Category Archives: Cooperative Learning

…Best Use of Teaching Assistants with Cooperative Learning #4; III “Use TAs to help pupils develop independent learning skills…”

This series of articles explains how Cooperative Learning will make the seven recommendations in the EEF Making best use of TAs Guidance Report a lived reality in your school, simply and cost-efficiently. 

The seven recommendations are found in Section 5 of the report; This article discusses Recommendation III:

EEF Recommendation III header

 

The Guidance Report refers to EDTA research which has (unsurprisingly!) shown that improving the nature and quality of TAs’ talk to pupils can support the development of independent learning skills. TAs should, for example, “be trained to avoid prioritising task completion and instead concentrate on helping pupils develop ownership of tasks.” (p, 4).

The don’ts of TA interaction with pupils

The following figure is found on page 19 of the Report. In the following, we will demonstrate how Cooperative Learning will evade these pitfalls.

Rec III Figure 1 (Avoid...)

 

In a Cooperative Learning classroom, the pupils are the primary teaching resource and thus, as a baseline, TAs should only interfere with peer learning when strictly necessary, such as challenging off-task behaviour.

As a rule, the pupils are given freedom to work things out for themselves and request differentiated support from peers, which secures enough thinking and
response time while the limited access to pupils immediately solves the problems of TAs inadvertently prioritising task completion, high use of closed questions, ‘Stereoteaching,’ over-prompting and spoon-feeding before they arise.

(Note that it is the teacher’s responsibility to provide relevant language to facilitate these peer discussions, including relevant social skills and specific phrases, such as “Can you give me another example, please?”)

As for the use of closed questions, the tasks which form the content in any Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern are clearly modelled by the teacher, who picks the questions which will best achieve his objectives. (For more on closed questions, please see Cooperative Learning; Closed Questions, Closed Achievement Gaps).

Because the TA is present (and indeed should take part in) this modelling, only relevant interventions will take place because he or she will know exactly which type of questions (open or closed) to ask, the intended scope of the discussion, as well as the interaction itself. Please see the article on Recommandation II for more on this.

The dos of TA interaction with pupils

Vice versa, Cooperative Learning also facilitates the polar opposites, found on the same page in the Report.

Rec III Figure 1 (Encourage...)

As with the teacher, unless allocated a specific group or single pupil for very specific reasons., the main objective for the TA during activities is to monitor and to intervene only when necessary. This ties straight in with providing the right amount of support at right time, giving the least amount of help first to support pupils’ ownership of the task, and pupils retaining responsibility for their learning.

As for open questions versus closed questions, these are selected only to support current objectives, we have discussed this above.

Finally, as for making pupils comfortable taking risks with their learning, because Cooperative Learning takes place within pairs all within (teacher-appointed) small, tightly knit teams, it thoroughly operationalises Mary Myatt’s doctrine of “high challenge, low threat.”

 

High challenge

Focusing on the second part of Myatt’s famous book title, on the EEF resource page, you will find a practical framework designed to help TAs scaffold pupils’ learning and encourage independent learning. TAs should move down the

TAs should move down the layers in turn, the lower layers corresponding to the lowest challenge. However, again, this procedure should really take place between peers across the class.

TA scaffolding framework

Just strike out “TA” on the text by the left-hand arrow, and replace it with “Peer.”

 

The initial expectation is that pupils self-scaffold whilst the TA observes their performance, which is exactly what happens anyway in a Cooperative Learning classroom. TAs should then intervene appropriately when pupils demonstrate they are unable to proceed. It is obviously “important the tasks set by teachers, and supported by TAs, provide pupils with the right level of challenge.”

Please view the original document here. Furthermore, on page 19, you will find a framework that TAs (and peers) can use for more effective questioning. Blow it up to a full-size poster, or put it on your interactive whiteboard.

Finally, for anyone in doubt about the validity of the relation of Cooperative Learning to the EEF Guidance, this is a quote from page 18. (For those who have done training with me, you will know how the formative assessment is a given).

 

Rec III Quote

 

In the next post on Recommendation IV, we will discuss how you avoid spending your valuable lesson preparation time ensuring TAs have the essential ‘need to knows’, such as the concepts, facts, information being taught.

 

EEF Recommendation IV header.PNG

 

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Please do not hesitate to comment or ask questions directly by contacting me.

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

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  …Best Use of Teaching Assistants with Cooperative Learning #3; II “Use TAs to add value to what teachers do, not replace them”

This series of articles explains how Cooperative Learning will make the seven recommendations in the EEF Making best use of TAs Guidance Report a lived reality in your school, simply and cost-efficiently.

In accordance with these recommendations, the ultimate objective of my work with Evolution Academy Trust is to “transform the way Teaching Assistants are deployed and supported, to help them thrive in their role and improve outcomes for pupils” (Guidance, p. 29).

The seven recommendations are found in Section 5 of the report; This article discusses Recommendation II:

EEF Recommendation II header

 

 

Equal access to teacher for all pupils

It is vital that the pupils who struggle most have no less time with the teacher than others. However, what often happens is that “difficult” children, including those with SEN, are removed for intervention by TAs who may not have the specialist training to give them the support they need. This was a real concern among teaching assistants during the Evolution sessions.

So, rather than deploy TAs in ways that replace the teacher, the Guidance Report suggests that TAs be used in the opposite way – to enable teachers to work more with lower-attaining pupils and those with SEN. How can Cooperative Learning help achieve this?

First of all, because it organises and enforces engaging peer-to-peer work, Cooperative Learning removes the need for the teacher-at-the-board as the object of focus. This allows her to move freely, monitoring and focusing on specific children or teams as the lesson progresses.

