Stalham Academy, What Went Right? Lesson#4; Don’t trouble your Head with lesson plans

Teach. Smile. Repeat. It is well-known that the very greatest mastery in any field is the result of great discipline. Less recognised is the fact that the greatest freedom is often also the result of great discipline.

For headteachers looking to maximise return on their CPD investment, there is a fine balance between letting teachers experiment and find their individual style, and stepping in and guiding them to match the vision one has for the school.

At Stalham Academy, Andrew Howard adopted the second approach. And this is where the relationship between freedom and discipline is key.

We’ve already shown how properly executed Cooperative Learning creates a sense of freedom and empowerment among learners.

What we will investigate in this article is the freedom its structure gave to teachers when it was applied consistently to all lessons at Stalham Academy.

Choices, choices…

Cooperative learning is an endless toolbox. You can choose to use it only for class building every Monday morning – just fun and games. You can also choose to massively improve outcomes of specific tasks recurring in specific lessons. For example, peers comparing and correcting individual work, or confirming connections to previous knowledge, or simple task resolution. To name three of hundreds.

toolboxTake your pick…


Now, many of us teachers have a repository of strategies that we find work well for us and that we tend to use again and again. But how we order and use or don’t use them at which points in a lesson is often a matter of intuition, (bad) habits, or whim, as it were.

Because almost all Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns (CLIPs) can achieve multiple different objectives, the use of each can vary tremendously from teacher to teacher and lesson to lesson.

For one teacher Catch1Partner warms up the class with metacognitive questions, for another it drills multiplication tables, for a third it is the final step in a Think-Pair-Share to cross-fertilise ideas between teams.

Each may get stuck in their ways miss how simple it is to achive so much more. Don’t  forget CLIPs are not deployed for their own sake, but to drive progress in every lesson. Student-centered learning is not an objective in its own right.

And though execution may be very good (and often is), bear in mind it is fully possible to stage and run a CLIP extremely well and achieve all the outcomes one is hoping for but use it at the wrong time in the lesson, or to want the wrong outcomes in relation to the goals of the lesson itself.

For example, by using Cooperative Learning solely to gain insight into the minutae of children’s learning processes, and thus breaking up their flow and slowing progress when one could have used at different CLIP, gone with the flow, maintained the pace, and still gained the insight one was looking for.

Inventing the wheel just once

In practice, Andrew identified a few sensible lesson formats that would draw upon the content-void nature of Cooperative Learning to work across all subjects; a stack of CLIPs which were laced together in advance and which would drive forward the learning in the best possible way, leaving teachers free to focus on the content rather than the form of the lesson.

The children quickly took to this repeated, clear structure, which minimises the amount of necessary commands to the barest minimum. After a very short time some classes were able to carry out lessons virtually without teacher guidance. The command “open your workbooks on page 25. Think-Pair-Share the second question, you have two minutes for each stage” was sufficient.

Parent meeting Andrew Howard lesson presentationMr Howard at work on a pie diagramme… Watch video in new window.

In conclusion

So while asking teachers to follow a specific lesson template composed of the string of Cooperative Learning activities, content void as they may be, superficially comes across as dictatorial, by no means is that the case.

The freedom to focus on what is important by having the basics in place from the get-go creates exciting, engaged learning and a sense of accomplishment and empowerment because the students master the format of the lesson and learn to recognise the learning process itself.

For the teacher, such a template reduces stress because there is less micromanagement, less planning, less unforeseen mess that demands crisis handling and thinking-on-the-hoof to reinvent the wheel, when all one wants is a cup of coffee in the staff room – happy in the knowledge that one has just delivered an outstanding lesson in every sense of the word.

* * *

Read a detailed article on these lessons, written after a parent’s meeting in 2015 Cooperative Learning; a model lesson across all subjects

Read the previous articles in the series Stalham Academy, What went Right?

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Webinar Summary Part #1; Special Measures to Top-500

This is the first of several themed recordings from the webinar Special Measures to Top-500 with Cooperative Learning. Part #2 will be available next week.

Topics: context – definitions – research – EEF Toolkit & Pupil Premium and more.

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March 29, 2017 · 18:02

Diamonds in the Rough; video & slides from Monday’s presentation

Among the 85 delegates who missed the first Tea Party due to Storm Doris, but remain curious about the new VNET/NB2B  Cooperative Learning programme Diamonds in the Rough?

