What *isn’t* Cooperative Learning; a guided meditation featuring PIES.

Guided meditation is a brilliant way to embed those absolutely essential messages.

If you will indulge me, I will now share a teaching method that has nothing to do with Cooperative Learning: Guided Meditation.

Although this specific example was presented to adults at an Ignite teachmeet (#IgniteTM) in Great Yarmouth, it will help your pupils overcome misconceptions about any subject – just change the “message” and, (for safeguarding reasons!) the solution.

The Guided Meditation

Make sure your audience is comfortable. Then read this out (replacing the “message”) in a calm narrative voice, remembering your breaks and pauses. As a teacher, you are always modelling.

CL is just groupwork

“Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Feel the weight of your body on the chair. You will leave your body sitting comfortably while you go on a journey.

Listen carefully to my voice. Imagine yourself standing alone on a vast open Norfolk field. It feels and looks like autumn. It still warm enough for the slight breeze to feel pleasant on your face and hair.

Picture this with your mind’s eye. Feel the breeze. Look at the trees, the clouds, the wide horizon.

Now look at your your right hand. There is a folded piece of paper, ragged and full of deeply suspicious brown blotches. Curiously, you unfold the paper and see a message printed in an authoritative, standardised font.

“Cooperative learning is just group work” it says.

Before you have time to intellectually process this statement, an unpleasant whiff prompts you to lift the paper to your nose for further inspection. To your horror and disgust, you recognise the distinct smell of sewer emanating from this message. 

Thankfully, a surge of almost superhuman power, a reserve almost unknown from your deepest core, wakes you from your horrified paralysis and you realise what you must do.

Happily, by sheer coincidence, you just happen to have 2 gallons of high octane plane fuel and one of those electric storm lighters in your rucksack.

With a sense of absolute crystal clarity, of pure spiritual light, you douse the paper with its hateful equation of Cooperative Learning and group work with the content of the can and set it ablaze. As the fire reduces the paper to ash, so to is your mind purified of this satanic deception and you resolve in your heart of hearts that never, ever shell this heresy issue from your lips, nor shall it go unchallenged, whether in staff rooms, at trust meetings, or even in a pub with colleagues.

As this resolve settles in your heart, you watch in amazement as the ash and burning embers spread upon the field, and everywhere sprouts fourth little happy plants, that interlace and nourish each other and all grow up to a life full of meaningful choices and the power to make this country a beacon of light in the post-industrial revolution that must come, if we are to save the planet.

With a big smile on your face, you run back to Great Yarmouth and find your way back your seat, eager to understand what Cooperative Learning is, if it is in group work.”

Thank God for Cooperative Learning; Ever seen a school of herring change direction all together at the same time?

Backstory, awkward fish and PIES

To be honest, I was actually not sure about taking a conference room full of mainly secondary subject specialists on a dream journey, but when Ian Gilbert of @ITLWorldwide opened by reminding us that sometimes it is necessary to “destroy to create” I took it as a sign.

This particular guided meditation was originally combined with an activity where a gathering of very competent school leaders in a major UK city were asked to hold up their hand if they were confident their school was doing proper Cooperative Learning, and keep it up for as long as they felt they met a set of four unknown criteria to presented one at a time. Courageously, the majority of hands shot up.

I clicked through the slideshow, giving people a brief pause to visualise what went on in their classrooms. It consisted of four slides, with an accompanying question:

  1. Positive Interdependence (My question “Is every single pupil needed?” saw half the heads and teachers drop their hands immediately).
  2. Individual Accountability (“Does every single pupil regularly present his/her learning” dropped another couple – and I was grateful I had not emphasised “regularly” instead, as I am talking about every couple of minutes, as you progress through the lesson).
  3. Equal Participation  (“Is every single pupil equally involved in the learning process?” At this point, only five percent defiantly held their ground).
  4. Simultaneous Interaction (“Is every single pupil is active at the same time” left one angry man at the back. All the remaining heads now had their hands in their laps).

And then the coup-de-grace: “Is this happening all at once, in every single collaborative activity, in every lesson, across the whole school.” 

Had the foreign idiot on the podium just said we are not doing Cooperative Learning?!

awkward fish

I was Ian Gilbert’s awkward fish, caught swimming the wrong way in the most awkward silence. Most of the other fish were looking at me, if not hatefully, then certainly with some measure of British reservation.

Thank God for Cooperative Learning; the following activity demonstrated the simplicity of securing these four elements of outstanding teaching, ventilated concerns in a safe space and got everyone chatting, laughing, discussing and reflecting on strategies in their own schools, neatly deflecting attention from me.  Ever seen a school of herring change direction all together at the same time? There is no one big herring in charge, yet it all just works out.


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*) SSIF project leads, you might want to deploy it as-is in any upcoming staff training, and immediately follow up with the PIES message (see below) in the “Why are we doing this?” slide deck. Please note this slide deck is the only one available to non-SSIF schools.

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