I personally prefer using a rota, so I am certain each team/pupil gets a focus at least once a fortnight. A class of thirty-odd pupils composed of roughly 7-8 teams means that is entirely possible. As teams may stay together for up to 2 months, your rota of teams should bring you through all teams 3-4 times before they are disbanded. Then, when you reorganise pupils into new teams, you print out the list, and there is your new rota.

However, the danger of delving into a single team or pupil is the loss of the bird’s eye view, which could potentially lead to off-task behaviour, losing the sense of pace, not discovering the rest of the class is struggling or missing learning opportunities.

Here, the TA is worth her weight in gold. Because the core Cooperative Learning Interaction PatternsCooperative Learning Interaction Patterns are replicated with different content, day in and day out, the TA knows exactly what ideal practice is supposed to look like. Even if she does not have dedicated planning time – because she is present when the task is set up – she will also understand any specific subtasks, language or vocabulary modelled, etc. (And, ideally, she should be a part of setting up the session, see the upcoming article on Recommendation III).

Simply agree with the TA at which times she is responsible for whole-class control, so the teacher can dedicate herself where she is most needed.

 

Using teams

The Report gives as an example setting up the classroom in such a way that “on day one, the teacher works with one group, the TA with another, and the other groups complete tasks collaboratively or independently.” As the ideal Cooperative Learning classroom is composed of teams anyway, this piece of advice should be present no challenge to schools where this Cooperative Learning is embedded. You know your classes best, however, and bear in mind the above advice about monitoring.

TA with small group.PNG

Image from the EEF Guidance Report. TAs may take the role of a pupil when working with a specific team, to model correct execution of the CLIP to secure its built-in accountability (which will automatically help solve the issue of “TA spoon feeding”), and support SEN-requirements, language and social skills development.

 

TA & teacher modelling

To further add value to what teachers do, the Report suggests TAs should be a more visible part of teaching during their whole-class delivery. Again, following this best practice advice is no challenge to a classroom where Cooperative Learning is embedded.

Effective Cooperative Learning needs clear modelling of what we expect peer-to-peer engagement to look like, replete with body language, eye contact, specific vocabulary related to both subject content and social skills. While it is sometimes useful to for the teacher or TA to model with a pupil – which has the benefit of disclosing unforeseen misunderstandings – you also run the risk that the child, pinned in front of the class, will struggle to appear clever, rather than have an informed dialogue you’d want to see.

A better alternative is to think about the issues which could arise and run the model interaction with the TA as the partner. I have seen modelling where the TA was giving instructions on how to solve a task, while the teacher was writing directly on the board, using the ruler “wrong,” only to be corrected with very precise and respectful language, e.g. “You are very precise in your measurement, only you need to put it on the X-axis first, Ms Harrison. That there is the Y-axis. Wonderful. Good Job. So, where do we put the dot?”

 

And… TAs on their own

As anyone who has tried it out will confirm, most Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns is quite simple, and actually become easier and easier to stage as staff and pupils gain more experience.

This means that most TA will be able to set up and run basic Cooperative Learning activities (as agreed with the teacher, of course) setting the teacher free to do other things, such as crisis handling.

We will get to the issues of TAs using Cooperative Learning in interventions in the following posts.

Next up: Recommendation III:

EEF Recommendation III header

 

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Making best use of … Leadership; Coaching & Cooperative Learning.

Cooperative Learning makes learning visible. But, perhaps more importantly to senior leadership teams, it also makes visible their key area of responsibility, namely the teaching.

Were I to sum up Cooperative Learning in one word, it would be empowerment. Empowerment first and foremost of every pupil; self-confidence, courage, curiosity, choice, to name a few; empowerment of teachers (and their support staff) by making all the tick-boxes of outstanding teaching available in a simple, manageable manner; and empowerment of senior leadership teams (SLT) by facilitating their key role as guides to good teaching.

It may be obvious that empowerment of teachers is a prerequisite for the empowerment of pupils. But I venture here that empowerment of leaders in their role is in some ways a prerequisite for the empowerment of teachers themselves.

The responsibility of leadership

This article discusses how Cooperative Learning may empower all levels of your school community by working from the top down. Counter-intuitive, perhaps, and certainly something which needs to be tweaked to reflect the ethos of each school.

The fundamental assumption in this text is that 1) you are a leader because you have more to give – perhaps a more comprehensive educational background, more experience, better communication skills, patience, or decisiveness, to name some – and that 2) most of your staff could actually benefit from you, and actually wish to.

Empowerment via the top-down approach has several aspects. School leaders struggle with an overload of tasks which push the focus away from the raison d’etre of any school: every-day excellent teaching and learning in the classroom:

 

Headteacher's priorities.PNG

For those who use the Eisenhower/Covey matrix.

 

Given schools only exists for the sake of teaching and learning, and the documented positive impact of coaching on teachers professional development,* you would think that weekly lesson observations of every teacher by an experienced leader would not just be a given, it would be a right, the violation of which could bring the NUT down on the school’s head.

However, learning walks/lesson observations are often draining because outcomes seldom match the effort; objectives are not clear and feedback is not practical and, as a consequence, observations often result in vague hints which are seldom followed up, rather than instantly applicable advice that actually improves life for teachers and pupils from the next day and onwards. (Which only increases the sense among teachers observations are not about them being raised, but being judged).

We have previously discussed how Cooperative Learning has the capacity to effectively turn fluffy concepts of “secure more pupil engagement”  into practical reality. The question is, how does the school take ownership of this capacity?

Why coach leadership

The answer is to turn leaders into just that: Trusted, inspiring guides, who master Cooperative Learning enough to take the torch from the consultant and drive their school’s vision. So, rather than having me come into classrooms following CPD to observe and coach teachers, I began coming into classrooms to observe and coach school leaders doing the same.

