“The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour,” goes a saying in pop psychology. If this is true, things are well and truly looking good for Cooperative Learning in the coming academic year.
This article outlines some of my upcoming projects, including SSIF spin-offs, the necessity of separating “Cooperative Learning” from “group work,” a book co-written with Andrew Howard, and the vital importance of getting the secondary sector confidently on-board.
Strategic School Improvement
The highly ambitious Strategic School Improvement funded (SSIF) maths project with Sheringham Teaching School has been a dream come true. Not so much because of the great outcomes or the fact that we are held up as a model project by the DfE, though I am obviously thrilled about both.
“Girls answered more KS1 questions correctly (…) The proportion of pupils achieving correct responses on the Year 3 questions alone improved by 18% to 41%.”
– Sheringham Teaching School SSIF Project Analysis of Outcomes: Summer 2018 compared to autumn 2017 baseline, 2018, page 2.
Rather, this adventure is remarkable because it is incontrovertible evidence that Cooperative Learning is indeed the creative and empowering tool I have always envisioned. The many ingenious ways schools have applied my training have honestly left me blissfully stunned.
As a consequence of their accomplishments, I find myself considering a dedicated train-the-trainers programme open to all schools. Those who know me will concede this step speaks volumes of my respect for the SSIF schools.
Working with Sheringham Teaching School has been so productive and enlightening that we are now looking into how more schools can benefit from the powerful cocktail of Cooperative Learning, metacognition and growth mindset across all subjects. Schools in East Anglia who have not already joined the COGS mailing list should do so to stay updated.
Cooperative Learning (sort of) defined
Aside from cementing the success of Cooperative Learning, the training and follow-up within the coherent framework of the SSIF have hammered home something else: That I need to take seriously that the concept of “Cooperative” or “Collaborative” learning in British schools bears very little relation to what I mean when I use the term.
Project leads will recognise this. (Or some will, some won’t).
As my training went ahead and was received positively in SSIF schools, more and more people shared their initial doubts about the Cooperative Learning element of the project. Many expressed having very vague ideas about what Cooperative Learning entailed or concerns that it would be “intrusive,” “chaotic” or “demanding.” In short, that Cooperative Learning is a fad name for “group work.”
As this anecdote will show, addressing this quandary is long overdue: Some years ago, I was invited to present Cooperative Learning to the leadership of a large local primary school. I’d had this particular school in my sights for over a year, having understood the headteacher was decisive, open-minded, skilled, dedicated to improving the lives of her pupils – basically, ready to take on Cooperative Learning.
Bursting with confidence, I sat down with the leadership team and did my song and dance: I explained the cost-efficiency; the benefits to teachers and pupils; the impact on the school’s development targets and unique ethos; gave practical examples of activities in other schools; connected Cooperative Learning to feedback; drew connections to the EEF research on pupil premium; even showed a little in-class video, as I recall.
The following week I was informed by email the school had zero interest – in a polite, roundabout British way, of course.
Today, that same school is fully engaged with Cooperative Learning as part of the Sheringham SSIF and its project leads, teachers and pupils are over the moon about the exact activities I described in that original meeting. I have later been informed that my presentation was written off because leadership felt they were already doing “enough group work and talk partners.”
The morale of this tale is that in order to understand what Cooperative Learning is, we must first define what it is not. (Which prompted me to take delegates at Ormiston Venture on the guided meditation found here).
A beginner’s guide to Cooperative Learning
The above anecdote is actually an extract from a book I am currently writing with my good friend and CL aficionado Andrew Howard, whose no-nonsense approach to deploying Cooperative Learning attracted the attention of every school in East Anglia. In many ways, Drew has also languished under the misconception of Cooperative Learning as a fancy version of group work what would miraculously solve everything. (See How to NOT benefit from a visit to Stalham Academy; a warning to desperate heads).
True to the practical nature of Cooperative Learning, we wish to dedicate this book to those teachers and leaders who want to know how to solve actual problems tomorrow morning without necessarily caring about why it works in the first instance. We have also attempted to target sections to roles, so SENDCos or leaders can quickly find their unique focus.
(Original illustration for the book by yours truly).
For the same reason, namedropping and clever quotes have been relegated to an appendix. Here you will find your heart’s fill of the in-depth theory, the relationship between Cooperative Learning, social constructivism and the dialogical approach to learning, research evidence and historical developments. As we are aware of the extreme pressure to provide “evidence” for everything (down to which paperclips you school receptionist is using) the appendix is also where you will find all the boxes neatly ticked for your presentation to critical stakeholders.
The structure of the book is in place and most of the chapters are written, but as we know, it’s getting the last details right that takes the most time and energy. Any teachers or heads working with me who have suggestions for the book should contact me directly. All comments are welcome. Follow on Twitter or join the mailing list to receive sneak previews and updates on the “Beginner’s Guide to Cooperative Learning.”
In other news
Aside from expanding and sharing my work with Sheringham and publishing “A beginner’s guide…” with Andrew, I am looking forward to my new role as Language Tutor at Leicester University where I shall be trialling a host of new ideas with what looks like a quite remarkable team.
I am also looking forward to continuing my efforts with Syrian refugee teachers in the camps on the Turkish side of the border, where it seems new opportunities are finally opening up.
Finally, there is an issue of Cooperative Learning beyond primary schools, dealt with below.
Cooperative Learning: The primary teaching tool in Secondary
Forgive the play on words, it was irresistible. It is clear that the majority of school leavers are not the empowered, confident, independent and resilient go-getters we’d like them to be. The opposite seems to be the case, according to my own experience and my sources in tertiary and business.
It is my contention that in the current climate of budget cuts and fear, UK secondary schools have no viable option to Cooperative Learning if they want to make a real difference to pupil’s lives with the ever-shrinking resources at their disposal.
This is because Cooperative Learning effortlessly integrates outstanding teaching of any subject content with the skills UK businesses and tertiary are looking for, including higher level, innovative and critical thinking, effective collaboration, personal accountability and initiative presentation and social skills. Especially to close achievement gaps without harming gifted and talented by lowering the bar, there is nothing like it.
“Very inspiring – it was immediately obvious why cooperative learning approach would have multiple benefits, especially when learning about controversial topics.”
– Mr R.T. Bradley, Head of Religious Studies, Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall, December 2015, Charlie Hebdo: Handling Controversy & Fundamental British Values
As a secondary schools with a successful Cooperative Learning feeder school, Stalham High School will vouch to the vast difference in these pupils’ capacity, academic and social. Giving such pupils a positive through-school experience to build on their capacities is only an added incentive to adopt Cooperative Learning. And the beautiful thing is that all those pupils with primary school experience in Cooperative Learning will make deployment and adaption so much simpler for everyone else. Add to this the desperate need to inculcate business and life skills and the lessening of teachers’ workload and flipping classrooms without stepping on toes… Everybody stands to win from Cooperative Learning in secondary.
“Scary at first, but after getting used to it, I began to interact more with the class as everybody needed your information and listened to you.”
– Year 8 student, Norwich High School for Girls, Connected Curriculum workshop, 2014.
Therefore, I am very keen to expand my key stage 3-5 portfolio and am looking forward to exploring my relationship to a number of high schools and colleges this coming academic year, including Barking & Dagenham College.
The very best wishes to all my friends, clients, students and colleagues in the coming academic year.