The only time anyone in the audience seemed interested in my very ever-so-clever, perfectly timed presentation was in the exercise when they were talking to each other, rather than listening to me drone on – which is precisely why Cooperative Learning instantly improves teaching and learning in any school.
For the benefit of delegates who did not feel satiated after our 15 minutes, this brief article details the underlying objectives of, and delegate feedback to, the introduction to Cooperative Learning at the VNET Tea Party 20 March 2017.
Video and slides now available.
A recap of yesterday’s session
Yesterday, NB2B/VNET threw one of their afternoon Tea Parties at the Enterprise Centre, Mattishall. Alex Bowles and I presented the new, tailored VNET course to 30+ very, very tired headteachers, many of whom had driven for over an hour directly from their schools to attend.
VNET fully recognises the incredible pressure heads are under, mentally, emotionally and financially, so Denise Walker and I wanted to create a simple CPD/coaching programme to radically improve Teaching & Learning which would empower heads, be instantly effective, and accessible to every school, regardless of budget. Basically, enter Top-500 league like Stalham Academy – for as little as £14 per teacher. (Attend the free webinar Monday 27, 7 – 8 pm)
The product of that conversation is the CPD & coaching programme Diamonds in the Rough. The strapline says it all. Turn your pupils into your main classroom resource with Cooperative Learning. If there’s anything our derided, rural county of Norfolk is not short on, it’s these precious stones of youth just lying around, waiting to be mined.
But before proceeding further, I want to thank delegates and VNET staff, and to ask the reader to have the patience to spend some time on my recommendations of other speakers at the event, especially Kim Frazer and Isabelle Goodman from The Key. If there is one thing the feedback in this exercise made abundantly clear, it is the importance of taking care of one’s head.
As I pointed out in one of my first slides, Cooperative Learning cannot be explained, only experienced. So, even with a 15-minute slot, Alex and I opted for a combination of theory and practice.
Theory included the obvious powerpoint slides with some simple facts about CL that should get any head standing on his toes:
This was followed by research evidence from the Sutton Trust Teaching & Learning Toolkit, the UK’s most Trusted resource on Pupil Premium spending. Specifically on how the seamless inclusion of multiple other strands within Cooperative Learning may generate as much as 8 months of progress per pupil per year. You can see an extract of the list below. Note the slider positions: dirt cheap, well-researched and high impact:
Try it yourself. (And don’t let nomenclature confuse you: The Toolkit specifically conflates the terms Cooperative and Collaborative Learning). For more details on the toolkit, please see related articles below.
Cooperative Learning can do everything, which is a bit hard to demonstrate in the 6 minutes Alex and I now had left of our 15 minutes of fame. How do you explain what a fruit is? Simple, right? Show an apple. But don’t be surprised when someone complains it’s not yellow, long and peels. So when you demonstrate writing, delegates ask why it doesn’t do reading, when you demonstrate social skills, they want to know how it relates to subject content. As always, focus on what’s missing means you risk missing the point being made.
In this case, Alex and I wanted a versatile, engaging Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern (CLIP) that would demonstrate as many elements of outstanding teaching as possible (especially that all-important assessment). Catch1Partner was an obvious choice, as it works in any environment which has floor space. It looks like this:
Before we go into what I wanted the delegates to get out of it, here’s what I got out of it. Be warned.
What actually happened in the yesterday’s activity…
Some of my personal objectives with the exercise were:
- To get an inkling of what sort of people I should expect to work with in the VNET context
- Understand their issues to better engage with them and help them.
- How to improve my presentation and programme to match.
The materials for the exercise was classroom basics, whiteboards and pens, and a small, homemade interview sheet consisting of two words, two lines and two smiley faces (blue lines)to be completed as described (black text) with every new partner:
A crucial subtask was to challenge partners’ assumptions.
Delegates roved, interviewed, challenged, and filled out the sheets. At the end of the four-minute exercise:
- I was able to assess the state of the party (Tired, disengaged, some genuinely negative – as evidenced by some sloppy handwriting and superficial answers, including spelling errors, and one simply stating the example was “not drawing him in” – This person spent a great deal of time absorbed in describing this to his partner).
- I know the majority of people had missed key points (“Takes too long to set up”) and a few had not taken anything from the introduction. (“Don’t know anything about it”).
- I know the main gripes people have, generally and specifically (Initiative overload is no. 1, followed by money issues).
- I know what delegates prioritise in their schools (“Raise attainment” came in at a soaring first place, followed by spending Pupil Premium/disadvantaged children, behaviour, and raising engagement).
- I have a sense of who really didn’t get it and some sense of why, helping me to improve my next presentation – or “next steps,” in your case.
- And most importantly, I can slot each named delegate neatly into these categories.
Ask yourself, do you usually get this level of granulated, detailed data in four minutes with 30 seconds of preparation by pupils themselves? Within two weeks of the first CPD, this can be fully embedded across the school. It’s actually that simple. And we have not even touched on how listening in provides even more human detail.
