Picking off the 7 Deadly Difficulties in Teaching: #3 “No time for practice”

Engineering enough fine-grained practice before moving on. Third in the series.

Cooperative Learning does not magically generate more minutes in your lesson. It does, however, increase what you get out of the minutes that you do have:

Henderson Green Primary Academy, "the worst school in Norwich" two years after their first Cooperative Learning inset.

There are two aspects to getting more out of your minutes. One is the sheer volume and visibility of learning inherent in all Cooperative Learning activities. The other is the finely granulated training of basic procedures facilitated by specific Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns designed to do just that. Cooperative Learning is not “group work” and it is not “social constructivism” as this word is commonly understood today.

Deadly Difficulty #3: No time to practice. Engineering enough fine-grained practice before moving on

If we revisit the Word-Round described in the two previous posts you will find that at any given moment this activity is running a quarter of the classroom population is giving a highly personal account of their learning and the other three quarters of listening, assessing and comparing to their own understanding. There are multiple ways of extending and tweaking the Word-Round to drive feedback processes, connections, questioning, and so forth.

Ok, everyone. When you teammate is done presenting, I want you to follow this structure: “Thanks for your input. So, to summarise, [name], you said [summary] and I agree/disagree with you because [XYZ].

If you, as the teacher, stage the Word-Round around good questions, and you are conscientious in your monitoring and drop in the right prompts and questions as you move around, you will hopefully have caught a lot of the gaps in misunderstanding for the worst of them to be weeded out. In a sense, the Cooperative Learning allows you to pre-engineer their practice by filtering their thinking with a fine-toothed comb of questions, reflections and prompts before they even put pen to paper. And you will have enough information to engineer targeted fine-grained independent practice of that specific learning goal.

But, as noted in the introduction, the Word-Round is just one Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern out of a vast repository. If you want to drill very specific procedures related to maths, science and grammar, consider instead the pair based Sage & Scribe, outlined in this original slide from the Sheringham SSIF project:

Meticulous step-by-step instruction, available on the whiteboard, based on teacher modelling and clearly worked examples drives deeper understanding, or received, subject vocabulary, especially as the Sage is not allowed to touch pen and paper. No more pointing to “that bit” or “the one on the left” – it’s the coefficient, the reactants, the verb, the independent clause from here on out.

All articles on the 7 Deadly Difficulties in teaching

Three down. Four 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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