Something as true-to-life as Participatory Budgeting in schools will invariably need to include some Project-Based Learning components across multiple work-groups simultaneously – So, how does that measure up to Barak Rosenshine’s principles of instruction? Here’s a take on how Cooperative Learning helps us cut through that discussion, using Tom Sherrington’s booklet.
On 20 May this year, teachers, enterprise education specialists, governors and leaders from various schools and organisations (including Birmingham Education Partnership and the Careers & Enterprise Company) met to take the first baby steps towards an effective Participatory Budgeting programme for schools. (Note that this article deals exclusively with the practical pedagogy of the event – you can read about Participatory Budgeting here). Their task – and my objective as a teacher – was two-fold and progressive by necessity.
- Delegates understand Participatory Budgeting as a concept [in order to let…]
- delegates combine their experiences and unique perspectives to map out an ideal Participatory Budgeting program that will actually work in schools.
To achieve this dual objective, we began with an old-school from-the-board-DI-presentation of the concept by one of the UK’s leading specialist on the subject, Jez Hall of Shared Futures CIC, followed by a student-led Accumulative Mind Mapping activity, driven by Cooperative Learning.
Please consider the specific subject of Participatory Budgeting a mere placeholder for a moment: This approach works in any situation where you want to guide processing of hyper-complex topics with visible learning and opportunities to intervene, with full written evidence – for example during Project-Based Learning.
Cooperative Learning, unlike Project-Based Learning, does in no way deviate from the fundamental principles summarised by Rosenshine. By holding this activity up against his Principles of Instruction, this should be clear to readers.
The Accumulative Mind Mapping activity was placed mid-session: After subject input, but before drafting action plans, which in our case was the equivalent of independent practice. For delegates, the activity served to summarise and organise their newly acquired knowledge to relate it to their professional practice, as well as to confirm and negotiate understanding (and we have not even gotten into the retention aspect). For Jez and I, the activity provided both formative and a summative written assessment of their collective and individual understanding, an opportunity to correct misconceptions, and to confirm that our basic idea was reasonably well-founded before moving ahead. I.e. “Obtaining a high success rate.”
The Mind Mapping Activity itself had three distinct objectives, dealt with in order:
- Delegates identify ideal outcomes of Participatory Budgeting in schools
- Delegates identify obstacles
- Delegates identify matching solutions and countermeasures
As noted in the previous post, a major obstacle uncovered by delegates during the Accumulative Mind Mapping was the potential mix-up in the mind of decision-makers between unmanageable, work-demanding Project-Based Learning and Cooperative Learning-driven Participatory Budgeting. (This particular knot is unravelled in this Venn diagram).
So, before we proceed to discuss the details of the actual activity and its outcomes, it is vital to understand that Cooperative Learning, unlike Project-Based Learning, does in no way negate the fundamental principles of good teaching, such as those summarised by Rosenshine. By holding this activity up against Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, this should be clear to readers.
If you are unfamiliar with Barak Rosenshine, you could do a lot worse than buying Tom Sherrington‘s recent how-to introduction Rosenshine’s Principles in Action. In fact, if you are a teacher, this is a must-have (And I don’t even say that about the book I am writing, so consider that an endorsement).
The following walk-through will demonstrate that, although its objectives are very different from teaching specific skills or knowledge, this Cooperative Learning activity nevertheless includes all of Rosenshine’s central components as detailed below. (The bespoke icons are from this succinct overview by Oliver Caviglioli).
Further to this, you will see that successful execution of each stage was clearly modelled on the electronic whiteboard, and that the activity was set up to scaffold (and control the scope) of the first round of student output. Finally, the activity is an example of guided practice, because it walks the students through a steadily increasing level of agency and because the candid communication between peers reveals the thinking process behind what comes down on paper, replete with misconceptions to be dealt with on-the-fly.