This six-minute video edit summarises my presentation at Mattishall. Best enjoyed with tea. The full slideshow is also available for viewing at

Jakob presents the NB2B VNET Tea Party 20 March 2017

The full slideshow is available for viewing at sign-ups or such required).

Attend the webinar for more information on how one Norfolk school reached the Top-500 league for £900 – with happy teachers, parents and pupils.

Read the detailed article on the objectives and actual outcomes of the event.

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March 23, 2017 · 10:24

Great Tea, but what was the Party really about?

The only time anyone in the audience seemed interested in my very ever-so-clever, perfectly timed presentation was in the exercise when they were talking to each other, rather than listening to me drone on – which is precisely why Cooperative Learning instantly improves teaching and learning in any school.

For the benefit of delegates who did not feel satiated after our 15 minutes, this brief article details the underlying objectives of, and delegate feedback to, the introduction to Cooperative Learning at the VNET Tea Party 20 March 2017.

Video and slides now available.

A recap of yesterday’s session

Yesterday, NB2B/VNET threw one of their afternoon Tea Parties at the Enterprise Centre, Mattishall. Alex Bowles and I presented the new, tailored VNET course to 30+ very, very tired headteachers, many of whom had driven for over an hour directly from their schools to attend.

VNET fully recognises the incredible pressure heads are under, mentally, emotionally and financially, so Denise Walker and I wanted to create a simple CPD/coaching programme to radically improve Teaching & Learning which would empower heads, be instantly effective, and accessible to every school, regardless of budget. Basically, enter Top-500 league like Stalham Academy – for as little as £14 per teacher. (Attend the free webinar Monday 27, 7 – 8 pm)

The product of that conversation is the CPD & coaching programme Diamonds in the Rough. The strapline says it all. Turn your pupils into your main classroom resource with Cooperative Learning. If there’s anything our derided, rural county of Norfolk is not short on, it’s these precious stones of youth just lying around, waiting to be mined.

Diamond in the Rough

But before proceeding further, I want to thank delegates and VNET staff, and to ask the reader to have the patience to spend some time on my recommendations of other speakers at the event, especially Kim Frazer and Isabelle Goodman from The Key. If there is one thing the feedback in this exercise made abundantly clear, it is the importance of taking care of one’s  head.

The presentation

As I pointed out in one of my first slides, Cooperative Learning cannot be explained, only experienced. So, even with a 15-minute slot, Alex and I opted for a combination of theory and practice.


Theory included the obvious powerpoint slides with some simple facts about CL that should get any head standing on his toes:

Be relaxed

This was followed by research evidence from the Sutton Trust Teaching & Learning Toolkit, the UK’s most Trusted resource on Pupil Premium spending. Specifically on how the seamless inclusion of multiple other strands within Cooperative Learning may generate as much as 8 months of progress per pupil per year. You can see an extract of the list below. Note the slider positions: dirt cheap, well-researched and high impact:

Sutton Trust T&L toolkit

Try it yourself. (And don’t let nomenclature confuse you: The Toolkit specifically conflates the terms Cooperative and Collaborative Learning). For more details on the toolkit, please see related articles below.


Cooperative Learning can do everything, which is a bit hard to demonstrate in the 6 minutes Alex and I now had left of our 15 minutes of fame. How do you explain what a fruit is? Simple, right? Show an apple. But don’t be surprised when someone complains it’s not yellow, long and peels. So when you demonstrate writing, delegates ask why it doesn’t do reading, when you demonstrate social skills, they want to know how it relates to subject content. As always, focus on what’s missing means you risk missing the point being made.

In this case, Alex and I wanted a versatile, engaging Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern (CLIP) that would demonstrate as many elements of outstanding teaching as possible (especially that all-important assessment). Catch1Partner was an obvious choice, as it works in any environment which has floor space.  It looks like this:

Catch1Partner slide from Tea Party

Before we go into what I wanted the delegates to get out of it, here’s what I got out of it. Be warned.

What actually happened in the yesterday’s activity…

Some of my personal objectives with the exercise were:

  1. To get an inkling of what sort of people I should expect to work with in the VNET context
  2. Understand their issues to better engage with them and help them.
  3. How to improve my presentation and programme to match.

