Category Archives: Workshop

Comprehending Texts & Acquiring Language… Reflections#1

This new series of post investigates the workshop Comprehending Texts & Acquiring Language in Science presented 4 Jan 2018 at the ASE annual conference by Naomi Hennah (@MrsHennahand myself. 

This first instalment focuses on how the Word-Round following the reading activity was used summatively to investigate the text and to develop questioning as a transferable skill.

Introduction for non-delegates

The lesson Naomi and I presented last week at the ASE annual conference in Liverpool is designed to furnish learners with two important strategies for reading technical texts, specifically to help them answer a technical question. The two strategies are:

  1. questioning the text
  2. summarising the text.

This article deals with the first one, questioning. Both strategies have been shown to be effective after only a few sessions of instruction.*

When questioning a text students learn to ask questions as they read as an interior dialogue. During the paired reading that forms the bulk of our lesson, we externalise this dialogue to give students the opportunity to develop their questioning skills. Then, after reading is completed, we then round off with a Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern (CLIP) known as Word-Round to formalise and prioritise and share “summative” questions about the entire text. Aside from the impact on learning, generating questions form an excellent assessment tool on a very different level than providing mere answers.*

(The context of the problem of reading specific science texts has been discussed previously in Comprehending Texts & Acquiring Language in Science: Resources and The Chemistry of Collaboration: CL & Science at the ASE Annual Conference. Non-delegates might wish to refer to these before proceeding).


Word-Round: Understanding a CLIP

To recap, Cooperative Learning consists of students in small hand-picked teams or pairs working in fixed Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns (called CLIPs) selected and timed by teachers to achieve very specific aims – while affording students endless variation and excitement through changing materials and tasks. Cooperative Learning seamlessly integrates oral interventions, and fuses with meta-cognition and feedback, which potentially yield up to 8 months of additional progress per pupil per year according to the Sutton Trust-EEF Toolkit. (See Feedback strategies & Cooperative Learning).

Thus, keep in mind that while the CLIP discussed in the following, the Word-Round, is tailored in this lesson to support these reading strategies in general and acquire one science text in particular, it potentially has infinite application.

In its generic form, it looks like this:

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

Its deceptive simplicity belies its usefulness and versatility: It may be used for everything from brainstorming to reviewing. Here, we explain the strategy in greater depth.


Word-Round in the context of the ASE reading lesson

At the ASE conference, the Word-Round followed the 20 minute Pair-Reading where delegates took turns to read and summarise/questions/comment on one paragraph or image at a time. Delegates will find the full plan in their handouts. Both handouts and the edited article on the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry used is found among the resources in the previous post.

Delegates in Pair-Reading.PNGTongue in cheek – Pair-Reading delegates at Thursday’s session.

In effect, while the Pair-Reading may be the core of the lesson, the Word-Round is its pinnacle. This means that other reading strategies you are familiar with might be used prior to the Word-Round, including individual reading. However, you will likely find that the peer support provided by Pair-Reading will greatly affect the level of outcomes, because it has given all students a chance to reflect and acquire understanding and vocabulary. (Pair-Reading will be discussed in a separate article.  Get notifications of related posts on Twitter).

So, following reading in pairs, small groups were tasked to identify the paragraph that would best help answer the two basic hinge questions we asked delegates to focus on while reading the text – “What was the problem with water?” and “How was it solved?”

To be clear, Naomi spent a great deal of time picking out the most interesting hinge questions before settling on these two. Runner-ups included meta-questions about how the text demonstrated collaboration as a key to success in science. But in a lesson where objectives are defined by curriculum and schemes of work coming up with hinge questions should not present such a challenge – as you are likely to find them predefined in your teaching materials.


Staging the Word-Round

From the Lesson Plan:

Individual task:

  1. students individually write as many questions as possible about the paragraph.
  2. Individuals priority order their questions.


Each student proposes and explains to the team why their question should be asked. (Can loop multiple times as required).