There are numerous benefits to this, four of which are listed below.

 

1. Improve Cooperative Learning and basic teaching skills

Teaching becomes visible through Cooperative Learning. Here it is important to grasp that weakness in the understanding of teaching is not the same as weakness in the execution of the Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns (CLIPs).

I specifically coach to maximise the benefit of Cooperative Learning – a clear objective with clear outcomes that I feel confident I can secure during one lesson/feedback session, and although I deal with matters which impinge on the quality of Cooperative Learning (e.g. timing and directive modelling) any underlying deep or subject-specific issues (e.g. misapprehension of objectives, or inappropriate levelling), is best dealt with in an ongoing process with responsible school leaders.

So by coaching SLT rather than the individual teacher, the benefit of the coaching is much more ongoing, comprehensive, and cohesive; and here, the clarity of Cooperative Learning will not only disclose gaps in teaching skills but will give very practical tools to close them, presented in a respectful, and perhaps less direct, manner.

2. Put victims at peace

Most teachers are used to being masters of their own classrooms and, as do most people, dislike the sense of being observed and judged, even if they are brilliant. By focusing attention on the performance of leadership in the role of coaches, it is possible to secure accountability and improvement while being more respectful of teachers’ integrity.

executive-coaching

 

3. Fast-track to independence

By turning SLT into capable Cooperative Learning coaches, the school becomes independent of further external consulting, which is, of course, the ultimate goal for the school – and for me a sign I have done my job right.

4. The learner becomes the master

The practical coaching of SLT will enable leaders who are so disposed – there is at least one of those in every school – to move Cooperative Learning to a whole new level, tweaking, experimenting, combining, Stalham Academy being an obvious case study. But this cannot be done without mastering of the basics. “Wax on, wax off,” for those who remember the Karate Kid’s ordeals (Youtube).

Stages of lesson observations

There are several ways to approach Cooperative Learning lesson observations. The following discusses options of (A) Before, (B) During and (C) After lessons – with (B) obviously being indispensable.

(A) Before the observation

Ideally, the teacher presents the rationale behind the lesson plan prior to the observation (whether to me directly, or to a member of SLT being trained by me). This presentation includes shared reflections on pacing, choice of materials, assumptions about previous learning, securing evidence, as one normally would, but specifically how the CLIPs support this. “Why this CLIP and not that? Which sub-tasks fit in the objective? What target language are you requiring them to use?” For practical reasons, we usually do this in a break immediately preceding the lesson.

A special benefit of this approach is that I can confirm that the teacher grasps where and how to use the CLIPs in the context of the lesson, so that the observation may focus solely on the execution of the CLIP itself. By coordinating when CLIPs are used, it is conceivable to observe up to three separate classes within the span of a lesson slot.

 

 

(B) During the observation

With the coach(es) present in the classroom as the lesson takes place, there are two options: one is passive observation for later feedback, the other is active guidance as the lesson proceeds. As Cooperative Learning turns the focus away from the teacher, it is possible to have a real-time conversation about what is happening in the heat of the moment. For example, a reminder to monitor the whole class and not get sucked into the individual pupil’s issues is a classic.*

(An alternative version of this is to watch a video recording of the lesson together, where the teacher can see himself from the outside and discuss his observations with the coach. However, there is a risk that too much detail is lost in a video, as the coach cannot direct attention to individual pupils or teams).

(C) After the observation

It is crucial that the feedback following the lesson is a two-way process, respectful, yet honest. When coaching leaders, I usually run the feedback in the following stages.

1. Alone with me, the senior leader gives her own take on the Cooperative Learning within the lesson, and I fill in the gaps, add to the precision of language, or correct errors. Where relevant, we discuss the relationship to teaching skills and we use a checklist to make sure bases are covered. This checklist is provided to all staff during training (and every teacher is expected to laminate it and chain it to his wrist). Sometimes, the oral feedback is prepared with me playing the role as the teacher.

2. The observed teacher enters and gives his own subjective perspective. (“God, I was horrible!” is not an uncommon – and incorrect – opening statement, which reflects the strain of being monitored more than anything else). What is important that the teacher is allowed time and space to reflect on himself, and come up with his own solutions, first and foremost.

3. The leader being coached then uses this as a sounding board for the feedback, rephrasing it as needed to match, tweak, or correct the perspectives of the teacher. There is, of course, no reason to repeat problems that the teacher flagged up himself, except to note his insight, as realistic self-assessment is one of the single most valuable skills one may have.

4. Now comes the important part: the practical application of the feedback. This means picking the most important few issues, and presenting solutions in an actionable form. An example is given in the following section.

5. The teacher is offered time discuss with me directly, with or without the leader present.

6. I give the leader ia set of final comments on her interaction with the teacher. This will usually focus on the clarity of her message. Hence the extreme example below.

 

Exemplary feedback

Here is an example of what that could look like, with the wrapping peeled away:

“You pointed out yourself that you find it difficult to connect back to previous lessons. So, what we have agreed is that, starting tomorrow, every lesson will begin with a such-and-such CLIP, staged just like this, using these metacognitive questions about their prior knowledge, and securing this type of written evidence. The CLIP will last minimum five minutes, excluding staging, and you will use a on-screen timer to make your two Asperger’s pupils feel safe. You will dedicate yourself to monitoring, leaving the overall control of the class to your TA, who you will have carefully instructed in this task. A specific target for you is to stop waffling and to bring your modelling down to 45 seconds, giving more time to put the pupils in control of their own learning. So next week, I will pop in and have a look. We’ll take it from there. Any questions?”

 

Soddin’ Growth Mindset!

