Category Archives: CPD

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.


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 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
VNET homepage is found at



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Stalham Academy, What Went Right? Lesson#3: Get your Head around it.

MAKE TEACHING VISIBLE: Many NPQHs will remember the concept of a “Golden Thread” that should “run through the school.” But as with so much educational advice, that is a vague concept much in the same way as “ensure pupil engagement.”

For someone in the thick of it, such fluffy instructions are not helpful. And this was precisely Osiris Education’s point at the recent conference Visible Learning : Make learning visible, and you will know how to guide your learners. But my point here is: Make teaching visible, and you know how to guide your teachers. In this article, I want to focus on how Stalham used Cooperative Learning as a hands-on tool to create a “golden thread” that landed them in the national Top-500 league for £900 worth of CPD.

Not what, but how

For attendees of the upcoming webinar “Special Measures to Top-500 with Cooperative Learning”,  the first thing Andrew will tell you is not so much what Cooperative Learning is, but more what it isn‘t. It’s not what to teach, it is how to teach it. You already have the National Curriculum and access to an endless array of free and paid teaching materials for every subject.

Cooperative Learning is a delivery system for … well, anything, actually. It’s just an incredibly effective delivery system, that works instantly for everyone in every subject and is obscenely cheap.

Head, do your homework

We mentioned Stalham Academy did three 2-hour CPD sessions after school, each tailored to the needs of the school.

If you want to make the most of any Cooperative Learning CPD, Point No. 1 is: Do your homework and identify your problems. What I deliver follows from that conversation.

In Stalham’s case, the first session presented three CLIPS*: two basic, but versatile, covering full-class and team sharing, thinking skills and drilling. (Attendees of the NB2B Tea Party this months will see one of these demonstrated). The objective was to ingrain the concept of collaboration. The third CLIP was specific to reading, a big issue at the school.

Point No. 2 cannot be stressed enough. Senior leadership, and especially the headteacher, must be present at every, single session, from start to finish. A leader does not lead from the back office, but the front. As a leader, you must understand the practical implementation of Cooperative Learning better than anyone else at your school.

Simply put, this is the key to turning a £45 per delegate programme into the equivalent of a £1000 per delegate programme, which is what you could easily be paying a major educational consultancy firm to reach the top league from special measures – assuming they could even pull it off.

Lesson observations & Cooperative Learning

A part of the beauty of Cooperative Learning is the practicality of it. It’s either there or not there. Despite its subtlety, you are not looking for something subtle. Is every single learner engaged in relevant tasks simultaneously? If they’re not, it’s not Cooperative Learning. Just pop your head in for five seconds, and you will know.

So, it’s the day after the first CPD session. You observe the first five minutes of a lesson, the teacher asks an open question to get learners interested. “Yes, Rob, what do you think?” Rob then goes off on a tangent and four minutes are spent eliciting the correct answer while the rest of the class nods off. Ok, definitely not Cooperative Learning, then.

Once you’ve established that Cooperative Learning is taking place, you can look at the details. Again, it’s possible to make the granulate the observation. Is the activity properly modelled so the learner interactions, tasks and roles are crystal clear? Ok. Zoom in. Is the specific target language modelled, and made available on the IWB or posters? Ok. Zoom in.  Are any relevant phrases in place, in case the learners need to challenge each other? Ok. Zoom in. Are the three ASD pupils properly supported by peers? Ok … Next area of focus: Is the CLIP appropriate for the content and objectives?  Et cetera. And all you need to do is refer to a simple checklist, provided to every teacher in the CPD.

Cooperative Learning is as simple as microwave food. Lesson observations with Cooperative Learning are as simple as assessing the preparation of a microwave dish. Poked a hole in the plastic before shoving it in? Check! Closed the door? Check! Turned the knob? Check! Listened for the “Ding“? Check. Yet, for the guests in the restaurant that is your school, Cooperative Learning is healthier than gourmet food from Jamie Oliver’s own hands.

In the words of @DavidDidau: “The point of a lesson observation should not be to see whether a teacher is slavishly following a checklist, rather it should be to tease out how effectively they are teaching the students in front of them to master specific curriculum goals.”