The balance between individual and collaborative work is discussed in detail below. But when individuals prepare input for a collaborative activity, it is vital the students are not discussing their questions. As I said, “This is your time for reflection. Forget your mate, for a moment. What do you wonder about?”

On a side note: One issue that thankfully got as much attention in our workshop as the reading itself were the complex set of ancillary, transferable skills facilitated in the lesson.  One such of value to any professional teacher or scientist is comprehending the benefits and drawbacks of individual vs. collaborative work – and their appropriacy in context. As I explained to one delegate after the session, I have worked with a school where Year 5 children with two years of Cooperative Learning under their belt are able to assess and pick relevant interaction fitting team composition, task and materials. What would they be like in university if their high school picks up on it?!

These are the slide instructions for the tailored Word-Round, including scaffolding language in red:

Word-Round ASE

A simple, fast and effective way to share ideas within teams without jeopardising individual accountability, devolving the CLIP into disorganised, worthless “group work.” However, as simple and fast as it is, as Naomi has pointed out on numerous occasions, you need to train students to do this. Consistency is the key to success.

Note again that the objective is not to discuss, nor even at this stage to answer questions, but for each student to inquire into their own understanding (or lack thereof) and formalise this into questions and to consider their relevance and value.

Individual work vs collaborative work

Cooperative Learning is not an aim in itself – It has value only as a surgical tool to drive objectives, whether in individual lessons or in relation to whole-school improvement (explained by one headteacher in the video interview below) and should be seamlessly interwoven with other elements of the lesson. 

Adam Mason video

Headteacher at Fakenham Junior School, Adam Mason, discusses Cooperative Learning as a whole-school approach (more videos in the gallery)

Therefore, unless it forms an integral step of the CLIP (such as the ubiquitous Think-Pair-Share) time needs to be allocated for individual work: The question the teacher needs to ask himself is when to use Cooperative Learning and when to ask learners to work alone.

Some of the advantages of Cooperative Learning are outlined below:

  1. ensures that every student makes a relevant contribution
  2.  supports every learner’s own understanding, as well as that of peers
  3. ensures the learners work towards your lesson objectives.

Generally, to encourage thoughtful contributions, many Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns benefit from a period of individual work before the collaboration begins. This gives learners the opportunity to reflect or solve problems before they share with the group.


Generating questions

In this lesson, the activity is preceded by students individually writing as many questions as possible about the text they have read. A ‘question placemat’ as seen in the following slide can provide support for learners to ask relevant questions. It is vital that they all have at least one, even if it is copied from the board. 

Question the key section

For many students even copying a question from the board and having the courage to present it is actually a step up and slowly paves the way for individual work as the team members reward thank and praise contributions, a given in any Cooperative Learning classroom (For more information, see On the subject of social skills

So, some students will write many questions, others fewer. Some will be reflective, some may seem superficial. Regardless, the individual element of the task combined with the Word-Round following it provides good assessment information on:

  • the student’s understanding of the text
  • language/vocabulary
  • oral presentation skills
  • listening and reflection skills.

The way you phrase the task may be subtly used to guide the questions, or support ancillary objectives. For example, instead of “Ask questions about the text” try “Ask questions about how this text connects to previous lessons on this topic” or “…questions that you feel this text does not discuss in depth” or “…questions about the ethical implications about this scientific approach,” etc.

Be aware that asking questions is more difficult than it sounds. When learners ask questions, they need to identify what it is they don’t understand, or what makes them wonder.

The first one is a challenge to many pupils because it demands metacognition, i.e. awareness of one’s own learning process. The paired reading activity that preceded the independent task gives learners the opportunity to rehearse questioning, however, at first, students may not be aware how much they need to make use of each other at this stage. The individual task leaves them alone and accountable. They need to re-consider their pair discussion for clues. “What was that thing Bob said that I didn’t get?”

