Category Archives: Maths

A guide to the “Guide”; The overlooked Cooperative Learning resource

The “CLIP reflection & coaching guide for teachers & TAs” has been included in CPD packs almost as an afterthought since my work with Norwich Primary Academy. However, I have never myself had the opportunity to witness its true power in the hands of two teachers speaking to each other.

* includes a link to a special edition for Teaching for Pleasure delegates *

My coaching visits to schools in the Strategic School Improvement Funding project to raise the attainment of girls in key stage 2 has been an eye-opening experience on so many levels.


I always learn new things when I visit schools: For example, I had never envisioned seeing  Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns in swimming lessons for SEN pupils using waterproofed question cards, run by PE teacher in her 60s. Due to the ingenuity of the human beings which comprise its active component, there is simply no built-in limit to what can be achieved with Cooperative Learning.

However, I don’t think anyone had expected that within couple of weeks, we’d see such an impact of the SSIF’s Cooperative Learning element right down to EYFS across multiple subjects – especially given that the high level of scrutiny linked to public funding of such magnitude means we have been very, very careful to formally focus only on maths in key stage 2. I am impressed by what I have observed so far, to say the least.

There is simply too much good there to go into any detail, but one thing I do want to bring to the fore is the massively undervalued resource CLIP reflection & coaching guide​ for teachers & TAs which has formed part and parcel of any in-school training since 2014.

Even informal peer coaching is an incredibly powerful tool. The consistent, shared language of Cooperative Learning – and its implicit demand for clear objectives – turns any teacher into a coach.

This is page 1 of 2 of the Guide in its generic form. Please click to view both pages as a PDF. The version we will be looking at in the following is the one tailored to the SSIF (Included in Project Lead’s Session 01 handouts and also available in our dedicated online drive. Attendees of last week’s session on SOLO Taxonomy at the Ealing Education Centre may find a tailored version here).

In brief, the first page helps the teacher or teaching assistant make decisions on the specific areas relevant to planning a Cooperative Learning activity and the second page supports assessment of said activity. Both pages form excellence sounding boards for personal reflection, as well as a point of departure for coaching and professional development with colleagues to get the most out of any investment in Cooperative Learning.

The three-hour visits paid for by the DfE have given me the unhurried time observe teachers working with the Guide and opportunity to appreciate its real value. Here follows the guide to getting more out of your Guide.

First page: preparing your activity

As I never tire of amplifying, as with any power tool, you need to know what you want before you start. If you want to hang up a painting, you don’t start by drilling random holes in your walls, rather you pick the best spot and measure out distances, pick the correct drill bit, and determine whether you need to move furniture, cover it, or just have a vacuum cleaner handy for the dust.


The purpose of this first page is to direct your attention to the areas where you need to make decisions in order to maximise the benefit of Cooperative Learning while simplifying your life as a teacher.

NOTE: Under no circumstances should teachers be required to fill out this Guide every time they want to do a CLIP. It is a useful support to be used as needed. Filling out one for a CLIP or two in the early stages is very useful. After that, as needed, and especially prior to coaching sessions with colleagues and leadership.

Formalities first

The topmost row allows you to keep track of the formalities. Jotting down how many times you have done a specific CLIP will help you see your progress later.


The second row hopefully remind you that Cooperative Learning takes only as much lesson time as you want it to. Cooperative Learning is not a bolt on, nor should it take up the whole lesson; it doesn’t even have to be done in every lesson. It only takes up the time and space that you deem sufficient to achieve your objectives – whatever they may be – based on your experience, your personality, your pupils, your materials and your teaching style.

The most crucial question

To paraphrase President Kennedy: “Ask not what you should do for Cooperative Learning, but ask what Cooperative Learning should do for me?”

Below is a real-life example of the Guide, filled out by a teacher and used by two SSIF Project Leads under my (rather superfluous) supervision to train how to coach their colleagues on the Cooperative Learning element of the SSIF. I simply watched and dropped in leading questions and comments as needed before finally answering unresolved issues.

To recap basics

A Cooperative Learning activity is the combination of a CLIP (in this case Word-Round) and some content (In this case “Looking at this problem, how would you solve it?”) in order to achieve an Objective (In this case a shared understanding of how to convert mixed numbers and improper fractions).

CLIP: Word-Round & its steps

  1. The teacher presents a task with several possible answers.
  2. Team members take turns presenting an answer or solution in their team.

(More details about the deceptive simplicity of the Word-Round in the article on Oracy and CL at the annual conference of the ASE in January).

The art of coaching

As you can see, the Guide lends itself to individual use. However, each section is asking a leading question. If you choose to use the Guide for coaching, these are the questions you are exploring. You simply add a “why?” and “how?” etc. to allow your colleague to unpick each one. Do not overthink coaching, but see it as a chance to explore. The coach does not need to have the answers. And if you are more comfortable with a more classical dialogue format, that’s your choice, too.

(Note the reference to Learning Process Domains which you will find on each of your handouts from the training, just under the CLIP steps, which will help you quickly pick the most suitable one once you have acquired a larger array).