I could not agree more. Yet, my question here would be: What if you had a checklist that could tease it out? If you tick the boxes, the teaching is just plain outstanding, thanks to the CLIPs.*

Normally, your feedback would be akin to “Make sure the students are more engaged in the starter activity.” Now your feedback is:

“You had an open question. Every time you have an open question from now on, don’t ask individual questions while the class nods off. I want you to drop it into a Word-Round. Give each team member 30 seconds each to answer. If very challenging, start with strongest student in each team, to filter down ideas and language. Remember to model one or two answers beforehand. Always monitor, so that, if you do follow with open plenary, you only to pick students you know have the correct answer and so that any instruction you give them reflects actual problems you observed while monitoring, rather than your assumptions. I will come back tomorrow morning to check this is in place.”

And you do come back – on a strict rotation every single day without fail, getting around to every single class, every teacher and every subject. Everything else, including disobedient children, budgets, angry parents calling about why Johhny was reprimanded for throwing his lunchbox at a teacher, are dealt with by dedicated staff. After you have delegated responsibilities, the role of you as a headteacher is to secure two things, and two things only:

  1. The Teaching & Learning is in place. Everything else is an ancillary.
  2. The taxpayers’ money for which you are responsible is not wasted – such as not following up on CPD, even if it did only cost you £150.

So: Get your head around it, and the main body of your school will follow.

Key factors in successful implementation

Finally, for those readers who are keen on research evidence, I want you to refer to a 2005 paper The Implementation of Cooperative Learning in the Classroom by Wendy Jolliffe at Centre for Educational Studies, University of Hull. (The “Facilitator” mentioned would be you).

Some of her key points include:

  1. The vital role of the Facilitator in supporting, training and monitoring the use of CL.
    • See above.
  2. Facilitator expertise and research impacted on effective implementation.
    • I.e. again –  make sure you are the one who understands Cooperative Learning best.
  3. The effectiveness of providing a mixture of external training and support, in initial stages, followed by in-house support through the Facilitator as well as peer support.
    • See next section.
  4. Training that incorporated explicit modelling of strategies was more effective.
    • See above.
  5. Peer observation using clear guidance proforma.
    • See next section.

Do you see?

(Please note that I cannot vouch for the cooperative learning methodology and training used in this paper as I did not deliver it. But in my experience, these findings do hold).

Peer support is not just for learners

“Peer support,” i.e. teachers sharing best practice, should be an absolute given in a school promoting a collaborative caring ethos. And let’s face it, if the teacher doesn’t master it, he cannot make others master it.

Here is a leading question: As a headteacher, do you think you are responsible for allocating time for sharing best practice in relation to teaching and learning? Or are your teachers. You are right. You are responsible.

And the best thing is that you don’t need to plan anything. Just tell one of your teachers (or a couple) to stage a series of Cooperative Learning activities that will facilitate knowledge sharing in staff meetings, and get feedback on that. No work for you, cost-effective, inhouse training, a chance for you to observe multiple teachers simultaneously, listen to their ideas, and their grievances  – which the Cooperative Learning defuses through the interaction with peers.

This deserves an article in it’s own right.

Full  a document is found here: <>


*) What’s a CLIP?

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Stalham Academy, What Went Right? Lesson#2: Dive in Head first.

This is the second instalment of the Stalham Academy series, which investigates how a reeling Norfolk primary in special measures could reach UK top-500 in two years – for a £900 CPD investment.

In the previous post, we discussed the importance of knowing what you want. This second post examines the steps from the first CPD session to effective deployment of Cooperative Learning in the classrooms.

The Skills & Mastery course was delivered in three blocks of two hours after school, rather than one big, mind-numbing 6-hour inset. Not only does this mean there is no cost for cover, the bite-size format helps ensure no-one chokes.

It also distributes the cost over several months. At Stalham Academy, we did three CLIPs per session, 24 September 2014, 3 December 2014 and 11 February 2015, starting with the more versatile and working towards the more targeted, complex  CLIPs as teachers found their footing between sessions. My objective is always that whatever is trained is applicable the following day.

My objective is always that whatever is trained is applicable the following day. Because Andrew Howard had a vision for his school, and had taken the time to attentively go through the “instruction manual” with me, he was way ahead of the curve on this.

Mr Howard had, and has, a fundamental understanding that the Teaching & Learning is the core product of any school and that nice buildings, interactive whiteboards, intelligent assessment and budget systems, etc. are mere ancillaries to this.