Throughout, you will see ample opportunities to check and correct student understanding and to drop in questions targeting individuals or teams at any point. Much more so, in fact, than in a typical front-loaded lesson, because the Cooperative Learning elements generates high volumes of highly granulated visible learning (more in Hand in Glove; SOLO Taxonomy & Cooperative Learning). Students openly present and discuss their understanding in the safe space of their teams. You listen in.
You will also see that the activity is divided into three rounds of short instructions immediately followed by a short, controlled burst of information processing.
A crucial point to be made here is that this activity does not take place in a vacuum, but was rather preceded by teacher input on Co-Creative Conversation; the rationale for Cooperative Learning as opposed to group work; and a very detailed presentation of Participatory Budgeting inside and outside schools – all providing models of good practice. In accordance with Rosenshine’s advice on presenting new material using small steps, that input had in turn been interspersed with micro-activities to assist retention. (For more in how Cooperative Learning can be used to process information, please refer to the three event summaries on April’s Spacing & Retrieval Practice with Cooperative Learning).
Here follows a step-by-step walk-through of the Accumulative Mind Mapping activity. Readers will be able to assess for themselves whether it keeps its promises.
Accumulative Mind-Mapping, step-by-step
Reminder: Mind-maps, or spider diagrams, begin from a single topic (e.g “Food”) from whence sprout a number of associated ideas (e.g. “vegetables”). These again branch into a new ring of associated ideas, (e.g. “carrots,” “cucumbers”).
In Accumulative Mind-Mapping, the theme and tasks associated with each new concentric “ring” is teacher-directed.
Step #1 Focus and boundaries
A main concern many teachers have with “student-centred learning” is the loss of control. There is no doubt that unguided and unstructured group-work is probably one of the darkest holes yet to be dug in a classroom floor. Its detrimental to everyone, HAPs and LAPs, SEN, teachers, the TA and the TA’s dog.
Forget the obvious issue of off-task behaviour in a class where everyone is speaking at the same time. One single argument against group work is sufficient: The unequal access to learning, where the verbose and dominant lord it over everyone else while the introverts sit and space out. You’ve likely seen this in group-type staff meetings, because effective collaboration has not – as far as I know – ever been taught in British schools, in spite of businesses begging and pleading for decades.
But merely structuring interaction is not sufficient: Even if the students are trained in Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns over years and years and everyone has every intention of staying on-task, those wild-firing neurons cannot themselves define the scope and boundaries of the new subject matter. It is your responsibility as a teacher to set the boundary/ies, in line with Rosenshine’s point about presenting new materials using small steps. Brief input. Short burst of output. Repeat. This is why successful schools such as Stalham Academy interlace Cooperative Learning with rigorous direct instruction: Many of the contexts you, as an adult, take for granted, are not so obvious to young minds. This is why most (or all) of the circles in the Accumulative Mind-Map are predefined by the teacher. Jez and I had a list of items we wanted our delegates to focus their attention on:
The two blank spaces at the top are to pick up any basic items we might have overlooked. Please think of your own lesson objectives here. If you are teaching Marxism, you might populate the inner circle with key concepts of communism or different classes to investigate the role of industrialists, farmers, workers, aristocracy, in the theory. If you are teaching the fire of London, these might be the causes of the catastrophe. (Et cetera. You get it :).
Step #2 Initiating the task
Now that you’ve set the stage, your next step is to model exactly what successful execution of the first task should should look like (Remember, you need to limit the amount of information the students receive at one time). Below is my direct instruction on the digital whiteboard, where I shared my thought process as I executed the task. (PS: Leave this model on the board so that your weaker learners can magpie in a pinch).
EXAMPLE OF MODELLING: “Ok… right… so parents should support the Participatory Budgeting process because it would be insane not to take this opportunity to get them involved. Hey, don’t scoff, these are ideal outcomes, alright!! (Pointing at the big blue circle). I am going to write “SUPPORTIVE” because I think that’s an ideal outcome (Pointing at the big blue circle, again!) in relation to parents. Ok. So, one way they might support is with their own “life experiences.” I am going to write life experiences here. (Writing) See that? Or maybe they have certain “skills” which might be useful. (Writing) Let’s say the budget is about refurbishing the main hall. Have any of the parents a background in painting or plastering? Make them feel valuable! Thinking of that, I am going to add “mentoring” … But should we put coaching as a separate branch, what do you think… Thanks, good input there from, Rob. Rob, you can be quiet now, it’s still my turn… etc.” (see Instruction point 4 below).