The second one is a challenge because, in order to wonder, you need to use both your imagination and previous knowledge. There can be no wondering about the text unless the text is held up against something else that may or may not quite fit. “I am wondering how XYZ relates to ABC in yesterday’s lesson.”

Finally, we strongly recommend that every question is signed. This provides written evidence for assessment and also lets the teacher hold individuals to account for the quality of their work.

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More general information at, the business end of

Other articles of interest include:



Note: Elements of this article are adapted from an original resource pack by Jakob Werdelin w. Ben Rogers.


*) Please see ​On transfer as the goal in literacy ​Posted on​ “​Granted, and…​– thoughts on education” ​by ​grantwiggins​ 20 April 2015) for more detail on these.



Filed under Cooperative Learning, events, science, workshop, Workshop

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.



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…”

*** is the business end of


Filed under Cooperative Learning, Teaching Assistants, workshop, Workshop

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.


* * *

For more information on Cooperative Learning, please visit
VNET homepage is found at


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Pair-Sharing; Ping-Pong with Derek the Nazi

Workshop debriefing: After looking into the overarching lesson aims of the inquiry exercise, here’s the nitty-gritty of the ubiquitous pair work.

Pairing students often comprise one of the stages of more complex group interaction, but also work brilliantly as a simple stand-alone prelude/follow-up to virtually any activity, as exemplified in the previous post featuring Sir Micheal Wilshaw.

This post also serves to deliver on my promise to discuss CL as a means to make complex project-based enquiry such as Mantle of the Expert less daunting to teachers fearing loss of classroom control (see original post Pandora’s Box).

Pair-share in the context of Cooperative Learning

First of all the notion that one is engaging in Cooperative Learning by letting students discuss in pairs is not a given. In my definition of structural CL, “A pre-structured group effort whose success depends on each specific member carrying out specific tasks at specific times,” one person talking at his partner for 3 minutes is not pre-structured, not a group effort and success certainly does not depend on members carrying out specific tasks.

Generally, one student will dominate the conversation and very timid students, regardless of varied partners, are likely to seize the opportunity to  not say anything, for the same reason they never put their hand up in open class. (In spite of  1-to-1 generally being a lot more conducive than 1-to-35).

Also, by micro-managing the interaction between partners, more subtle aims are achieved; various types of listening, questioning and thinking skills are brought to the fore, and one may embed different types of writing tasks, whether note-taking before, during or after the partner’s presentation, which could then be written out as a proper text and finally signed off.

Through-out the workshop, several forms of pair interaction were demonstrated, split into two basic CLIPs*:


If you read the instructions to Michael and Jakob’s class below, Ping-Pong-Pair should have some of the speed and energy of table tennis and is useful when producing ideas, recapping key points, honing skills that produce short answers, bouncing opinions or creating a controlled discussion:

All right, everybody. Turn to your shoulder-partners. Ping-Pong-Pairs, so stay concise and on-point, maximum 4 sentences per turn. Ready? … “Based on your current take on student-centred learning, assume you are the head of Ofsted and bounce some opinions back and forth”. Two minutes, go!

Here, the limit to the amount of sentences in each turn means the ball has to be passed back and forth with a certain degree of speed; this of course depending on the level of the class, the complexity of the material to be discussed, etc.

The simplest way of adding a writing element, is for students to pass a piece of paper back and forth as quickly as possible (which may also be used to create competition between teams). These can be incredibly basic – in Maths, multiplication table of X, “see how far you get in thirty seconds”; even with help from a superior partner, the less capable student still has to write out the 4×5=20, etc. Start every Maths lesson with 2 minutes of ping-pong-pairs. It’s time well spent.

In other subjects, it might be capital cities, names of romantic authors, opening lines to science fiction stories, families of animals, numbers, weekdays, months or special vocabulary in a foreign language,  the periodic table – listening in or picking up the written lists afterwards gives instant insight. Or reflection on own learning; “Ideas to make homework easier? One minute, go!” The pair/share discussed on the Religious Education/Philosophy for Children page is actually a Ping-Pong Pair.

