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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Active Citizens; Cooperative Learning goes Community


Thank you to Inspector Noeleen Murrin and her entire team for today’s #ActiveCitizens event to introduce the new funding process, and especially to all the delegates from the four wards of Perry Barr constituency.

With Cooperative Learning, the true resources are the participants, regardless of age group or objectives. This event marks a new way of staging complex citizen meetings, securing equal participation and accountability – with a lot of challenging engagement.

This event is unrelated to the event with Small Heath neighbourhood team and the local community organisation Maandeeq at Birmingham Football Club last month, described in elsewhere in Not Black & White: Bridging the citizen/authority gap.

The following is a brief outline of this 3-hour workshop/citizens meeting at James Watt College, mapped out in close collaboration with the Perry Barr neighborhood team under Inspector Murrin.

Jakob and Noeleen AC

Inspector Noeleen Murrin and myself (Photo by @RobAbdul)


The main objective today was to present the context and concept of Participatory Budgeting funding process, and tie this to the narrative of shared future, democracy in action, community building and empowerment, equal participation, citizen responsibility/accountability and choice.

You can read more about the Participatory Budgeting approach at the BP Network, but in brief,  a short dedicated presentation of the PB process goes: “Citizen X, get an idea, present it to your peers as a project, get them to vote for you to get the funds.” No more asking police and authorities  – projects are proposed and picked by communities themselves.

Using Cooperative Learning, this workshop-format citizens meeting set out to simulate some of this in mini-format, including the pitfalls of disengagement.

The presentation was  interspersed with icebreaker / “processing” activities to ensure the personal relevance of the was properly understood; a practical introduction to “be active or lose out.”

AC PAper X

Enquiry – Picking the problem?

Simulating the process, first, delegates were asked to come up with an actual problem to be dealt with. It was important that participants not jump to the solution/project phase before identifying the issue they are looking to solve, as this could potentially blind them to other, better solutions, or create “solutions” that do not actually benefit the community by missing the mark.

It was also an important objective that citizens coming in with ready-made concepts did not swamp or over-run their less well-prepared peers.

Active Citizens voting on issues

Each team member then had a couple of minutes to present their case in turns, explaining their particular issue should be given priority, and the table voted for one of the issues as the most important. (And one cannot vote for one’s own idea, Kinaka!! Bless you!


Collaboration – Solidifying solutions

Each team then worked all together to make a small presentation of the issue they had picked, through drawing, writing, mindmapping, etc. The below message was key:

Finally, each team  presented their issue and solution to representatives from tables outside of their wards. Here they compared their issues, commented and advised on possible solutions – and networked of course – only to return and share knowledge, ideas and reflections with their home teams.

The individual accountability here was very high and not paying attention or disengaging from one’s responsibility had instant negative impact on the home team. Fortunately, the format of Cooperative Learning gives a loop-hole to save this situation – but not before making delegates aware that problems here were entirely their responsibility. The pressure of the workshop to deliver tangible results within a set deadline is no different from the funding process in real life.

The brief project outlines  were then hung on the wall.


Matching resources

After the coffee break, where people circulated and got a chance to chat and eat branded cake, the experienced community builders  set up shop at various tables.

AC cake

Cooperative Learning? Have your cake and eat it!

Initially I had teams loosely group around each of these tables, and listen to specialists present their skill sets in 2 minutes shifts. Then these groups rotated from one specialist to the next, but after a couple of rotations, I let delegates freely rove , confident each person had seen all or most of the representatives.

“Inspector Noeleen Murrin’s team hosted a well thought-out very first Active Citizens event for the Perry Barr District. The attention to detail for active participation was innovative.”

– Rob Abdul, author & ecommerce expert, PR, Lecturer, photographer, and general active citizen…

Will be more on this as feedback and professional photos from @RobAbdul comes filtering – in so follow on twitter for updates.

For delegates asking about the educational aspect of my work, and Cooperative Learning and Community Building, please visit


Articles of interest: Not Black & White: Bridging the citizen/authority gap.

More posts on community building.


Simon Wade from Handsworth Community.GIF

Simon Wade from Handsworth Community (@B20-B21) discusses active citizenship in a Catch1Partner (Photo by @RobAbdul)



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All in the (Islamic Awareness) Week’s work

Next week will see a breakdown of each of the these educational events for the benefit of attendees and third parties.

In summary:

Monday 16 March: Healing Fractures II” Educators’ Workshop 

Beyond Birmingham? Through shared insights of seasoned Muslim alternative educators, RE teachers, researchers and representatives from statutory bodies, this full-day ‘knowledge café’ aimed to let Muslim and non-Muslims collaboratively re-discover a possible future role of schools in relation to identity and community. Everybody present but Ofsted and DfE.

Thank for this and a most thought-provoking

and well-organised day.” 

Isabel Farrelly, Equality and Diversity Officer, Norfolk


Where is Sir Michael when you need him?

Tuesday 17 March: Islam in RE: Religious Literacy & Controversy Through Enquiry full day CPD

on religious literacy, guided enquiry into controversial topics and related issues of SMSC, PSHE, and Citizenship. Attendees: Charlie Hebdo reflections,  lesson plan in pdf and sample materials are found here: Charlie’s Angels or Sympathy for the Devils? 

“I have truly enjoyed this approach and it has reminded me of why I enjoy enquiry based learning. It was great to be challenged at an adult level, not to be talked down to as a child.”

– Cecilia Basnett, Bignold Primary


Wednesday 18 & Thursday 19 March: “Enquiry and Immersion”

Full-Day Field Trip to Ihsan Mosque presents these new trips developed for primary schools.

Best quote:

“I’d give my life’s savings to eat here every day”

– Year 6 Pupil, 18 March, 2015.

Though very different events, all shared a common theme for me. How much does one control as facilitator, and how does one become one with the flow?  Stay tuned on twitter.

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Islam Awareness Week 2015 programme in Norwich

Islam Awareness Week 2015 is from March 17 to 23.  Ihsan Mosque marks the occasion with four events of special interest to educators:



[  download as pdf  ]


Monday 16 March:

Healing Fractures II” Educators’ Workshop is a full-day event, led by Ibrahim Lawson, which aims at inspiring and enlightening relevant professionals in the education sector and local authority through the insights and experience of Muslim alternative educators. It is a full-day version of our highly acclaimed event in 2014. Read more

Tuesday 17 March:

Islam in RE: Religious Literacy & Controversy Through Enquiry allows RE teachers to use Cooperative Learning to achieve outstanding results in relation to religious literacy, guided enquiry into highly controversial topics and related issues of SMSC, PSHE, and Citizenship. This course has been presented in Norwich in October and to PGCE students at the Institute of Education in November 2014. Read more.

Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 March:

“Enquiry and Immersion” Full-Day Field Trip to Ihsan Mosque aimed at primary. Open  official invitation from Mr Jamal Sealey, Muslim community leader in Norwich, to February’s roll-out. More on this as situation develops – follow on Twitter for updates. Thoughts on the pilot.


MON ladies 2

 Smiling because the boys are all downstairs?

Acle Academy students, Enquiry & Immersion, November 2014

“…the experience of participating in these transferable and scalable enquiry exercises was very effective.

Laura Gabell, RE teacher, Notre Dame High School,

Islam in RE, Norwich CPD, October 23, 2014 


Filed under community building, Cooperative Learning, CPD, Enquiry, integration, Islam, Multiculturalism, P4C, Philosophy for Children, RE, Religious Education, Religious studies, workshop

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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