Picking off the 7 Deadly Difficulties in Teaching: #1 “They still don’t get it”

This series of 2 minute reads shares how I’ve seen teachers use Cooperative Learning to take out each of the 7 deadly difficulties in teaching so neatly summarised by Tom Sherrington.

For the first difficulty (“They still don’t get it”) we will use the absolute simplest of Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns which is the bread-and-butter of both the Sheringham SSIF and the HeppSY+ Confidence & Cooperation programme. Enter the humble Word-Round.

Word-Round has two steps:

  1. The teacher presents a task with multiple possible solutions.
  2. The four team members take turns presenting their solution.

[ Student presentations can be timed or otherwise limited. Classes are organised in teams of four (with the odd team of three necessitated by unequal numbers). ]

Without further ado:

Deadly Difficulty #1. They still don’t get it. Persistent learning blocks

Tom writes: “It’s worth trying to diagnose more precisely where the problem arises…” Cooperative Learning by its very nature makes learning visible (see SOLO article). This gives you a phenomenal formative assessment tool because unobtrusive monitoring of the conversations you stage around your diagnostic question will not only reveal what the problem is, but exactly how it became a problem in the first place. In their small socially safe teams, your students will be a lot more candid than when they are picked to speak in front of the class. And because everybody is talking (in controlled bursts and using very specific vocabulary and word stems that you picked and modelled because you’re smart enough to know that it’s not enough to “get the children talking”) you are able to sample a much deeper and wider range of misunderstandings in the same amount of time as in the classic “deer in the headlights” exercise. Listen and learn: Is it that prior knowledge is missing? Is it poor recall? Did you use the wrong model? Were your worked examples not to the point?

And you don’t even need to overthink your diagnostic question. Just say:

“You have 45 seconds to write down everything you don’t understand in keywords, and then 30 seconds each to present your team, starting with the person in the red corner. 1, 2, 3 … start writing, now.“

And, no, this does not happen in a vacuum. The students do this for two reasons:

  • Because you train them every single day in every single lesson to build oracy, confidence, resilience and stamina – recognising that great GCSEs won’t help a young adult who cannot cope with life itself (which is roughly 50% of them by the time they enter higher education).
  • Because any divergence is treated as a discipline problem and dealt with according to schools behaviour policy:

“Just like I will not accept any one of you running amok in the classroom stabbing you peers with a pencil, I will not accept anyone interrupting a teammate who shows the courage to share her learning process with you for your benefit. Everyone in this room has a right to be respected and listened to and to be a part of the learning process.”

In a Cooperative Learning classroom, “active listening” is just as much a part high expectations as having a pen ready. (And, yes, you do model the active listening, too. Cooperative Learning is not a lazy teacher approach by any stretch of the imagination).

One down. Six to go.


2. Some get it; some don’t. Diverging attainment.

In a sense, this can be more difficult than when the whole class is equally clueless. However, because Cooperative Learning turns every single child into a resource and enforces equal participation, mixed ability and diverging attainment suddenly becomes a forté… Follow on twitter for updates.

All articles on the 7 Deadly Difficulties in teaching

Original article by Tom Sherrington here.

More on his booklet on Rosenshine and the relationship between Cooperative Learning and Direct Instruction on Participatory Budgeting in Schools#7: In the bright light of Rosenshine.

werdelin.co.uk is the business end of cooperativelearning.works.

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