Roleplaying Ping-Pong-Pairs

After watching the “immigrant rant” from American History X, participants did a Ping-Pong-Pair where one partner tries to talk Derek out of attacking the convenience store. This particular exercise entails “Derek” defeating all arguments with a counter-argument, regardless of conventional morals; the destructive “WHY?” in a world without cohesive narrative, chosen because this was one of the main themes of the workshop.

This video clip starts with the answer to the facilitator modelling Derek’s argument “All my friends have lost their jobs because of these Mexican border jumpers working under minimum wage” and giving a reply to the argument. Participants engage like race-horses coming out of the box:


Ping-Pong-Pairing with Derek the Nazi

(question modelling and staging instructions)

Timed Pair

In comparison Timed Pair is more calm, yet in many ways more demanding; the teacher presents a task, and in turns each partner gets an allotted timespan to present whatever it requires of findings, thoughts, opinions, ideas, solutions, before being presented with partners feedback. So going back to Michael’s example, he would have been given a chance to map out all his plans for Ofsted for two minutes, and then gotten two minutes of feedback. So teaching presentation as a ancillary skill forms a natural part class room activities, often several times in even a single lesson.

For the speaking partner, the benefit over Ping-Pong the more coherent and planned presentation, where quick thinking is required to formulate and connect key points within the time frame. For other students, filling out the time might be the challenge – a full two minutes demands more than the usual superficial answer to which many open class comments are restricted.

For the listener, the awareness of his following feedback task intensifies his listening and forces him into an ongoing analysis of the presentation to formulate questions and feedback. Note taking here is a definite option for some. A

As for social skills, attentive listening, constructive criticism (shame on you, Brenda, for making fun of Michael!), patience when partner does not understand point one is convinced are clear, helping to phrase and formulate without being intrusive, eye contact, body language, praising and thanking. All this is discussed in more detail in On the Subject of Social Skills.

Integrating with team and class interaction

Both of the above fit into any cross class and cross team information sharing situation, including open floor situations described in The Dancefloor is made of Lava and the Two-for-Tea visually described in The Teacher is a Ghost.

A generic question would be: “Share all the ideas your team has come up with so far…”



* CLIP: Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern

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Filed under Cooperative Learning, Information, integration, Multiculturalism, Tips & tricks, workshop, Workshop

Monitoring and real-time feedback in the Cooperative Learning classroom

Workshop debriefing: As I have states in numerous places, the candid verbalization of opinions during the debate gives teachers a unique insight into the knowledge and thought processes of each individual student as thet work through tasks and materials.

Also, a lot of finer points related to personality and social skills are brought to the fore and hitherto unseen strengths and weaknesses are put on display, sometimes surprising students themselves. Whoever uses CL disregards social skills at the peril of his class – BUT whoever applies teacher-centred learning disregards social skills at the peril of society at large. Big words, but I refer the sceptical reader to the previous post On the Subject of Social Skills.

So the hard work on social skills should not be an excuse to back away from CL. As we have seen in a previous post On the Subject of Social Skills, high attainment and social skills go hand in hand.

So here we will focus on the assessment and real-time feedback into the learning process of observations made possible through CL. At  the beginning of the lesson, the teacher’s role is that of “task setter.” As groups work on tasks, the teacher acts as a coach moving from group to group to provide students with on-going feedback and assessment of the group’s progress, but most of all to monitor the learning process.

This observation then may impact the direction of the lesson in progress or the focus or tempo of future lessons as issues are uncovered, ideas are presented and unforeseen difficulties arise.