But the main thing I get from this is that headteachers present are simply at the end of their tether, and need to reach out and get the right support that handles their emotional and mental pressure, and solves multiple issues at once with only the absolutely most cost-effective investment of resources.
Hence my final notes on Kim and The Key CPD Toolkit. A body can survive if it loses an arm or leg. But not the head. And school leaders need to realise are the most important resource in the school, and have every right to be cared for, too.
And then the other benefits
Assessment and these worried reflections aside, I now wish to draw your attention to the following elements of outstanding teaching present in that one simple exercise, which help explain the impact of Cooperative Learning:
- Extremely high individual accountability (oral and written demonstration of learning on a one-to-one basis).
- High volume of engagement (30 pupils x 4 minutes in pairs (divide by 2) means 60 minutes of total pupil onstage time, compared to four minutes in an open class plenary).
- Higher level thinking & argumentation (The subtask of challenging – especially – any negative input. And note how you might have used Growth Mindset gambits here).
- Integrating new and previous understanding (“How does/doesn’t Cooperative Learning relate to my vision for my school?”)
- Social skills & class building (Meeting, greeting, thanking, praising, coaching, gentle challenging).
- Retention (By discussing and evaluating input from the introduction, key points tend to stick in long-term memory).
- Differentiation (Each and every person gets just the feedback that is relevant to them).
- Preparing for course/lesson subject (If this had been the first 15 minutes of a lesson, students would now have had a chance to check understanding and integrate some of the opening input before proceeding).
- “Hard” subject knowledge (Most people did thankfully get that Stalham got 91% achieving expected standard or above).
- Metacognition (Discussing the benefit/drawbacks of the learning strategy one is actually performing, e.g. this quote I overheard: “I like this because I personally learn better when I talk than listen, but it might not apply to everyone.”).
- Peer tutoring (Challenging assumptions was a basic part of the exercise).
- Feedback (As above) – this is one of the Toolkit strands that generate 8 months of additional progress per pupil per year.
- Yielding all this benefit in any subject, to achieve any conceivable objective or sub-objective, e.g. integrating rigorous self-assessment, based on pre-modelled peer reflection of course, as a part of the exercise. The list is literally endless.
From the slide with the interview sheet.
Facet? Or stone?
Given VNET offers this programme to schools for as little as £14 per teacher per month over 12 months, and schools are offered 2 hours of the CPD element free of charge if they begin in April, why were Denise, Alex and I not swamped by a feeding frenzy of heads looking to go good or outstanding for less than their monthly utility bill?
Because even in something as simple as this, Cooperative Learning does too much to comprehend. Indeed, for those commencing with Cooperative Learning the first challenge is to distinguish each Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern (CLIP) from the potentially endless array of subactivities and ancillary objectives it can potentially provide. Without this understanding, it cannot be deployed effectively. The CLIP is the steps. Everything else is up to you. It’s sufficiently mind-boggling that it is at once extremely controlled, yet gives an exhilarating sense of freedom.
And grasping this is really at the heart of the coaching element of the VNET Diamonds in the Rough programme comprised of 8 hours of CPD and 10 hours of SLT mentoring – the stated objective of which is to make participating schools fully independent with Cooperative Learning to get Stalham-level results or better – bearing in mind they were in special measures when they started.
As incredibly powerful as Cooperative Learning is, it is even more incredibly simple to adopt. I can only once again echo Denise and invite you out to see it live at Great Hockham Primary, courtesy of Alex Bowles.
Other presenters and their CL connection
In closing, I want to share a personal experience. Leadership is a lonesome proposition, where one is responsible for the welfare of many and poor results of – often – a few, and one finds oneself in potential conflicts with and between staff, parents and children. I have been in a situation in 2012 before I set out as a full time consultant, where I wished I had had access to someone like Kim Frazer before things came to a head.
Another endorsement would be of The Key CPD Toolkit. Thank you to Ms Goodman, who travelled all the way from London to do a 15-minute presentation. The empowering of school leaders to do follow up on CPD is one of my big hobby horses. Though perhaps not cheap, the sustained impact of any initiatives over time, and the implied transferable skills, make Key services very valuable indeed. In and of itself, taking ownership of CPD is the key to success with any CPD input, including Cooperative Learning. But, incidentally, most Key modules on T&L, e.g. Differentiation, EAL, and Able Pupils, slot straight into Cooperative Learning so that any theoretical understanding gained and any associated materials will only further enhance the impact of the VNET Diamonds in the Rough programme – and vice versa.
From the horse’s mouth
For anyone who is interested in what Cooperative Learning can really do, meet the man who got it right. Due to massive oversubscription on a less-than-adequate technical platform, we are re-running the webinar with Andrew Howard of Stalham Academy “Special Measures to Top-500 with Cooperative Learning” on Monday 27 March 7-8 pm. Sign up here, spaces are free, but limited and strictly first come, first served. For decision making heads and governors only.