“Outstandingly Simple” – follow-up #2

This post is a further clarification for delegates at Outstandingly Simple at Queen Mary’s Grammar School. It deals with  some specific questions raised later feedback.

The twilight session Outstandingly Simple presented the Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern Catch1Partner. An outline of the session and a number of resources are found in the part #1 and the video introduction.

Before delving into the questions, I want to thank for all the positive feedback, which included “giving students ownership,” “impact on learning,” and “clear sense of direction from the trainer.”

One point made was the enjoyment of meeting teachers from other schools, and indeed, one teacher criticised that the session did not given enough time to share with them.

Here I want to point out that, ironically, the interaction between colleagues from different schools was an  ancillary objective actually made possible specifically due to the nature of the Cooperative Learning.

For Catch1Partner, one of the Learning Domains listed in the handouts is Classbuilding. But with external delegates outnumbered 10-to-1, there were simply not a sufficient amount to go around. We hope the coffee in the Bateman Room made up for it.

Measurable outcomes

Further down we shall discuss practical implementation, disruptive pupils, G&T and multiple-step problems. However, the most important concern for me to address is a question about the clarity of outcomes.

The detailed objectives of Outstandingly Simple are found in the first post. However, Learning Objectives are distinct from Learning Outcomes in that Objectives are the intended results of the activity, Outcomes are measured results of it.

Cooperative Learning always includes a real-time assessment element in that all students are orally accounting for their individual learning at every turn.

Also, most CLIPs (Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns) may include written elements, either note-taking before, during or after individual activity. (For a dedicated session on writing through Cooperative Learning, please visit Charles Coddy Walker Academy on 25 April).

However, Cooperative Learning does not, and should not, replace proper individual testing. Rather, the question one should ask when assessing the relationship between outcomes and Cooperative Learning is:

“Will a student who has been forced to account for his learning in every single lesson, every single day, by explaining and negotiating his knowledge with a diverse group of peers, be less or more able to account for his learning when tested individually?”

We note here that, as was seen in Outstandingly Simple, teacher instruction and student activity are interwoven. As is the case with testing, Cooperative Learning does not replace direct instruction and modelling. Rather, it is a way to effectively manage peer-learning following teacher modelling.  Also, CLIPs are followed by, or include, teacher feedback based on unobtrusive monitoring.

 

An example: Outcomes  in foreign languages

We demonstrated the practical  application of Catch1Partner in various subjects as described in the previous post. However, I would like to give one practical example of how my own students and I integrated Cooperative Learning with outcome measurement.

When teaching English as a foreign language in Denmark, starting in 2007, I would supply my in KS2-3 students with a list of key vocabulary, including the Cambridge list of 300 most common words.

In appropriate team-based CLIPs, English-Danish dictionaries were used to identify meanings of words, and their different uses.

After careful vetting by myself and peers, students would then log onto a free dedicated, cram.com account, and use their solutions to generate printable flashcards for use in class – and available for online use at home – with no further work from me except pressing “print.”

Using Catch1Partner, we drilled these homemade flashcards virtually every day, with a variety of tasks (“What does the word “turn” mean – give me an exemplary sentence please.” – “Well, turn has several meanings, e.g. I turn on the radio, it is my turn.”).

Within a few weeks, even students who had just started English as a foreign language would have up to 70% of words in any text they were working with.

To measure outcomes precisely, and with minimal work from myself and staff, I took out an afternoon to download the excel file from cram.com, and import the English words and their Danish equivalents into classmarker.com, an online Q&A test system.

In classmarker, every student has his/her own unique ID and password, so from then on, we could test and track every single student’s progress on vocabulary with no further marking – results would be delivered as mails, with details on class average and progress for each student.

The learning materials were not only created by pupils collaboratively, but were continuously developed by them as more and more subtle nuances of language was discovered.

What should be clear is that this is not mere “knowledge recall” though that certainly comes into it: In an activity such as Catch1Partner, half the class is explaining and exemplifying, and the other half is praising, helping or criticising. No teacher-led presentation from the board will allow this volume of direct, auto-differentiated investigation of understanding.

Yet the teacher is the invaluable resource for modelling, correcting misapprehensions, and guiding the learning through his choice of tasks, activities, timing and materials.

Any delegates who have questions, please leave a comment, so answers may be shared for the benefit of others.

 

Implementation and disruption

So, how long does it take to train pupils? It varies from class to class. The basics of Catch1Partner should be in place after three to four attempts for 95% of any class. Then there is the social skills issue, which varies tremendously.

Here, the point is that school behaviour policy go from words to being crucial day-to-day skills. “Ms Lamb, Ms Lamb, they are not letting me have my turn!” See this video with newly qualified teacher Ms Rebecca Lamb on adopting Cooperative Learning for the full context of that quote.

Disruptive pupils buy into Cooperative Learning, because they are given a chance to be on stage, rather than sitting bored senseless listening to something they don’t get. Also, when they do go off-task, they only disrupt the learning for their partner, who will soon be rid of them.

The subtle peer pressure to perform is another buy-in. These and other strategies for integrating personal development for both socially challenged and/or SEN pupils are presented in the CL & Social Skills course.

 

Gifted & Talented

As for concerns that Gifted & Talented will be pulled down, there is ample research to show they benefit from explaining their knowledge to people who see things very differently, because it forces them to re-think their vocabulary, examples and even understanding. On the social side, it gives them leadership skills, and by patiently offering help, they suddenly become an asset rather than a humiliation to lower ability pupils, again something discussed in Social Skills.

 

Solving multiple-step problems

Other CLIPs, such as the classic Think-Pair-Share are better suited to handle multiple-step problems. However, Catch1Partner, can be used to drill the procedure of such problems once the method is understood, or the individual steps may be discussed with peers across class.

A quick way of staging this would be to ask a more focused version of my own question Please write down, in bullet points, all the things you are not clear about in relation to this course so far. One minute, go!“.

Depending on the subject and the task, you could ask them to describe the various steps, write questions about each step, or simply describe problems they had with each step. The get up and compare or elicit answers to their problems from peers. Again, gathering these notes would provide you with written evidence of learning – adding to your ongoing unobtrusive monitoring.

Better Writing through Cooperative Learning on 25 April specifically discusses how to work with multiple-step tasks, such as setting up science experiments. Book now.

 

Bored yet?

To students, even the disruptive ones, the variety of tasks and subtasks will make Catch1Partner entertaining and engaging. However, two teachers present at the event were concerned about spending all sixty minutes of the CPD Twilight on just a single activity.

There are two aspects to this: As outlined in the invite, the objective was precisely to demonstrate how a single Cooperative Learning activity could be used for a wide scope of objectives, including rote and procedural tasks across all subjects, peer feedback, metacognition and social skills.

From this perspective, it might just as well have been four or five activities. The benefit of using a single one is the simple staging. As I pointed out in the session, messy interaction must never get in the way of the learning.

The less moving parts, the better. Outstandingly simple.

***

More on next week’s Reading event here:Better Reading through Cooperative Learning

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