As a rule of thumb, monitoring should be unobtrusive, as to avoid students becoming self-aware and skewing the observation. This might mean looking towards a group at the other end of the room while listening to the one in front of you. Also setting up the tables forming a semi-circle , sides facing the area of presentation (WB, IWB) not only gives everyone equal standing on the comfort scale (no-one has to crane 180 degrees to see the board) and keeps all students within earshot without a lot of roving around. However, for every class, it is a work-around.  In some situations, simply standing in the middle of the room as soon as students are set on their tasks will be fine.


unobtrusive monitoring

unobtrusive monitoring indeed


To ensure equal dispersal of attention, keep a rota list for each class. Attention during lesson are allocated to 2-3 specific students, sometimes sitting in teams for convenience though this is not always possible. Obviously, the content of the lesson also affects the choice of student to observe.  The key is to keep track. With three student per lesson and four lessons a week, you can churn through a class of twenty every two weeks, enough to keep abreast of developments.

Note also that one may choose CLIPs for individual groups which touch the area of learning you want to observe in specific students. When working on good character description in creative writing, but you want to check if students have made progress on attention and  giving recaps, give them a four minute Recap2Pass, where permission for the next person to speak is only given if a concise recap of what was said is accepted by the previous speaker. Question: “What’s your favourite character description and why is it you favourite?” Prepares the written work, but allows teacher to check specific skills on the go.

Real-time feed-back in class

Obviously, this is where a sound theoretical knowledge of CL comes in, so you know which areas of learning are facilitated by which CLIPs and with which tweaks. For examples of tweaks, check Newsletter #1Let’s say that two groups out of eight are struggling; send Two-for-Tea out to gather information from other teams, bring them back to recap new knowledge.

If there is a wide variety of the level of understanding of the subject matter, and you want to bring the struggling one’s up to speed without slowing the fast ones, let them Stop2Talk (check Newsletter #1 for details) and have them talk to partners across teams to share knowledge as prompted by your (clever) questions. This allows the quicker students to formalise their knowledge by explaining and phrasing it to suit the varying needs of his/her peers. A simple, generic (and clever) question might be: “Ask your partner which areas his group is struggling with at the moment. Find out how you can help.” A more specific one might be: “Explain the relationship of Henry VIII to the Church of England at the time it was founded and at the time of his death” or “What are the main functions of amino acids? Take turns.” Here,  taking notes is always good, as it supports debriefing once they return to their teams.

As for feed-back into following lessons, it no different from how you would respond if you had spotted problems through normal class teaching; the difference is that gathering intel via hands-up responses in class, compared to observing a lively, guided CL discussion, is akin to “looking through a glass, darkly.”

Assessment will be discussed in the following post Monitoring and Assessment. Stay tuned on twitter.





Filed under CL definitions and terminology, Cooperative Learning, get started with CL, Tips & tricks, workshop, Workshop

Socio(pathic) Skills #3; Rebel without a clue

Workshop debriefing: The place of this video in the workshop is discussed in the previous post. I do however feel it deserves it’s own post, as it does call some basic assumptions about intelligence and skills into question.

Before watching this video clip, first ask yourself if you agree school should create students who are well-read, committed and personally courageous, inspiring, that they should posses initiative, historical/political insight, concern for their communities, oratory skills , be committed and personally courageous and able to master critical thinking,  to access and apply facts and statistics and  form independent opinions.


This video was the key to setting the stage for the ontology discussion. After watching it, participants got to role play Derek vs. school teacher. See related posts:  Socio(pathic) Skills #1 & #2


Filed under Cooperative Learning, Entertainment, Philosophy for Children, social skills, workshop, Workshop

The Order of Things #3

Workshop debriefing: The materials arranged in order of presentation and how they tie in with the objectives of the session:

STAGE 1: UK Education – past/present/(future?)

Objective: enquire into issues of the current system to arrive at systemic issues.


  1. Ibrahim Lawson Keynote #1 on the birth of Modernity and the chaotic fall of the grand narrative; sets the tone.
  2. Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms (selections); brings the dark side of utilitarian, mechanistic Modernity into the context of education
  3. 4 texts on the changes in the sixties (not used); if necessary to create a bridge from teacher-centred “old school” to sixties radical ideas of student-centred classrooms.
  4. Teacher talk: a personal experience; how the experimental classrooms of the seventies created children without boundaries.