I intentionally stripped the fluff of the example above, because I want the content of the feedback to be crystal clear. Two points here: Number One, the “action plan” is the result of a dialogue between the teacher and the leader during the coaching session. Number Two, I do not, and I do not ask leaders to, speak that way to staff. However, behind the coating, that is the level of specificity you need to arrive at. If you find it a challenge to empower yourself in your role as leader to do that, consider asking other leaders in your hub or trust on how they do it.

Because, as uncomfortable and un-British as it may feel to risk stepping on people’s toes (I’ve actually had people apologise to me about the English weather!) just remember that you are doing the teacher and the pupils, both entrusted to your care, a severe disservice by not bringing out the very best in your staff.

As a Dane, I come from a very direct culture where many a casual conversation would be considered extremely rude by the British. Yet, one benefit to this obnoxious forthrightness is that it negates the confusion between what is professional, realistic feedback and what is a personal judgement to which one is entitled to respond emotionally. Those two are not the same.

On that note, ponder this: With smiling faces, we teachers drill into a pupil standing nailed to the whiteboard and feeling utterly humiliated in front of their whole class, that “It is GREAT to make mistakes because we can learn and grow!” Yet, some of us flatly refuse to rectify our shortcomings with a trusted colleague in a private setting, though we affect the futures of thousands of children over the course of our careers?

There is no real reason to feel judged in learning from colleagues, and certainly, there is no shame in learning from a colleague with superior skills or more experience. So, in summary, a trusting, collaborative ethos is not just a requisite for children to learn, but for adults as well. Coming full circle, the capacity to learn and improve is the basis of all empowerment. For pupils, teaching staff, and leaders.

 

Recognise this?

 

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NB: This article has been in the pipeline for a while, and was inspired by a novel take on coaching by a school I am now working with. Here, rather than sending leaders on learning walks, teachers are paired up with a sparring partner, who take turns observing and coaching each other. This opens an opportunity to dedicated use of Cooperative Learning to share practice and experience between those pairs and keep leadership informed in an informal and non-threatening manner. I am hoping to write an ongoing series on this theme. (And learn something new in the process).

You can follow on Twitter or join the mailing list for updates.

Also, benefit from related articles written for leadership on best-practice.

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*) “The reflection promoted by effective mentoring and coaching approaches in turn encourages a collaborative learning culture in organisations. For schools, this is particularly important, as it may alleviate some of the sense of professional isolation….”

From Mentoring And Coaching For Professionals: A Study Of The Research Evidence, P. Lord, et al., National Foundation for Educational Research, 2008, p. viii,  https://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/MCM01/MCM01.pdf  (accessed 17 September 2017).
**) Because the learning is so in-your-face, it is almost impossible not to step in. But unless the (indispensable!) TA is present to keep a bird’s eye view, this is not advisable.

 

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Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants with Cooperative Learning #2; “TAs should not be used as an informal teaching resource…”

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This series of articles explains how Cooperative Learning will make the seven recommendations in the EEF Making best use of TAs Guidance Report a lived reality in your school, simply and cost-efficiently.
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In accordance with these recommendations, the ultimate objective of my work with Evolution Academy Trust is to “transform the way Teaching Assistants are deployed and supported, to help them thrive in their role and improve outcomes for pupils” (Guidance, p. 29).
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The seven recommendations are found in Section 5 of the report; This article discusses Recommendation I:
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EEF Recommendation I header

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There is no beating around the bush: TA deployment as an informal instructional resource for pupils in most need is “no longer an option.”
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Take a step back
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As ever and always, addressing fundamental issues falls on leadership who must “rigorously define the role of TAs and consider their contribution in relation to the drive for whole-school improvement.” 
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EEF Recommendation I quote

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However, SLT does not operate in a vacuum and it is recommended that decisions arepreceded by a thorough audit of current arrangements to define the start and end points of any TA reform. When it comes to gathering, collating, and negotiating vast amounts of input and ideas from many people at once, a Cooperative Learning staff event is beyond compare.
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This is all the more important because so many angles are involved, crucially the connection between TAs and low-attaining pupils and/or those with SEND or behavior issues, who are most disadvantaged by current arrangements, but also issues of pay, workload, staff satisfaction, self-confidence, expectations, roles and relationships between TAs to teachers, leaders, parents, and pupils – to name a few.
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In accordance with this advice, rather than talking at TAs for two hours hoping this would prompt behavior-transforming reflections, Evolution chose a half-day tightly guided enquiry exercise with no expenses spared (as described in Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants with Cooperative Learning #1).
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For schools where Cooperative Learning is a part and parcel of school development, I recommend this re-think includes a clear strategy for Cooperative Learning to bring the individual TA’s skills to bear. You will find ample ideas in this series of articles. Follow on Twitter or join the mailing list for updates.
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Take a good look
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The objectives of Evolution’s Cooperative Learning sessions have been explained. Suffice to say, aside from the awakening of engagement and instilling a sense of worth, the sessions gave new insights into the inner workings of this overlooked group of staff, uncovering hitherto unrecognised complications, as well as untapped resources.
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Most importantly,  there were both well-qualified suggestions and a real willingness to benefit children through more instructional roles in the classroom – on condition schools offered relevant training and support. Many ideas could be directly linked to the seven EEF recommendations, thus generating bottom-up buy-in for reform.
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There is no doubt Cooperative Learning is a powerful tool for schools wanting a positive, communal ethos of empowered learners. What these sessions demonstrated was that Cooperative Learning creates an equally positive, communal ethos of empowered staff.
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By looking closely at the outcomes of such open, shared, yet anonymised sessions, leadership will find their choices enlightened and guided by a deeper understanding of this complex field. Very importantly, such sessions could take on a much more informal form in ongoing staff meetings to review and (re)define roles, purpose, and contributions of TAs, as described in this process of school improvement found on page 29:
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EEF TA Guidance report development process loop
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Take (shared) action
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This collaborative approach in no way negates my previous sermons on the crucial role of decisive leadership, quite the opposite in fact: Changing the routines surrounding the deployment of TAs may well be the biggest can of worms ever opened in the history of UK education. But then again, which can of worms costs a quarter of your school’s budget and potentially adds 3-4 months of additional progress per pupil per year for those brave souls who open it? You might well be positively surprised by your TAs.
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For example, Section 8 presents a number of tools and strategies that schools have successfully used to review and improve the use of TAs, of which the first one is “Planning a strategy to review the use of TAs.” As for the rest of the advice in this section, it was found, to the letter, in the output of Evolution Academy Trust’s teaching assistants during the Cooperative Learning sessions.
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Ultimately, the needs of the pupils must drive that crucial decision process: It might be that the roles of some or all your TAs need to change wholly or in part. Regardless, any real change demands determined, visionary leadership with the stamina to execute decisions in the face of adversity.
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However, if the SLT alienates itself from staff with an endless stream of unilateral decisions (based on research, of course!), the best metaphorical image is that of a decapitated head rolling down a hill, shouting back at the lifeless body “Just follow me!”
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Here, ongoing Cooperative Learning helps keep heads on shoulders.
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Follow on Twitter or join the mailing list to receive notification of the next installment:
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EEF Recommendation II header
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NOTE: For schools working with Sheringham Primary National Teaching School Alliance, these ideas will be integrated into a comprehensive Cooperative Learning package, giving you the option to add the 3-4 months of progress afforded by better use of your TAs to 5 to 8 months already inherent in Cooperative Learning. Please contact me for details.