Rather than sit in his office meeting out orders like some Lord Kitchener he did what real leaders do. They lead from the front. He actively used the CLIPs in his own teaching, working with Ms Gillespie and other SLT to quickly establish the best practice that would drive the vision he had already outlined to staff. He used what he learned from his own classes, and based on experiences he and his team demonstrated and observed lessons, coached, advised, and supported teachers, creating not only an engaged and excited shared learning environment, but a ditto teaching environment. And don’t teachers deserve that?

Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns are comprised of very simple steps, but precisely therein lies their complexity. Consider Think-Pair-Share, often attributed to Frank Lyman. Many, many teachers use it all the time – but most could massively improve the outcome of this activity by being aware of their timing of the stages, their modelling of specific outcomes, written evidence, and language, their use of sub-tasks, etc.

180 seconds of well-executed, targeted Think-Pair-Share – 30 seconds to think in absolute silence, jotting down 2-3 key terms, 60 seconds to discuss in pairs and 90 seconds minutes to share, directly with one partner only to secure accountability – will get you more than fifteen minutes of the sloppy, slippery and nebulous  version of the exact same activity.

This is why the more experienced members of senior leadership need to be in the classrooms. Not to micro-manage, judge and spy, but to give brief feedback that is practical and applicable.

Because Cooperative Learning is “instant coffee” outstanding teaching (just add pupils and stir) it does not take complex feedback to get really amazing results from teachers – even those who were on the verge of leaving the profession.

Essentially, observing SLT members simply draw attention to the checklist issued to everyone during the CPD – in 95% of the cases, the reason things are not optimal is because the simple basics were ignored, e.g.  the task is unsuitable for the CLIP, such as asking a closed question in a Think-Pair-Share: “What is the answer to the first task on your paper; 45 minus 56? Just turn to your (A partners) when you are done, and then to your (B partners)” 

Try this instead:

“You have one minute to work out as many of the tasks as you can on your worksheet, then you have 30 seconds to compare your method and results with your (A partners) and 30 seconds to share with your (B partners). Resolve any disagreements. If your team has resolved any and all differences when we finish, the whole team puts your hands up. I will time you. Go!”

Differentiation, because HAPs can keep working in Think stage – with written evidence. Then compare results, to promote language, higher level thinking, peer learning. Same result, good, next one. Not same, why?! Your partner didn’t do a single one? Help him work it out as best you can, or help each other (“Bob, the negative number is the larger of the two, you see? So the answer should be negative”) generating automatic, personalised and highly differentiated peer learning and feedback -across the whole class simultaneously.

The higher ability especially benefits from the metacognitive element, as s/he reflects on her own understanding to make it accessible to struggling peers, but in order to ask a relevant question, the lower ability pupils need to formulate what precisely they don’t understand. Feedback and Metacognition give 8 months of additional progress per pupil per year, according to the Sutton Trust-EEF Toolkit.

The “hands-up” add a sometimes beneficial competitive element. In the end, the teams that have their hands down are the ones you need to support. (But then you already knew that because you were monitoring, weren’t you?)

That took about 30 seconds to stage, and two minutes to execute. And all the observer needs to say is: “Always let Think-Pair-Share task volume be open-ended, and make sure they investigate why there is sometimes a difference between results. Otherwise good.” 

Quoting the Toolkit, “…it is important to get the details right.” And this is where SLT and the (acting) head stepped up at Stalham Academy in the weeks following the CPD.

Coming up: Ordered deployment or everything at once?  Stay updated on Twitter.

Interviews with Stalham Academy staff here. Reflections from senior leadership from Stalham and elsewhere here.

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Stalham Academy, What Went Right? Lesson#1: Getting your Head straight.

Even in a Formula One racing car, it all comes down to the driver. If they weren’t so skilled, Stalham Academy’s senior leadership should be wearing fireproof suits and crash helmets.

This is the first in a series of articles discussing how Stalham Academy used Cooperative Learning to get from special measures to top 500 with nothing but the 6-hour Skills & Mastery course.

Cooperative Learning will always generate very, very good teaching if you follow a few basic rules in your classrooms. However, before we get to what these are, there is the issue of Senior Leadership.

(For schools in the  Norfolk Better to Best network especially – given the increased focus on leadership in relation to teaching and learning – this first article is a must).

Make sure to help us pick the right content for the upcoming webinar on Cooperative Learning, fill out this 60-second questionnaire. Link found at the bottom of this page.


What to do with something that can do everything?