Ken Robinson RSA industry

STAGE 2: What’s the Purpose of Education?

Objective: to discuss the purpose of education in late post-modernity society, now devoid of cohesive narratives.


  1. Film clip: American History X: Immigration rant; an extreme example of how depersonalised,** skills-driven, child-centred learning. (Before watching this video clip, first ask yourself if you agree school should create students who are well-read, committed and personally courageous, inspiring, posses initiative, historical/political insight, concern for his/her community, oratory skills, be committed and personally courageous and be able to apply knowledge, critical thinking,  to access and apply facts and statistics and  form independent opinions).
  2. Film clip: The Last Visible Dog, cutting just before the white light (what the author of Trivium 21C  calls the “destructive” why*)


STAGE 3: Muslim education: History and Purpose

Objective: to discover Islam’s educational ethos and history, especially it’s focus on character and community building over and above, but not devoid from skills and compare this with the above issues


  1. Ibrahim Lawson Keynote #3 on approaching Islam thoughtfully; asks for a re-thinking of autopilot presumptions that have landed us all in the current mess.
  2. Online presentation: Dr. Amjad Hussein on Islamic History, 21.09.13. Read transcript created as a Jigsaw Puzzle alternative to the video (Video copyrighted – follow for updates on this issue). At each key juncture in the presentation, students would get a chance to process the information in the teams, but now naturally drawing parallels to the foregoing critique of the current systems impersonal and morally void focus on attainment.
  3. The Norwich Academy School curriculum as presented to the DfE by the Muslim community of Norwich; a view as promised “into the boiler room of contemporary Muslim educationalists” this gives a practical example of some of these ideals brought to life in a uniquely English setting.

STAGE 4: Who are you? – crisis of identity, crisis of ontology

Objective: to discover epistomology and ontology are the levels we need to work on first,  and that Muslims have something to offer here by having that overarching narrative that ties all aspects of man together (see link to Amjad’s material above).


  1. Ibrahim Lawson Keynote #4 on the goal of philosophy, or thinking about thinking by introducing the fact that European educational history could easily have gone down a very different path, exemplified by Pestalozzi and Comenius.
  2. Film clip: The Last Visible Dog, cutting just after the white light beyond the whys; prepares for a thinking exercise advising Mr Gove on where the future of UK education lies; hopefully with discovering a higher purpose than the A-C band of GCSEs! (some of these recommendations will be published here later).
  3. Film clip: The Last Visible Dog, cutting just after “Papa, it’s us!”; bringing it full circle and closing the workshop on a positive note.

teacher's note

Looking at the objectives versus actual outcome as students formulated their combined knowledge to map out the future of UK education: while all of the teams seized on the various aspects of Islamic education, none of the teams actually grabbed the final presentation on ontology as crucial to generate narratives that would underpin the character building and community ethos. As one of the four objectives I had decided I wanted them to “discover”, this forms an interesting angle to the discussion of teacher as a managing manipulator vs. the teacher as an interactive facilitator –   I am planning to close this series of workshop debriefing with the ambiguously titled post “Teacher Taught a Lesson”. It’s absolute evidence that the teacher is in fact always and forever learning and no amount of management or technique will change that.


*)  “…a certain amount of questioning can cause most things to collapse under the weight of absurdity – as any parent will know when they try to answer every ‘why’ thrown at them by a curious child in their indefatigable and destructive search for meaning.”

Martin Robinson,  Trivium 21C  p. 24.(Read this book – available on Kindle)

**) One of the less obvious points in the fill is that the moment “education” steps in, it is not in the form of the state school system, but a single history teacher who actually gives enough of a toss to personally step up and draw a line in a real and human encounter, where there is clarity about who is the child and who is the adult with life experience.


Filed under Cooperative Learning, Discovery, Lesson plans, Philosophy for Children, workshop, Workshop