Worth noting is the awareness that, ideally, you should not need to generate loads of materials for Cooperative Learning activities. The opposite is the case, as indicated by the descending order of the tick boxes. (However, any materials you do make can be reused almost indefinitely thanks to the possibility of adding subtasks).

Social skills

Subject contents and social skills go hand-in-hand, and this is true for every age group. It works both ways: Cooperative Learning requires basic skills such as turn-taking and active listening; skills pupils do not always acquire at home. Nevertheless, I’d say such skills fall under the rubric “being prepared for life in modern Britain.” Especially for secondary schools and colleges, collaboration is a nonnegotiable requirement in preparation for university or work. Finally, if you have a very challenging class or specific special needs pupils, remembering with which other staff members you consulted might be very useful.



As for instructions, careful scaffolding is a good idea as some pupils may lack subject vocabulary,  initiative and/or the ability to decode body language and facial expressions. Pausing to reflect on how to present instructions and to ensure pupils have access to relevant support materials are as relevant in Cooperative Learning as in individual work, perhaps more so.

Don’t overthink subject scaffolding, though. For example, one teacher just put a number square face down on each table, to be turned over only as needed. This physical movement provided an simple, unobtrusive and effective way to flag up weaker teams/pupils.

Looking ahead in the rear-view mirror

Page two then looks at these areas with the benefit of hindsight. This is where it really gets interesting.

So here is a task for you. Imagine, one of you teachers has handed this Guide in and asked for your feedback. Read it carefully through the eyes of a coaching project lead or headteacher. What would you say? And specifically, what crucial thing does not make any sense in this self-assessment? 


Reflection and Coaching on Word Round page 2

Here are some summary notes I’d point to in each section.  (Hint: Your answer is hidden in there in the form of a contradiction).

  1. Time spent? Good to note that planned total time limit was met. This is often an issue in the early stages following training.
  2. Objectives achieved? “Yes, but only because we fed back as a class,” basically says the activity was a total waste of time as the word “only” suggests benefit was exclusive to the following plenary.
  3. Content worked? “Well.” This warrants elaboration – does this mean the mathematical example was suited to provoke discussion? Why so? (Note: Any actual task should always be included in the content section on page 1 for later reference – especially if it worked well).
  4. Materials worked? The comment “short and to the point” is a basic given in Cooperative Learning, yet surprisingly difficult to achieve in the beginning due to an almost a fearful sense of “handing over control” to pupils. However, first of all, note that well-executed Cooperative Learning puts you firmly in the drivers seat, secondly, there is no point in spending three minutes on the instructions and one minute on the activity. The ratio should be inverted; less time being instructed, more time active, leaving you free to assess and guide individuals.
  5. Social skills foresight? Clear recognition of the basic skills needed, detailed concisely in the Improvement section.
  6. Instructions presented? Apparently the interactive whiteboard was not used as planned (Consider investigating where the mathematical task was posed and what else the teacher was looking to put on the board). Furthermore, “Model the task” is noted in the Ideas for Improvement section. This goes back to modelling with a team or TA. We have elaborated a great deal on this, especially in the series Making Best use of Teaching Assistants which posits Cooperative Learning as a simple solution to the seven recommendations from the EEF report of the same name.
  7. What went well? The time limit,” which one would assume must mean the teacher kept the activity within the planned 3-4 minute frame, as the actual objective was not achieved (see point 2). Also, we note that “Everyone contributed” and “nobody was distracted.”

Did you spot the contradiction?




If the objective is to “share understanding” and everyone contributed and nobody was distracted I would say this teachers selling himself short. The objective was not for the pupils to teach each other the correct method, as that remains the teacher’s responsibility. The objective was specifically to share “understanding” which will invariably include presenting misconceptions. This does not mean transferring them to other pupils, but rather providing peers with a sounding board to their own ideas through comparing, as well as with building blocks in the larger picture.

A good message to this teacher might be to follow the Word-Round with the metacognitive question: “Put your hand up if something your teammates said made you wonder?” and then unpick the feedback to guide and focus the plenary on relevant and interesting points, rather than a broad suite.

Again, one of the most powerful elements of Cooperative Learning is the volume of visible learning been produced, which allows the teacher to respond in a way that matches pupils actual needs, rather than assumptions. And it is precisely the capacity to structure and filter this  flood of information that is led me to investigate  SOLO Taxonomy with Berrymede Junior School.


Further reading:


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Filed under Cooperative Learning, get started with CL, Maths, SOLO, SSIF

“Mum wasn’t good at maths either, love…” Girls, Maths & Cooperative Learning

I am very honoured to be taking part in the Strategic School Improvement Fund project to raise progress in mathematics for KS2 girls in Norfolk

Followers of this blog will be aware of my ongoing work with Sheringham Primary School and Nursery. The teaching school based there, Norfolk’s largest, has made a successful bid for addressing the under-attainment in maths at Key Stage 2, specifically focusing on girls, which is a county-wide issue.

The relevance to the rest of the UK is clear when one bears in mind that girls present a relatively untapped source of talent to handle the growing shortage of digitally skilled workers. However, young women are grossly underrepresented in mathematics and other essential subjects for taking computer science at university. For years it has been recognised that this gender imbalance might be traced back to bottlenecks in school education.




