Stalham Academy, What Went Right? Lesson#3: Get your Head around it.

MAKE TEACHING VISIBLE: Many NPQHs will remember the concept of a “Golden Thread” that should “run through the school.” But as with so much educational advice, that is a vague concept much in the same way as “ensure pupil engagement.”

For someone in the thick of it, such fluffy instructions are not helpful. And this was precisely Osiris Education’s point at the recent conference Visible Learning : Make learning visible, and you will know how to guide your learners. But my point here is: Make teaching visible, and you know how to guide your teachers. In this article, I want to focus on how Stalham used Cooperative Learning as a hands-on tool to create a “golden thread” that landed them in the national Top-500 league for £900 worth of CPD.

Not what, but how

For attendees of the upcoming webinar “Special Measures to Top-500 with Cooperative Learning”,  the first thing Andrew will tell you is not so much what Cooperative Learning is, but more what it isn‘t. It’s not what to teach, it is how to teach it. You already have the National Curriculum and access to an endless array of free and paid teaching materials for every subject.

Cooperative Learning is a delivery system for … well, anything, actually. It’s just an incredibly effective delivery system, that works instantly for everyone in every subject and is obscenely cheap.

Head, do your homework

We mentioned Stalham Academy did three 2-hour CPD sessions after school, each tailored to the needs of the school.

If you want to make the most of any Cooperative Learning CPD, Point No. 1 is: Do your homework and identify your problems. What I deliver follows from that conversation.

In Stalham’s case, the first session presented three CLIPS*: two basic, but versatile, covering full-class and team sharing, thinking skills and drilling. (Attendees of the NB2B Tea Party this months will see one of these demonstrated). The objective was to ingrain the concept of collaboration. The third CLIP was specific to reading, a big issue at the school.

Point No. 2 cannot be stressed enough. Senior leadership, and especially the headteacher, must be present at every, single session, from start to finish. A leader does not lead from the back office, but the front. As a leader, you must understand the practical implementation of Cooperative Learning better than anyone else at your school.

Simply put, this is the key to turning a £45 per delegate programme into the equivalent of a £1000 per delegate programme, which is what you could easily be paying a major educational consultancy firm to reach the top league from special measures – assuming they could even pull it off.

Lesson observations & Cooperative Learning

A part of the beauty of Cooperative Learning is the practicality of it. It’s either there or not there. Despite its subtlety, you are not looking for something subtle. Is every single learner engaged in relevant tasks simultaneously? If they’re not, it’s not Cooperative Learning. Just pop your head in for five seconds, and you will know.

So, it’s the day after the first CPD session. You observe the first five minutes of a lesson, the teacher asks an open question to get learners interested. “Yes, Rob, what do you think?” Rob then goes off on a tangent and four minutes are spent eliciting the correct answer while the rest of the class nods off. Ok, definitely not Cooperative Learning, then.

Once you’ve established that Cooperative Learning is taking place, you can look at the details. Again, it’s possible to make the granulate the observation. Is the activity properly modelled so the learner interactions, tasks and roles are crystal clear? Ok. Zoom in. Is the specific target language modelled, and made available on the IWB or posters? Ok. Zoom in.  Are any relevant phrases in place, in case the learners need to challenge each other? Ok. Zoom in. Are the three ASD pupils properly supported by peers? Ok … Next area of focus: Is the CLIP appropriate for the content and objectives?  Et cetera. And all you need to do is refer to a simple checklist, provided to every teacher in the CPD.

Cooperative Learning is as simple as microwave food. Lesson observations with Cooperative Learning are as simple as assessing the preparation of a microwave dish. Poked a hole in the plastic before shoving it in? Check! Closed the door? Check! Turned the knob? Check! Listened for the “Ding“? Check. Yet, for the guests in the restaurant that is your school, Cooperative Learning is healthier than gourmet food from Jamie Oliver’s own hands.

In the words of @DavidDidau: “The point of a lesson observation should not be to see whether a teacher is slavishly following a checklist, rather it should be to tease out how effectively they are teaching the students in front of them to master specific curriculum goals.”

I could not agree more. Yet, my question here would be: What if you had a checklist that could tease it out? If you tick the boxes, the teaching is just plain outstanding, thanks to the CLIPs.*

Normally, your feedback would be akin to “Make sure the students are more engaged in the starter activity.” Now your feedback is:

“You had an open question. Every time you have an open question from now on, don’t ask individual questions while the class nods off. I want you to drop it into a Word-Round. Give each team member 30 seconds each to answer. If very challenging, start with strongest student in each team, to filter down ideas and language. Remember to model one or two answers beforehand. Always monitor, so that, if you do follow with open plenary, you only to pick students you know have the correct answer and so that any instruction you give them reflects actual problems you observed while monitoring, rather than your assumptions. I will come back tomorrow morning to check this is in place.”

And you do come back – on a strict rotation every single day without fail, getting around to every single class, every teacher and every subject. Everything else, including disobedient children, budgets, angry parents calling about why Johhny was reprimanded for throwing his lunchbox at a teacher, are dealt with by dedicated staff. After you have delegated responsibilities, the role of you as a headteacher is to secure two things, and two things only:

  1. The Teaching & Learning is in place. Everything else is an ancillary.
  2. The taxpayers’ money for which you are responsible is not wasted – such as not following up on CPD, even if it did only cost you £150.

So: Get your head around it, and the main body of your school will follow.

Key factors in successful implementation

Finally, for those readers who are keen on research evidence, I want you to refer to a 2005 paper The Implementation of Cooperative Learning in the Classroom by Wendy Jolliffe at Centre for Educational Studies, University of Hull. (The “Facilitator” mentioned would be you).

Some of her key points include:

  1. The vital role of the Facilitator in supporting, training and monitoring the use of CL.
    • See above.
  2. Facilitator expertise and research impacted on effective implementation.
    • I.e. again –  make sure you are the one who understands Cooperative Learning best.
  3. The effectiveness of providing a mixture of external training and support, in initial stages, followed by in-house support through the Facilitator as well as peer support.
    • See next section.
  4. Training that incorporated explicit modelling of strategies was more effective.
    • See above.
  5. Peer observation using clear guidance proforma.
    • See next section.

Do you see?

(Please note that I cannot vouch for the cooperative learning methodology and training used in this paper as I did not deliver it. But in my experience, these findings do hold).

Peer support is not just for learners

“Peer support,” i.e. teachers sharing best practice, should be an absolute given in a school promoting a collaborative caring ethos. And let’s face it, if the teacher doesn’t master it, he cannot make others master it.

Here is a leading question: As a headteacher, do you think you are responsible for allocating time for sharing best practice in relation to teaching and learning? Or are your teachers. You are right. You are responsible.

And the best thing is that you don’t need to plan anything. Just tell one of your teachers (or a couple) to stage a series of Cooperative Learning activities that will facilitate knowledge sharing in staff meetings, and get feedback on that. No work for you, cost-effective, inhouse training, a chance for you to observe multiple teachers simultaneously, listen to their ideas, and their grievances  – which the Cooperative Learning defuses through the interaction with peers.

This deserves an article in it’s own right.

Full  a document is found here: <>


*) What’s a CLIP?

* * *

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