Now, direct instruction in the successful execution of the subject-related task is all well and good. But, we want equal participation and individual accountability of each delegate. Otherwise, we are in the group-work pit. So, there is another level of instructions which guide the interaction itself:
- One team member volunteers to start (Don’t do this with kids!).
- One minute to add their ideal outcomes to any area.
- Explain thoughts, confusion & interest as they go along.
- They may invite oral contributions and advice (I modeled this as well).
- Going anticlockwise, the next person does exactly the same for one minute.
Readers who have worked with me will be quick to recognise the outline of a Word-Round, a staple CLIP in almost any good lesson. In essence, the four students in each team take turns executing a task, whether answering a simple question “I disagree with the author because…” or demonstrating a solution “My maths task was XYZ and I solved it using a bar model like this…” etc. Deceptively simple, as many children go through their entire school life unable to listen attentively to a peer for 30 seconds. (And, without mentioning names, some alpha males in the session did believe they could dominate their table, hence the (humorously) modeled self-assertion). Here is an example of actual output:
Step #3 Critical thinking & self/peer assessment
Now, After four minutes (One minute per team member in four-man teams), your students have demonstrated their understanding in oral and written form. In our case, Jez and I had an insight into various stakeholders’ ideal outcomes. Much confirmed our our expectations, and some surprises. Obviously, Jez and I were walking around, monitoring, discreetly hinting and guiding where needed. We were both able to ask a large number of questions relevant specific delegates without holding up the whole session, and check for understanding using unobtrusive monitoring which I generally prefer over picking some poor kid in front of the class.
Next, we wanted to identify the main challenges, so that they could be addressed systematically in the design of the Participatory Budgeting programme. I rotated three of the four team members one table to the left, leaving one poor sod available to explain the naive hopes of their team to the critical mob descending on them from the next team over. While it is entirely possible to repeat the Word-Round, I chose a free-for all (again, timed) letting everyone note any possible challenges facing the first round “ideal outcomes.” Again, modelled and again, talking while thinking. Here is an example of the board work.
Note the use of coloured pens, keeping the outcomes and the critique neatly separated. There was no requirement to sign off on input: Jez and I had already decided not to track each delegate’s input – there are ways and means to do that – so people would feel more free to speak their mind.
Step #4 Full circle
Finally, the delegates returned to their own tables to survey the damage. Here, having a team member present to experience the deluge was helpful to unpick interpretations of written comments. The point is that the writing stabilises and focuses discussions. From my perspective, the deep learning is in the discussions themselves. If oracy is your thing, there is no stronger delivering tool than Cooperative Learning.
And there you have it. Rosenshine’s 17 principles, ticked off using Cooperative Learning.
Previous posts on Participatory budgeting in schools
- Take Part: Empowerment & meaningful social action in the 2019 Framework
- Participatory Budgeting in Schools? #1; The Stakes and the Stakeholders
- Participatory Budgeting in Schools #2; Progressive Traditionalism?
- Participatory Budgeting in Schools#3: First baby-steps.
- Participatory Budgeting in Schools#4: A tale of two schools
- Participatory Budgeting in Schools#5: Knit & Natter or Twit & Tw*tter
- Participatory Budgeting in Schools#6: “Participatory-Project-Learning-Thingie…?” – The counter-kerfuffle
- Participatory Budgeting in Schools#7: In the bright light of Rosenshine
- Participatory Budgeting in Schools#8: Miss Jones gets education into character at CurriculumEd2019.
- Participatory Budgeting#9: Schools as Living Organisms