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Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants with Cooperative Learning #1

The seminal EEF Guidance Report Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants point out the often-unrealised negative impact of many TAs on attainment. This series of articles explores how one MAT uses Cooperative Learning to operationalise the seven recommendations found in that report.

On their dedicated page, the Education Endowment Foundation introduces the topic of teaching assistants thus:

“380,000 teaching assistants (TAs) are employed across the country, at an annual public cost of some £5 billion, but previous research had shown that in many schools (…) for students from poorer backgrounds the impact of TAs was too often negative. “(Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants).

To drive the point home, TAs cost ¼ of an average school budget, TAs are present in most classes, and, furthermore, often handle interventions with vulnerable SEN and PPG pupils who have a disproportionate impact on results. In small schools, a bad day for a certain child during those fateful hours of SATs may spell doom.

Fortunately, the text continues:

“However, EEF trials have demonstrated that, when they are well-trained and used in structured settings with high-quality support and training, TAs can make a noticeable positive impact on pupil learning.”

Much to their credit, Evolution Academy Trust of Norfolk have been among the first MATs to give this issue their undivided attention, putting money towards professional staff surveys and following up with tailored training to turn the recommendations of the EEF research into cost-effective practice that will increase staff engagement and outcomes for children.

This is, of course, where Cooperative Learning comes in.

A summary of recommendations

Before we investigate the Cooperative Learning angle, this is a brief summary of the seven recommendations. Items I-IV cover class room context, V-VI cover out-of-class interventions, VII discusses the connection between the two.

 

I. TAs should not be used as an informal teaching resource for low-attaining pupils. Systematic review of the roles of both teachers and TAs is needed.

II. TAs should add value to what teachers do, not replace them. If TAs do have a direct instructional role it is recommended that these interventions supplement the teacher and are kept brief, intensive, and structured (see V).

III. TAs should help pupils develop independent learning skills and manage their own learning, e.g.  concentrate on helping pupils develop ownership of tasks, rather than task completion.

IV. TAs should be fully prepared for their role in the classroom by providing sufficient time for TA  training and for teachers and TAs to meet out of class to enable the necessary lesson preparation and feedback.

V. TAs should deliver high-quality one-to-one and small group support using structured interventions. (This is where we find a consistent impact on attainment of  up to four additional months’ progress).

VI. Adopt evidence-based interventions to support TAs in their small group and one-to-one instruction. As a minimum, sessions should be brief, by TAs who are professionally trained, follow a plan with clear objectives, include real-time assessment, and connections should be made between the intervention and classroom teaching.

VII. Ensure explicit connections are made between learning from everyday classroom teaching and structured interventions.

 

“Consistency with class…”

– TA’s brainstorm output, Costessey Junior School, Evolution Academy Trust, 13 July 2017.

As can be garnered from the above quote, much to their credit, our TAs raised all of the seven points ad verbatim during the opening brainstorm. It was impossible not to remark that the EEF might have saved all that time and money invested in education’s top PhDs by simply asking the TAs what they thought might be a good idea. Alas…

 

EEF Report photo.PNG

 

The enigma of the TA

The concern that TAs might not only not improve outcomes, or even decrease them, is not actually new. In 2009, a government-funded study by the IoE was headlined “Pupils receiving help ‘do worse'” by the BBC. Given that the average school shelves out a quarter of their often desperate budgets on TAs and the ever increasing focus on measurable results, one would think that everything else would be put on hold until the issue was resolved.

Added to the obvious problem of investment-vs-outcome are the “soft” issues of TAs often feeling disenfranchised, undervalued or downright abused, or, adversely, are so much a part of the current school fabric that any changes their roles and responsibilities is met with passive obstruction. In some extreme cases, they actively undermine teachers:

“I’ve had several TAs like this – worst when they have a colleague in the room and they can exchange “eye rolling” glances at each other whilst you are teaching!”