As an external visitor to schools, I don’t walk in and tell teachers what to do. I believe they know their strengths, styles, learners, subjects and resources far better than I. Rather, I give a hands-on demonstration of how a set of content-free Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns (CLIPs) generate instant outstanding student-centred learning. I then hammer home that they are not required to – and indeed should not – use Cooperative Learning all the time in every lesson. I do everything to avoid delivering a straitjacket system. Cooperative Learning will only, in fact, do what you want it to when you want.

But precisely this “what you want” may be the head’s Achilles heel; what Senior Leadership chooses to do with Cooperative Learning after the training will in most cases determine what your school gets out of it. This holds true for Cooperative Learning as much as for any other CPD. We all know about bad habits and the gravity pull towards default. So what did Stalham Academy do right to avoid the black hole of bad habits?

Getting to grips with gravity

Andrew Howard, then acting head of Stalham Academy, decided to bring the school out of special measures virtually overnight, and so he did. But certain other schools have not achieved lesser goals in spite of running more CPD.

The advice that follows is based on certain assumptions that I hold:

First, I assume you want to work with me because you have some recognition of what Cooperative Learning can do. On the surface, it is true Cooperative Learning is “simply another strategy among many to get students talking.” But in fact, this is similar the now-famous 1943 statement by the then Director of IBM, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” That was not one of IBMs finer moments.

Second, I assume that Senior Leadership is to be held entirely responsible for the school – its ethos, results, staff retention, materials, the lot. If anything goes wrong, it is on them. Not poor teachers, not misbehaved children, not the lack of an IT-guy. At the very end, it’s all on the head.

Have you got a head on your shoulders?

If the school is the body, SLT is the nervous system. But what is the nervous system without, precisely, the head.

If yours is like most schools, the head navigates the complex role of soul doctor, mediator, and visionary, while constantly risking having its higher level thinking side-tracked by tasks it should really not be doing. When you drive, you do not consciously give commands to your foot to press the clutch or to your hand to shift gears. Bits of the nervous system do that for you. Rather, your head has the overview of the direction and potential traffic jams – It makes the life-and-death choices at the wheel.

Thus the first condition of Stalham’s success is the front line leadership of Andrew Howard.

From our first conversation, even without understanding in detail what Cooperative Learning was, he knew what he wanted it to do. Once we had outlined and delivered the first 2-hour slot of CPD, he followed it up with stick and carrot, guiding, nurturing, and challenging his teachers, observing them and coaching them, refining their use of the CLIPs, identifying lesson plan objectives, producing and organising targeted resources, etc.

Parent meeting Andrew Howard lesson presentation

Mr Howard in action, Stalham Academy, 2015.

Right for Success Trust hit the jackpot when they secured Glenn Russell to head the school. I know many an incumbent headteacher who would have walked in and made his mark by undoing all current programmes to make way for his own ideas. Not so with Glenn; for him, the children came first, and he correctly assessed, as he said in an interview “…the teaching is very, very good.” He simply brought his superior education and experience to bear, further refining and integrating data tracking and assessment, complementing and strengthening Andrew Howard’s in-class initiatives.

Problems & Solutions

In summary, this is Lesson One for schools wanting to copy Stalham’s success:

  1. Know what you want to achieve and tell me.
  2. Follow up the deployment of the CPD in the classroom.

As for number one, aside from the initial meeting, which is part and parcel of any budding relationship, I have begun to offer headteachers help to turn vision into flesh and bones. Not necessarily because they are not good heads, but because they are busy, swamped, and I should make their life easier. One of the brilliant things about Cooperative Learning is that once experienced, its application is so practical and its outcomes so delineated it’s almost like working with lego brick (or just “legos” as they say here in Norfolk). It very quickly gives SLT and governors a roadmap, with clear signposts to guide direction and measure the progress of roll-out.

As for number two, I assume that observing and coaching the men and women directly responsible for teaching is an embedded routine, and if not, it should be. Because the CLIPs are all about practical application, it is very easy for an observer to check they are being deployed in classrooms.  Remember that delivery is usually in short twilights so you can focus on one or at most two CLIPs per time. However, because of the incredible versatility of CLIPs, you need to break up the first couple into manageable chunks. Each one is a Swiss Army Knife in its own right. You need to distinguish all the tools, to pull them out at the right time and in the right order for the job. Are you looking for assessment? Do this. Formative or summative? Do that. Do you want written evidence? Do this. Etc.

