This series of articles explains how Cooperative Learning will make the seven recommendations in the EEF Making best use of TAs Guidance Report a lived reality in your school, simply and cost-efficiently.
The seven recommendations are found in Section 5 of the report; This article discusses Recommendation III:
The Guidance Report refers to EDTA research which has (unsurprisingly!) shown that improving the nature and quality of TAs’ talk to pupils can support the development of independent learning skills. TAs should, for example, “be trained to avoid prioritising task completion and instead concentrate on helping pupils develop ownership of tasks.” (p, 4).
The don’ts of TA interaction with pupils
The following figure is found on page 19 of the Report. In the following, we will demonstrate how Cooperative Learning will evade these pitfalls.
In a Cooperative Learning classroom, the pupils are the primary teaching resource and thus, as a baseline, TAs should only interfere with peer learning when strictly necessary, such as challenging off-task behaviour.
As a rule, the pupils are given freedom to work things out for themselves and request differentiated support from peers, which secures enough thinking and
response time while the limited access to pupils immediately solves the problems of TAs inadvertently prioritising task completion, high use of closed questions, ‘Stereoteaching,’ over-prompting and spoon-feeding before they arise.
(Note that it is the teacher’s responsibility to provide relevant language to facilitate these peer discussions, including relevant social skills and specific phrases, such as “Can you give me another example, please?”)
As for the use of closed questions, the tasks which form the content in any Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern are clearly modelled by the teacher, who picks the questions which will best achieve his objectives. (For more on closed questions, please see Cooperative Learning; Closed Questions, Closed Achievement Gaps).
Because the TA is present (and indeed should take part in) this modelling, only relevant interventions will take place because he or she will know exactly which type of questions (open or closed) to ask, the intended scope of the discussion, as well as the interaction itself. Please see the article on Recommandation II for more on this.
The dos of TA interaction with pupils
Vice versa, Cooperative Learning also facilitates the polar opposites, found on the same page in the Report.
As with the teacher, unless allocated a specific group or single pupil for very specific reasons., the main objective for the TA during activities is to monitor and to intervene only when necessary. This ties straight in with providing the right amount of support at right time, giving the least amount of help first to support pupils’ ownership of the task, and pupils retaining responsibility for their learning.
As for open questions versus closed questions, these are selected only to support current objectives, we have discussed this above.
Finally, as for making pupils comfortable taking risks with their learning, because Cooperative Learning takes place within pairs all within (teacher-appointed) small, tightly knit teams, it thoroughly operationalises Mary Myatt’s doctrine of “high challenge, low threat.”
Focusing on the second part of Myatt’s famous book title, on the EEF resource page, you will find a practical framework designed to help TAs scaffold pupils’ learning and encourage independent learning. TAs should move down the
TAs should move down the layers in turn, the lower layers corresponding to the lowest challenge. However, again, this procedure should really take place between peers across the class.
The initial expectation is that pupils self-scaffold whilst the TA observes their performance, which is exactly what happens anyway in a Cooperative Learning classroom. TAs should then intervene appropriately when pupils demonstrate they are unable to proceed. It is obviously “important the tasks set by teachers, and supported by TAs, provide pupils with the right level of challenge.”
Please view the original document here. Furthermore, on page 19, you will find a framework that TAs (and peers) can use for more effective questioning. Blow it up to a full-size poster, or put it on your interactive whiteboard.
Finally, for anyone in doubt about the validity of the relation of Cooperative Learning to the EEF Guidance, this is a quote from page 18. (For those who have done training with me, you will know how the formative assessment is a given).
In the next post on Recommendation IV, we will discuss how you avoid spending your valuable lesson preparation time ensuring TAs have the essential ‘need to knows’, such as the concepts, facts, information being taught.
Please do not hesitate to comment or ask questions directly by contacting me.