Girls will be girls?

This unfortunate trend starts early on: There is a large gender gap between the progress of boys and girls in maths at KS2 and in Norfolk overall attainment for both boys and girls is already below the national average.

Maths standards in Norfolk

One of the first things that inspired me about the SSIF bid was that it looks beyond the “teaching the subject” to include such factors as the negative messages that many children, in particular girls, receive about maths. It is a prevalent myth in our society that you have a maths brain or not, which affects teachers, TAs, parents and ultimately children as schools do not operate in a vacuum.


Girls and Maths - no worries!

Getting the message?


The project therefore includes work to undo these negative messages with staff, children and parents. As these messages are almost subliminal, one of my areas of focus will be to use the dialogical/constructivist aspect of Cooperative Learning to unpick them and draw them into the light.

Another prevalent myth is that speed in calculation equates with being good at maths. This leads to maths classrooms being perceived as threatening because you are put on the spot to provide answers very quickly. Girls often will not flourish in this environment. Instead children need to make connections and learn facts conceptually to allow creative application in a range of situations. Above all we need to value depth over speed.

Such conceptual teaching needs to be coupled with messages about the brain and how it can grow, along with metacognitive strategies to increase independence and confidence when learning maths. We have discussed here on on numerous occasions the connections between metacognition and Cooperative Learning. As noted in the original bid outline: “Maths, even at the highest level, is a collaborative subject and children should be given well-structured opportunities to collaborate effectively.” Cooperative Learning secures this.

Once all the above elements are in place all children can flourish in maths classrooms, the progress of girls will rise to match the boys and all will attain at higher levels, not least due to the mutual benefit to all participants secured by Cooperative Learning. As Mr McConnell of George White Junior School notes, “This is what inclusion looks like.”

John McConnell video still.PNG


Mr McConnell video interview on his experiences with Cooperative Learning.


The project in a nutshell

This project comprises several components, which have been introduced to 30 schools through CPD sessions and are to be supported for the duration of the project by designated Specialist Leaders in Education (SLEs) who are training and guiding two Project Leads (PLs) within each school.

These CPD components comprise:

  • Meta-cognition by Anne Stokes and Robert Brewster from Sheringham Primary National Teaching School Alliance (SPNTSA).
  • Conceptual Teaching in Maths, including CPA, number sense and aims of the National Curriculum, delivered by Educator Solutions.


SSIF training maths kit A
Some materials from Educators Solutions’ training day for SLEs, November 2017


The objective of my own upcoming training is to fuse all this previous input into a simple, sustainable classroom practice, tailored to each school, yet consistent enough to be accurately assessed, shared and supported.

Sustainability, a crucial requirement to receive SSI funding, is precisely being ensured by Project Leads being trained to deliver and embed packages of CPD, rather than external consulting. This means one of my most interesting challenges is to train by proxy – to train the Project Leads to not only deliver Cooperative Learning CPD packages, but to empower each of them to the point they will be able to support and guide their colleagues in the long term without oversight from me or SLEs.

It is worth noting that Cooperative Learning is not the actual objective of the training – the objective is that Cooperative Learning secures the three components above in every classroom.

Therefore, the acid test when SLEs come to assess impact of my training will be whether they actually see metacognition, CPA, etc. – rather than the quality of Cooperative Learning in its own right: A core message to PLs in the upcoming training is that one may stage an excellent Cooperative Learning activity that has absolutely nothing to do with the objectives one is supposed to be teaching, in the same way as a doctor may find the right vein, but inject the wrong medicine.

Cooperative Learning and Maths

So, is Cooperative Learning relevant to maths? The answer to this has several aspects.

Number one, maths is much more than knowing your times tables. Real maths requires high-level thinking and understanding of ever more complex concepts as you move up through keystages. The best way to avoid getting lost in this complexity is peer-to-peer negotiation of meanings, ideas, where pupils (and teachers) can check and recheck their comprehension.

Number two, Cooperative Learning should never be confused with disorganised group work. It is a precision tool that allows repetitive tasks resolution in a highly engaging manner. Much of the maths curriculum is comprised of what we would term procedural skills: how do you convert fractions to decimals? What’s the bus stop method? Cooperative learning allows a very effective learning of these core skills sets.

Number three, maths requires that certain things are simply known. A good example is multiplication tables, definitions and terms such as enumerator and denominator, and specific values, such as Pi. Cooperative Learning is equally good at drilling what are essentially non-negotiable closed questions, and get a great deal more out of them than would be expected.

During my training for MUA Consultancy, one of the UK’s leading specialists in Singapore Maths, maths leads have pointed it out time and time again how Cooperative Learning strengthens maths, even such specific systems as MathsNoProblem.

Cooperative Learning is a truly vast and largely unexplored resource to solve the multivarious challenges faced by STEM, something I have touched on in articles on Mrs Mary Whitehouse and my recent presentation at the ASE Conference on oracy with Naomi Hennah. And I still owe Ron and Richard of recognition for their inspiring day on the interpretive range of Maths vocabulary and other issues at the IoE last Summer – you are not forgotten!


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