So, in response to the needs of specific schools, I have spent time developing a “Deployment Plan” to further help SLT secure successful deployment of Cooperative Learning without having to do extra work. Rather than doing everything at once all over the place, this plan presents objectives with crystal clear success criteria which allows SLT to track each teacher and give him or her the support needed. By making sure teachers experience success, the element of empowerment is sufficient motivation for the teacher and the students to fuel success.

Small successful steps where everyone feels on board are preferable to arm-waving ambitions with big failures. But even the greatest journey starts with small steps.

So if you choose Cooperative Learning, trust you have made the right decision, work with people to feel safe getting onboard and press the speeder – gently, but firmly.

For next instalment follow on twitter. is the business end of

For video interviews with SLT and staff, visit the Gallery.



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Welcome back to school; time for dessert

Preparing for academic year 2016-2017. The proof is in the pudding…

Anyone who looks through the copious research (including the meta-studies in the Teaching and Learning Toolkit)  is convinced by Cooperative Learning.

Cooperative Learning always works if you follow the steps, quite literally. But, unlike most other things in life, Cooperative Learning gives what you want from it.



If you’re looking to boost teachers individually, or provide one more exciting tool among many, then that’s what you will get; everywhere it’s used, it will benefit teaching and learning.  But if you are looking for cohesive, systematic improvement to school ethos on every front, then that is what you  will get –   through coordinated cooperation, any teacher you add to the mix will increase impact exponentially.

But, again, the proof is in the pudding.  This year, Tim Coulson, Regional Schools Commissioner, listed Stalham Academy , under Right for Success Trust, as one of seven schools in the Eastern region to contact for good practice, due to their incredible results, with 81% achieving the expected standard or above in Reading, Writing & Maths.

This this from a school that was a special measures 16 months ago. Cooperative Learning has also had substantial positive impact on behaviour, language, and thinking skills. It is integrated with assessment systems, and actively supports other programs in which the school has invested, including Attainment for All.

To achieve this, Stalham paid £150 per month over six months. 


 But … what does  Ofsted think?

Unlike Stalham, another client of mine in Norfolk, Norwich  Primary Academy,  has actually had an Ofsted inspection. The former Larkman Primary School was ruled “inadequate” by Ofsted in 2010. Converted to Academy status as Norwich Primary Academy  under the Inspiration Trust, the school had their first Skills & Mastery session in September 2014.  This is an extract from  The Academy’s first Ofsted report:

“Teaching is good because underperformance has been tackled. …  Pupils throughout the academy make good progress because they practise key skills very regularly in ways they describe as ‘fun’ and ‘interesting’. Pupils make particularly good progress in writing because they develop these skills in the imaginative tasks teachers provide for them.”

Reading and writing are two key areas of focus of the course, and both have been presented as separate modules for the benefit of Birmingham schools last academic year.  Speaking of writing, Judy Brady, a year 3 teacher in Norwich Primary Academy, made this remark:

“I really don’t think I could have achieved such a dramatic improvement using ‘usual’ methods. [One pupil], who’s partner told him he couldn’t read the sentence on Wednesday, earned himself a house point for improvement and I’m sure he left the room several centimetres taller!”

And  this is perhaps the most telling evidence of the  value of Cooperative Learning.

More desert anyone?


New SAT course in the pipeline

I want to make 81% achieving the expected standard or above in Reading, Writing & Maths  in SATs available to every school. Working  closely with  practising teachers in schools,  I’m in the process of creating a new course  to do just that.

Initially entitled SAT  through CL,  it will  let teachers effectively prepare Year 6 pupils for SAT tests. Not through mere drilling of the concepts being tested, but by recognising when and how to use various procedures. 

This is especially relevant for EAL or lower ability pupils with poor language and reading skills, who often find recognising the actual task itself is a challenge. Therefore, the Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns (CLIPs) in this course are picked and ordered to drive deep integration of skills with higher level thinking processes. 

SATs through CL is  being developed and tested in close collaboration with Year 6 teachers, and consists of a series of content-void lesson plans immediatly applicable to any SAT-related material. These integrate procedural training, peer learning, feedback, accountability, knowledge sharing across class, and effective monitoring.

This is not teaching-for-the-test, it’s teaching the skills required for the test and everywhere else.   Super SAT results  are almost a by-product.

SATs through CL will hopefully be available to schools in the academic year 2016.