– Anonymous teacher, TES Forum thread, Please help…problems with teaching assistant, 2010.

It is a strange balance, as there seems to be a tacit understanding they can get away with almost anything, including scuttling outcomes, because they are straddled with the pupils and the work no-one else wants to touch – at an absolute minimum wage. There is little wonder some feel undervalued.

Assuming Corbyn fails to pull the brakes on the neoliberal orthodoxy, the next government step will likely be to fire all teaching assistants, UK wide, and throw the £5 billion they currently cost English schools at trained teachers.

To put this into perspective, three antagonistic TAs who scupper school improvement cost as much as a fully qualified teacher or SEN specialist who might, for example, be used to halve the number of pupils in a difficult class, making dedicated TAs irrelevant.

However, the negative impact on the school community in itself would make any headteacher think twice before pulling the trigger on something so radical. Fortunately, the EEF Guidance notes that recent findings indicate TAs may add 3-4 months to pupils’ yearly progress – if given proper training and support.

In summary, school leaders who want fast, high-impact improvement using their current resources need to look no further than their Teaching Assistants. Enter Evolution Academy Trust, Norfolk.

Cooperative Learning and MATs

Aside from the impact on TAs, adopting Cooperative Learning as a Trust-wide approach presents MATs with a cost-effective, DfE/EEF-recommended, and legally compliant way to spend its ample pupil premium funds on benefiting every child with 5-8 months of progress per pupil per year. (This is Cooperative Learning on its own, without the 3-4 months of additional progress noted above).

Some key considerations:

      • It is vitally necessary for any MAT looking to convert more schools to demonstrate it can improve results and close achievement gaps rapidly – and what better incentive than to demonstrate that current schools have achieved rapid results with even minute investments in Cooperative Learning CPD. (As well as high staff retention, even in the face of conversion turmoil (e.g. See Stalham Academy).
      • For MATs such as Evolution, whose ethos includes the independence of each school, Cooperative Learning simultaneously provides a practical toolkit that works and is easy to deploy and monitor for converting schools, yet its content-void nature means schools can retain their uniqueness and enhance the value of current good practice. This supports the Evolutions narrative of support, sharing, and egalitarianism.
      • Cooperative Learning works equally well with adults and provides a very powerful, coherent tool to share good practice at MAT “conferences.”
      • The monetary and social value of shared ideas and resources between 7+ schools would be immeasurable.

 

Objectives of the TA events

With a view to increase understanding of TAs own perceptions of their role, and to empower them to improve outcomes, I was requested by Mr Tony Hull, CEO of Evolution Academy Trust, to tailor and present four Cooperative Learning sessions to TAs in July 2017 under the title “The Real Value of TAs.” I was then further to consider the implications of evidence gathered in these sessions for a Cooperative Learning programme to support the seven EEF recommendations for the MAT’s seven schools.TAs discussing.PNGThe objectives of these events were:

      1. Instilling a sense of worth and belonging among TAs, leading to heightened engagement, staff retention, fewer sick days, etc.
      2. Information gathering of any specific grievances, in the form of wish lists and possible solutions – and the roles various staff, including SLT and teachers, in these solutions. The key was to link TA empowerment, ownership and accountability throughout, again to positively impact daily work.
      3. Providing TAs with one or two very simple, manageable Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns (CLIPs) with clear outcomes, to use with smaller groups of students by means of a unique, tailored CPD experience.
      4. Giving present members of senior leadership an opportunity to directly vet Cooperative Learning with a view to adopting this method in their schools.

All slides and handouts were tailored and branded for the event, and effort was expended to ensuring a light-hearted, enjoyable ethos. Each session fielded up to six tables of TAs.

 

Feedback

Each session ended with delegates giving rated responses to three questions and providing comments on an anonymous feedback sheet. 77% of attendees’ responses were either positive or very positive about the events, which unveiled the vast majority of EAT TAs as a very valuable potential resource who feel they should be appreciated, and who are eager to bring their ideas and skills to bear.

Given that TAs are sometimes “a notoriously difficult bunch,” as one headteacher once confided to me during a lesson observation, 77% positive feedback was a great deal higher than expected.

Leaving TAs to flounder – or, worse, to actively impair teaching and learning – is likely a significant contributing factor to poor outcomes in any school. As TAs consume as much as a quarter of school budgets, including PPG, ensuring their positive impact on attainment is an obligation for responsible leadership.

The following installments of this article will explain how Cooperative Learning cheaply and effectively may be used to operationalise each of the seven EEF recommendations in turn.

For schools considering Cooperative Learning, following this thread is a must, as I am currently dedicating TA training elements into all standard CPD courses at no further cost.

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TA independent learning

From the EEF Guidance Report, p. 19.

 

 

Second installment:

Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants with Cooperative Learning #2; “TAs should not be used as an informal teaching resource…”

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

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ASE London #1: Out of the Question …

It was a pleasure to attend yesterday’s Association of Science Education’s London and Essex Summer Conference “Supporting Learning for all in Science” at the Institute of Education, London. For someone like me, whose method deliberately targets achievement gaps, the title alone made coming irresistible.

A special thank you to Sheila of ASE, who virtually singlehandedly made it all happen, and to everyone who took interest in my impromptu stall. You should now all have received a welcome mail to COGS.

Due to the content void nature of Cooperative Learning, though specific examples here are taken straight from STEM KS3+, the theory connecting CL with questioning techniques, and the cooperative activities themselves, benefit equally in any subject and key stage. You will also discover what a milk float is.

