it, but to connect and employ it effectively to understand questions, task and issues, and to solve problems. Or, simply put, stuff they need to know, which is not up for opinionated discussion.

Maths cards QMGS
We demonstrated this with flashcards with questions and answers on each side, such as “solve this problem” (as above) or “What is the potential difference of the mains current in the UK?”

Some of you asked about these flashcards with hard learning Q&A. Please find them at goconqr.com, others free of charge at  Collins homepage.

As I mentioned in the session, the bulk of materials should be student-generated, and any flashcard brought in, or produced, needs to be carefully vetted by peers and literally signed off on, with name and date. Out in the real world, there will not be a teacher to serve up everything you need ready-made, and you cannot always rely on your collegues or peers to get it right. Obviously,  this clearing process in itself contributes to learning, as students must critically appraise precision of language, content and voracity of any materisals brought into the learning environment. Note that CLIPs exist to facilitate this as well.

An added benefit is that students start to assume responsibility not only for their own learning, but for their peers’ – current and future: If you laminate and retain these vetted materials in organised libraries, you will find younger siblings three years down the line saying “My big brother made this, look! That’s his signature from 2016!”

Another way to provide content is to have students copy key definitions from course materials onto cards, or simply  base on independent work: in Catch1Partner students mill and compare answers and discuss differences, or present written assignments (Remember to time the activity appropriately). As it were, we did this exercise with delegates creating materials based on actual needs, and then getting peer feedback on language, etc. Here the heterogeneous group created a real challenge for some, through monitoring, I picked up that a GCSE Math question may not be quite as clear to a KS3 English teacher as the KS4 Maths teacher might think.

(Note: Science teachers looking for subject relevant reading skills may be interested in the CooperateBeLitterate project, on the special skills sets needed to get the most out of science texts – please contact me for details by leaving a comment).

Social Skills

Obviously, every single interaction staged by Cooperative Learning is an opportunity to work with social skills. The key benefit is obviously that social skills and behavior is integrated seamlessly with subject content, and these two support each other. For more on this, please see, Norwich Primary Academy, Functional language maketh functional man, On the subject of social skills, and From Cooperative Learning of skills to Collaboration as a Skill to mention a few.

We looked at a simple exercise to make students generate phrases on flashcards that would improve their interaction in class, such as thanking: “Thanks for pairing up with me!” or praising: “Well done, I had never guessed.” Looking at these cards provide written evidence of what students perceive as behavior problems and solutions. Again, Catch1Partner is here used to get feedback and reflect on word choice, and to discuss the problem the phrase addresses. Some of you noticed the high level of implicit learning differentiation, both in relation to time spent and tangents explored by each pair.

Here, I want to mention that classroom control is a key factor. The staging of the activity, and the interaction, must not take time from objectives. As one delegate mentioned, getting 600 pupils quiet in 6 seconds can be done (Bluecoat Academy). And as one of our primaries commented later, this works even with very socially challenged pupils with high-level of EAL per class. In fact, Primary delegates had brilliant input on this, but more on that in the next post, which will look at assessment and real-time feedback. A video of the course introduction will be made available later. Get notifications of related posts on twitter.

Final note for now: Handouts are dense, but try, with the help of coffee.

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











Filed under Cooperative Learning, CPD, events, get started with CL, Tips & tricks

2 responses to ““Outstandingly Simple”follow-up; an introduction to Cooperative learning

  1. Pingback: Outstandingly Simple; video introduction | cooperativelearning.works

  2. Pingback: Better (Talk4)Writing through Cooperative Learning | cooperativelearning.works

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