Stalham Academy, What Went Right? Lesson#4; Don’t trouble your Head with lesson plans

Teach. Smile. Repeat. It is well-known that the very greatest mastery in any field is the result of great discipline. Less recognised is the fact that the greatest freedom is often also the result of great discipline.

For headteachers looking to maximise return on their CPD investment, there is a fine balance between letting teachers experiment and find their individual style, and stepping in and guiding them to match the vision one has for the school.

At Stalham Academy, Andrew Howard adopted the second approach. And this is where the relationship between freedom and discipline is key.

We’ve already shown how properly executed Cooperative Learning creates a sense of freedom and empowerment among learners.

What we will investigate in this article is the freedom its structure gave to teachers when it was applied consistently to all lessons at Stalham Academy.

Choices, choices…

Cooperative learning is an endless toolbox. You can choose to use it only for class building every Monday morning – just fun and games. You can also choose to massively improve outcomes of specific tasks recurring in specific lessons. For example, peers comparing and correcting individual work, or confirming connections to previous knowledge, or simple task resolution. To name three of hundreds.

toolboxTake your pick…


Now, many of us teachers have a repository of strategies that we find work well for us and that we tend to use again and again. But how we order and use or don’t use them at which points in a lesson is often a matter of intuition, (bad) habits, or whim, as it were.

Because almost all Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns (CLIPs) can achieve multiple different objectives, the use of each can vary tremendously from teacher to teacher and lesson to lesson.

For one teacher Catch1Partner warms up the class with metacognitive questions, for another it drills multiplication tables, for a third it is the final step in a Think-Pair-Share to cross-fertilise ideas between teams.

Each may get stuck in their ways miss how simple it is to achive so much more. Don’t  forget CLIPs are not deployed for their own sake, but to drive progress in every lesson. Student-centered learning is not an objective in its own right.

And though execution may be very good (and often is), bear in mind it is fully possible to stage and run a CLIP extremely well and achieve all the outcomes one is hoping for but use it at the wrong time in the lesson, or to want the wrong outcomes in relation to the goals of the lesson itself.

For example, by using Cooperative Learning solely to gain insight into the minutae of children’s learning processes, and thus breaking up their flow and slowing progress when one could have used at different CLIP, gone with the flow, maintained the pace, and still gained the insight one was looking for.

Inventing the wheel just once

In practice, Andrew identified a few sensible lesson formats that would draw upon the content-void nature of Cooperative Learning to work across all subjects; a stack of CLIPs which were laced together in advance and which would drive forward the learning in the best possible way, leaving teachers free to focus on the content rather than the form of the lesson.

The children quickly took to this repeated, clear structure, which minimises the amount of necessary commands to the barest minimum. After a very short time some classes were able to carry out lessons virtually without teacher guidance. The command “open your workbooks on page 25. Think-Pair-Share the second question, you have two minutes for each stage” was sufficient.

Parent meeting Andrew Howard lesson presentationMr Howard at work on a pie diagramme… Watch video in new window.

In conclusion

So while asking teachers to follow a specific lesson template composed of the string of Cooperative Learning activities, content void as they may be, superficially comes across as dictatorial, by no means is that the case.

The freedom to focus on what is important by having the basics in place from the get-go creates exciting, engaged learning and a sense of accomplishment and empowerment because the students master the format of the lesson and learn to recognise the learning process itself.

For the teacher, such a template reduces stress because there is less micromanagement, less planning, less unforeseen mess that demands crisis handling and thinking-on-the-hoof to reinvent the wheel, when all one wants is a cup of coffee in the staff room – happy in the knowledge that one has just delivered an outstanding lesson in every sense of the word.

* * *

Read a detailed article on these lessons, written after a parent’s meeting in 2015 Cooperative Learning; a model lesson across all subjects

Read the previous articles in the series Stalham Academy, What went Right?

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