Questions in Context

I know Dr Lyn Hayes, who invited me to the conference, from our work with the INSPIRE STEM PGCE training programme at Imperial College in January. I have previously explored the relationship between Cooperative Learning and STEM with Ben Rogers at the 2016 Annual ASE Conference at Birmingham University, where we presented the course Great Reading, Great Learning, and lately with Math leads in Leicester for SDSA, where the enhancement of Singapore Maths through Cooperative Learning was made very clear by delegates themselves. (More information here).

At yesterday’s conference, I prioritised  “Developing good questions for STEM learning” with Mary Whitehouse of University of York Science Education Group and “The Language of Mathematics in Science” with Richard Boohan & Roni Malek. The regular reader of this blog will recognise the obvious connection to my planned work with Mrs Hennah on oracy skills in science.

My final top choice was unfortunately cancelled; as I am involved in a Strategic Funding Bid to close gender gaps in Maths, another of my top workshop choices from the programme was “Improving Gender Balance” with Nicky Thomas from the Institute of Physics. Hopefully next time?

 

Cooperative Learning & Questions

Mary Whitehouse (@MaryUYSEG)  opened her keynote with the seemingly ubiquitous reference to Hattie’s research on effect size, recapping the impact of assessment (0.46), spaced practice (0.71) and feedback to the teacher (0.73) – all of which, as followers of this blog will know, are integral (assessment and feedback) or easily facilitated (spaced practice) by Cooperative Learning.

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Specifically, I was very happy with her quote from Hattie: “Structuring class sessions to entice, teach and listen to students asking questions to students is very powerful.” If that is not a description of Cooperative Learning and three of its main outcomes,  it’s not Cooperative Learning. I will attempt to exemplify in the following commentary on Whitehouse’s workshop.

Why asking the right questions is crucial should hopefully be something all teachers are aware of; what is less obvious perhaps is the support Cooperative Learning offers in situations where questions are poor or just plain intermediate in quality – which may well be the majority of questions in the average lessons.

First of all, if you cannot have quality, you can always have quantity. The simultaneous engagement with your questions by every single pupil in the classroom, and the stacking afforded by such basic Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns as Think-Pair-Share (discussed below), means any ‘less good’ question will be dressed up in peer-to-peer feedback and support and automatic differentiation through negotiation. (Who knows, you might get lucky and get the metacognitive comment “I think this question is stupid, because…”).

Also, since every single pupil is presenting their understanding, the assessment element is very strong. So, while the poor question posited might only have half the effect of a good question in the same cooperative activity, it still has a substantially higher impact than that question asked from the board and discussed with a lower ability pupil who is off on a tangent, while the rest of the class of 32 pupils nod off (Dare we say 3100% higher impact, mathematicians?).

Vice versa, good questions enhance Cooperative Learning dramatically. Because Cooperative Learning is nothing but a precise, surgical delivery tool for your input, the more powerful the input, the more powerful the impact. And, again, assessment is improved in correspondence with the quality of the questions asked.

So, with no further ado, onto Mary Whitehouse’s presentation  “Developing good questions for STEM learning”.

mary-whitehoude-planning-a-teaching-sequence.jpg

 

Mary and the Word

There are many benefits to making up questions, not least the fact that it forces teachers to think about which outcome they want and helps crystallise it. Specifically, Mary pointed out that looking closely at which answers your question might elicit is a good measure of the quality of your question in reference to you learning objective.

As we mentioned in the last of the articles on Stalham Academy, you can stage and execute a perfect cooperative activity which has absolutely no value to the objectives of the lesson. One of the ways this can happen is precisely the question you pick for the Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern, whether it be a Think-Pair-Share or Boss & Secretary. It is akin to a doctor who performs his surgery perfectly but on the wrong organ.

Among the things one should also be wary of when writing questions is whether any additional context is needed. Mary had some of us chuckling when she gave the example of pupils with a Chinese background responding to an exam question starting with the words “The batteries in the milk float are…” I chuckled somewhat less than others, as I , poor foreigner that I am, didn’t know what a milk float is. (She suggested trying “electric car” instead).

Milk float

Milk float courtesy of milkfloats.org.uk

Finally, and especially in the case of multiple choice questions, ask yourself if pupils could get the correct answer for the wrong reason – such as luck or misunderstanding?

 

The good multiple choice question 

As Mary pointed out, understanding the purpose of your question is the key to success. For example, “diagnostic questions” test pupils’ understanding to better guide teaching. If a Y7 teacher automatically assumes her new pupils can distinguish “force” and “energy” a whole world of mess opens up. Multiple-choice is a very simple, and easily assessable, way of checking precise understanding of concepts (We have already discussed closed vs open questions).

Mary Whitehoude, diagnostic questions

Here, Mary demonstrated an alternative, collaborative, way to present multiple-choice questions which really struck a chord with me. One of the main reasons Cooperative Learning yields 5 to 8 months of additional progress per pupil per year is the feedback element: Opening discussions between pupils give teachers insight into the thinking process that produces the wrong answers.  As any teacher will be aware, there is often a weird logic behind pupils’ misconceptions that need to be recognised before it can be challenged appropriately. An unfortunate example is found in the next instalment of this when we get to “Confidence Grids.”

The following item was developed to show how GCSE exam questions can be converted into diagnostic questions: The words in the speech bubbles are based on information from the OCR GCSE mark scheme and the examiner’s report:

The question is: “How can very high temperature lead to death?”

How can a very high temperature lead to death

By referring to the examiner’s report, you are sure the wrong answers are common misconceptions that you need to weed out.

 

Getting more out of it with Cooperative Learning

Now, it is entirely possible to present this task on individual pieces of paper, give them a couple of minutes to think and tick the ones they agree with and collect the evidence, but Mary’s point was obviously that one should use this in group work.

