Picking off the 7 Deadly Difficulties in Teaching: #2 “Some get it; some don’t.”

Second in the series of 2 minute reads on how Cooperative Learning takes out each of the 7 deadly difficulties in teaching summarised by Tom Sherrington. Here comes the ogre of “Diverging attainment.”

Deadly Difficulty #2: Some get it; some don’t. Diverging attainment.

In a sense, divergent attainment 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 less threatening, if not a forté.

…. she doesn’t need to present something of equal quality to the high ability pupil. She just needs to present the best that he possibly can with the resources available to her.

Set the stage…

Again, Cooperative Learning does not happen in a vacuum. You have already set up your teams mixing one high attainment, two medium and one low attainment student (see below).

Mixed ability teams. All in same relative seats.

Before the activity, you have already run one or several diagnostics question(s). And you have modelled the specific procedure, your thinking process, the whole 9 yards. At a basic level, the success of Cooperative Learning entirely depends on the quality of your direct instruction and your scaffolding.

With this combination of mixed ability teams and high-quality direct instruction, there will be at least one kid at each table who gets it. Now, remember that the high ability kids all sit in the same corner of their four-man team.

And go.

We will use the same Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern as we did in the previous article, the ubiquitous Word-Round:

A guidance slide from the Confidence & Cooperation programme

Your high ability kids go first, working straight from your modelling. The next kid in line is one of your medium ability and he is now working from your modelling and the modelling of the high ability pupil. The next kid is the lower ability.  She now has three rounds of modelling in front of her. These three rounds of modelling are on top of any scaffolding and worked examples available on handouts or the whiteboard that you’d normally provide. And she doesn’t need to present something of equal quality to the high ability pupil. She just needs to present the best that he possibly can with the resources available to her.

And, yes, she may have picked an easier task or be working from a differentiated worksheet, if that’s what you think is best. (You choose. You are the teacher). But there is no excuse for copping out. Whatever the pupil might have, however little, and however poor, even if it is magpieing the previous team mate, she presents it. And her peers will thank her for it:

“… because in our classroom everyone has a right to speak and to be heard, and a responsibility to share their learning.”

And what is the teacher doing? Monitoring for misapprehensions, so whatever you feed back to the class when the activity stops is spot on. Remember, we want a high success rate before we even consider dropping them into individual work or we are dooming them to failure.

We have now tackled Deadly Difficulty #2 Divergent attainment. Have a look at #1 Persistent learning blocks and get notifications of related posts on Twitter.

More on direct instruction and Cooperative Learning in Participatory Budgeting in Schools#7: In the bright light of Rosenshine

All articles on the 7 Deadly Difficulties in teaching

Two down. Five to go.

These images are manipulated. No difficulties were actually harmed in the production of this article.


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

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