Contact me now for more information and follow on twitter for updates on this course.


In other news

One of the most exciting thing to happen  over the last six months  is my work with West Midlands Police. With Cooperative Learning, the true resources are the participants – regardless of age group or objectives.

These workshops mark a new way of staging complex citizen meetings, securing equal participation and accountability – with a lot of challenging engagement.

Using Cooperative Learning to work directly with communities, increase democracy and local empowerment  is a long-standing dream of mine. We are looking forward to the next session in Perry Barr on September 17.

Also  to be continued and expanded is my work with Uthman bin Affan Trust, which will, quite literally,  change the lives of hundreds of thousands of  Syrian children over time – inshallah.

The challenges are many; post-traumatic stress, oversized classes, five-year divergence within a single form, and in some cases virtually no classroom resources. Added to this, many wholly unqualified teachers are used to cover shortages.
Only Cooperative Learning leverages the resources within each child and promotes subject knowledge and, equally importantly, skills of collaboration, creative thinking, and a practical understanding of democracy, leadership and decision making; everything young Syrians needs to thrive in the 21st century.
Follow on twitter for updates on the full programme,  and for more news on new clients, including Great Hockham Primary & Nursery and Caston  Coe VA Primary, teacher training schools in the Midlands, and content providers.

 And finally, in every sense of the word, new website

You will find more information on courses, other clients,  and Cooperative  Learning in general on the recently redesigned – much lighter,  in terms of both colour  and words.  I do hope you like it.













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Good teacher overnight; Cooperative Learning in low-resource environments

I have recently been charged by an Uthman ibn Affan Trust to empower Syrian teachers in Turkish refugee camps.

The objective of the Trust is to give the next generation of Syrians the skill set needed to rebuild their country. These skills include not only subject knowledge, but, equally importantly, skills of collaboration, creative thinking, democracy and leadership and decision making, to name a few; what would be called 21st century skills.

Due to a number of logistic constraints, we are looking to turn a highly mixed group of trainees into outstanding teachers in as little as four-five days; which is in itself daunting. In addition to my didactic methods, the Trust is considering a host of ancillary objectives, including IT technology, and, potentially, preparation for Level 3 to 5 City & Guild teaching qualifications. Added to this are the logistic challenges presented by the war, language barriers, short time frame per team, and other potential pitfalls.


Think your school is low on resources?    (Image from Parallels)

The Trust has picked Cooperative Learning, as this method is the only way such a variety of objectives can be successfully achieved – which will in itself demonstrate its effectiveness to trainees.

Among the special benefits of Cooperative Learning in such an unstable and incoherent environment is that it is content void: it works with any materials teachers may have to hand.

As for the courses themselves, rather than waiting for content to be decided by various bodies – only to potentially be changed at the last moment – we aim to leverage this content void nature of Cooperative Learning to create a modular and flexible framework that will accommodate any content, from  subject knowledge of maths to teaching practice. Having this ready will allow the Trust to re-draw course in midflight, as necessary.

Using modules which can be put together like puzzle pieces will also ensure the meta-assessment needed to continuously identify and improve best-practice for future courses. This is utterly impossible without the clear sub-outcomes provided by the modules.

More on low-resource learning environments and Cooperative Learning in my presentation at the UKFIET in Oxford.


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Better (Talk4)Writing through Cooperative Learning

The last of three open CPD sessions in Walsall took place yesterday at North Walsall Academy (previously Charles Coddy Walker).

For the benefit of attendees at these events, and schools who have gone through the Skills & Mastery or 21st century British Muslim courses, this short post demonstrates the integration of Talk4Writing with Cooperative Learning. For more on the events, see Better Reading through Cooperative Learning and “Outstandingly Simple”follow-up; an introduction to Cooperative learning at Queen Mary’s Grammar School.





First of all, thank you for your attendance to internal and external delegates. (Make sure you get your personal handouts from Lisa!)

In yesterday’s session, we looked at various ways to stage the exercise Simultaneous Write-Round, where pupils working in small teams produce writing on a sheet or blank A4, and, when prompted, pass it to the next person to continue the story or solve other tasks. This makes use of time pressure to get pens to paper, and gives a sense of responsibility for the finished product.

In Early Years or for EAL, writing one word per pupil would suffice. “I … see … an …car.” Simply spelling the words and identifying how they fit grammatically (e.g. car is the wrong subject after the definite article an ) or to give a meaningful sentence is challenging enough. In KS2, some students will write a lot, some will write only a couple of words.