However, there is group work and there is Cooperative Learning. Group work risks loss of accountability, equal participation, off-task behaviour, etc. as discussed in multiple previous posts.

Therefore, in the following, I want to demonstrate the benefit of dropping this IWB task into a tightly timed Think-Pair-Share (e.g. one minute to Think, two minutes to Pair and three minutes to Share)With an enforced written element delineated at each stage in the form of “I/my partner and I/our team think X is correct/incorrect, because…”, you achieve the following:

  • get each student to capture their baseline understanding in writing.
  • get each student to practice writing a concise argument, and orally presenting it.
  • promote and train a scientific mindset.
  • acquire written evidence of each student’s specific misconceptions of ideas as well as concepts.
  • ascertain fluency (e.g. high level pupils will produce multiple answers and less capable pupils perhaps only one or two).
  • save plenary feedback time by letting pupils correct some of their wilder misconceptions with their peers.
  • check and improve the precision of subject vocabulary and general language.
  • get written and oral evidence of misconceptions and their corrections as pairs negotiate their individual findings.
  • acquire profound insight into the reasons for any misconceptions by unobtrusively monitoring discussions, securing effective, targeted next steps.
  • get written evidence of self-confidence: which pupils can stand their ground in an argument and who folds, even if he is right. (This needs to be dealt with as it is a matter of too much or too little self-confidence in the pair, both of which impact negatively on personal relationships – think PSHE for which every teacher should feel responsible – and scuttle calm analytical thinking required in science).
  • Get an on-the-spot written summary of each group’s understanding as the final Sharing stage will be the result of combined thinking and debating in each group.
  • feed back this data straight into the current lesson, because eight groups in a standard size class of 32 reduce the amount of data you need to process by a factor of four.
  • avoid marking
  • instilled confidence and team cohesion, as any plenary responses from individual pupils will represent a group effort, saving much humiliation (and recognising the value of collaboration which is indispensable given the complexity of modern science).
  • save time on plenary feedback, as you already know where the trouble spots are.
  • and a whole lot of other things, including automatic differentiation, positive peer pressure, social skills, language acquisition, etc., etc., etc. But that’s just basic Cooperative Learning for you.

And as Mary pointed out, student work is a great resource to acquire further inspiration for questions.

(For schools who have been through my CPD: We have discussed the cons and pros of Think-Pair-Share vs Meet-in-the-Middle. Both could be used here, but the benefit of that extra layer the pair element gives  before they come together I think is a case for TPS. Again, you know you objectives, students and materials best. Cooperative Learning must never be a straitjacket).

Disclaimer: This articles represents my own limited understanding of Mary Whitehouse’s workshop, and does not claim to include all elements or accurately reflect her presentation.

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Trusted partners: VNET/Werdelin present a Hands-on Introduction to CL

Working with Viscount Nelson Education Network, I am presenting Introduction to Cooperative Learning on the 14th July.

I am very proud of being accepted as a trusted VNET partner. I am especially happy about VNET’s minimal staff and commitment to independence and empowerment of schools through bespoke programmes that reflect their needs, which express my own take on school improvement.

As a partner, I have therefore agreed on an enhanced pricing model for VNET Schools. We are also offering opportunities to develop bespoke packages across multiple VNET Schools. All part of the benefit of being part of the VNET Network!

VNET – “the artist formerly known as NB2B”
Norfolk County Council’s highly successful Norfolk Better to Best (B2B) programme which delivered tremendous Ofsted outcome improvements across Norfolk over the last three years has recently been taken over by the community interest company Viscount Nelson Education Network CIC (VNET). VNET has been founded to ensure that the community network of schools that was formed through B2B, committed to a self improving approach and being both givers and receivers of support, could continue without funding form the LA.

The VNET approach is to provide tailored school improvement from best of breed partners who are matched to the needs and philosophy of the school. No two schools are the same, and therefore, a system of school improvement where one size fits all fails to deliver the desired results for many.
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The workshop

The workshop is our response to a number of requests from Headteachers following previous Tea Party discussions and Special Measures to Top-500 webinars with Andrew Howard on the considerable impact of Cooperative Learning in the area.
While it is well known that the Sutton Trust – EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit rates Cooperative Learning among one of the top investments of Pupil Premium funding, the aim of this Workshop is to give Headteachers who are keen to know more a chance to experience in a practical way.
In the workshop, we demonstrate how a single, simple activity from the programme may be used across all subjects to instantly generate outstanding teaching and learning by:
  • Sharing knowledge, reflections and ideas across class.
  • Activating prior knowledge.
  • Making students aware of their own learning process and knowledge gaps.
  • Retaining or explaining knowledge.
  • Drilling rote learning and procedural skills.
  • Providing formative and summative assessment.
  • Securing written evidence of learning.
  • Subtly guiding focus towards specific learning objective

 

Closed question, closed gaps

Even your closed questions yield more with Cooperative Learning. Read Cooperative Learning; Closed Questions, Closed Achievement Gaps)

 

As part of the workshop, Heads will receive handouts to take away – allowing participants to pilot techniques in their own schools with their current lesson objectives and materials. There will also be case study materials about the considerable impact similar programmes have made on other schools.
Booking & Details

Title: An Introduction to Cooperative Learning Hands-on Workshop

Date: 14th July 8:30 am – 10:30 am

Place: Information Suite, VNET offices
South Green Park, Mattishall
NR20 3JY (map)

Booking: To book your place, please email anita.lee@viscountnelson.net asap. This session is limited to a maximum of 12 Headteachers on a first come first served basis, and is provided as part of VNET Membership.

 

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For more information on Cooperative Learning, please visit www.werdelin.co.uk
VNET homepage is found at viscountnelson.net

 

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