Peer input aside, writing can be guided by tasks presented on the worksheets themselves, by peers or teacher, on a interactive whiteboard or just orally by the teacher.

We used the sheet “First what happened was… and then…” etc. To support structuring a short story.

We also looked at using Simultaneous Write-Round for assessment and meta-cognition, using some very dense questions to simulate the challenges faced by lower ability pupils under pressure. A bit too much on a late, drowsy afternoon – my apologies!


Talk4Writing through Cooperative Learning

Obviously, what everyone was most interested in, and had a good laugh about, were the collaborative stories you wrote.

So, focusing on this, I want to respond to a question posed by one teacher: “How does this slot in with Talk4Writing.”

What follows should be self-explanatory, but for readers looking for more information on  this system, please visit their homepage for more details.

To exemplify, I am going to walk through a description of the first stage,  Imitation. (All stages in the system found here).

As we all know, Cooperative Learning is a delivery tool for any materials and objective, so to provide content I have picked Adventure at Cambary Park found in the PDF Story Reading into Writing from the T4W resource page. You can read the story about two girls finding a stolen treasure and being chased by a dangerous criminal below.

Original text is italicised, my comments are regular text.

Once the teacher has established a creative context and an engaging start, a typical Talk-for-Writing unit would begin with some engaging activities warming up the tune of the text, as well as the topic focused on, to help children internalise the pattern of the language required.

Here Catch1Partner or Word-Round with relevant oral questions from the teacher are obvious and simple ways to integrate Talk4Writing with the simultaneous interaction and high individual accountability secured by Cooperative Learning.

As they are presenting their solutions to peers, use unobtrusive monitoring to assess children’s levels, areas of interest, uncover potential pitfalls, etc. and drive their thinking to reflect your observations by simply dropping relevant, guiding questions into one of these activities. “What would you do if you found £20 on the street?” – “Can we always keep things that we find?” – “Imagine being chased by a criminal! What would you do?” Just ask whatever you think appropriate to that specific class. No preparation necessary.

This is often followed by talking an exemplar text, supported visually by a text map and physical movements to help the children recall the story or non-fiction piece. In this way the children hear the text, say it for themselves and enjoy it before seeing it written down.

This seems to be individual listening and physical activities. So, just do this as you normally would. Only use Cooperative Learning when it supports your objectives!

Once they have internalised the language of the text, they are in a position to read the text …

Obviously, Rotating Role Reading springs to mind. Especially the summarising and connection between paragraphs would help pupils uncover the “pattern” of the text, which I think is a keys to T4W’s success.

…and start to think about the key ingredients that help to make it work.

Here, add in a role with relevant questions or tasks, as we did with the science text last Monday, to “think about key ingredients.” I am sure your Talk4Writing resources have lots of useful ideas on this. Simply deploy what you would use anyway. Always remember, don’t do extra work!

This stage could include a range of reading as-a-reader and as-a-writer activities. Understanding the structure of the text is easy if you use the boxing-up technique (see below) and then help the children to analyse the features that have helped to make the text work.

Here the boxed texts are passed around in the Simultaneous Write-Round, as you saw it done yesterday. But rather than carrying the story in any direction from the previous pupil’s input, every pupil now has a clear model to work from thanks to Talk4Writing materials.

Example of boxed text here (click to enlarge):

Talk4Wrtng task

In this way the class starts to co-construct a toolkit for this type of text so that they can talk about the ingredients themselves – a key stage in internalising the toolkit in their heads.

So, when all boxes are filled, team-members might take turns reading aloud  the collaborative story on the paper they wound up with, and perhaps voting for the best one in relation to the T4W model – e.g. “Which of our stories is closest to the original pattern?” (Phrased age-appropriately, of course!).

Use the Word-Round to make sure they explain their choice. (“Lower ability team” in the back of the class, we discussed this! :)

I hope this helped answer your question. Simple, instant, integration of Cooperative Learning with strategies, lesson plan and materials from Talk4Writing.

I am hoping to find time to do a piece on collaborative writing for EAL and lower-ability pupils. Get notifications of related posts on twitter.

The full Skills & Mastery course presents activities to formally share, compare and get feedback on products such as this one, taken from the second stage of Talk4Writing,The innovation stage:





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