The materials for the exercise was classroom basics, whiteboards and pens, and a small, homemade interview sheet consisting of two words, two lines and two smiley faces (blue lines)to be completed as described (black text) with every new partner:

Tea Party worksheet

A crucial subtask was to challenge partners’ assumptions.

Delegates roved, interviewed, challenged, and filled out the sheets. At the end of the four-minute exercise:

  • I was able to assess the state of the party (Tired, disengaged, some genuinely negative – as evidenced by some sloppy handwriting and superficial answers, including spelling errors, and one simply stating the example was “not drawing him in” – This person spent a great deal of time absorbed in describing this to his partner).
  • I know the majority of people had missed key points (“Takes too long to set up”) and a few had not taken anything from the introduction. (“Don’t know anything about it”).
  • I know the main gripes people have, generally and specifically (Initiative overload is no. 1, followed by money issues).
  • I know what delegates prioritise in their schools (“Raise attainment” came in at a soaring first place, followed by spending Pupil Premium/disadvantaged children, behaviour, and raising engagement).
  • I have a sense of who really didn’t get it and some sense of why, helping me to improve my next presentation – or “next steps,” in your case.
  • And most importantly, I can slot each named delegate neatly into these categories.

Ask yourself, do you usually get this level of granulated, detailed data in four minutes with 30 seconds of preparation by pupils themselves?  Within two weeks of the first CPD, this can be fully embedded across the school. It’s actually that simple. And we have not even touched on how listening in provides even more human detail.

But the main thing I get from this is that headteachers present are simply at the end of their tether, and need to reach out and get the right support that handles their emotional and mental pressure, and solves multiple issues at once with only the absolutely most cost-effective investment of resources.

Birds we want to scatter

Hence my final notes on Kim and The Key CPD Toolkit. A body can survive if it loses an arm or leg. But not the head. And school leaders need to realise are the most important resource in the school, and have every right to be cared for, too.

And then the other benefits

Assessment and these worried reflections aside, I now wish to draw your attention to the following elements of outstanding teaching present in that one simple exercise, which help explain the impact of Cooperative Learning:

  • Extremely high individual accountability (oral and written demonstration of learning on a one-to-one basis).
  • High volume of engagement (30 pupils x 4 minutes in pairs (divide by 2) means 60 minutes of total pupil onstage time, compared to four minutes in an open class plenary).
  • Higher level thinking & argumentation (The subtask of challenging – especially – any negative input. And note how you might have used Growth Mindset gambits here).
  • Integrating new and previous understanding (“How does/doesn’t Cooperative Learning relate to my vision for my school?”)
  • Social skills & class building (Meeting, greeting, thanking, praising, coaching, gentle challenging).
  • Retention (By discussing and evaluating input from the introduction, key points tend to stick in long-term memory).
  • Differentiation (Each and every person gets just the feedback that is relevant to them).
  • Preparing for course/lesson subject (If this had been the first 15 minutes of a lesson, students would now have had a chance to check understanding and integrate some of the opening input before proceeding).
  • “Hard” subject knowledge (Most people did thankfully get that Stalham got 81% achieving expected standard or above).
  • Metacognition (Discussing the benefit/drawbacks of the learning strategy one is actually performing, e.g. this quote I overheard: “I like this because I personally learn better when I talk than listen, but it might not apply to everyone.”).
  • Peer tutoring (Challenging assumptions was a basic part of the exercise).
  • Feedback (As above) – this is one of the Toolkit strands that generate 8 months of additional progress per pupil per year.
  • Yielding all this benefit in any subject, to achieve any conceivable objective or sub-objective, e.g. integrating rigorous self-assessment, based on pre-modelled peer reflection of course, as a part of the exercise. The list is literally endless.

Any objective you want

From the slide with the interview sheet.

Facet? Or stone?

Given VNET offers this programme to schools for as little as £14 per teacher per month over 12 months, and schools are offered 2 hours of the CPD element free of charge if they begin in April, why were Denise, Alex and I not swamped by a feeding frenzy of heads looking to go good or outstanding for less than their monthly utility bill?

Because even in something as simple as this, Cooperative Learning does too much to comprehend. Indeed, for those commencing with Cooperative Learning the first challenge is to distinguish each Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern (CLIP) from the potentially endless array of subactivities and ancillary objectives it can potentially provide. Without this understanding, it cannot be deployed effectively. The CLIP is the steps. Everything else is up to you. It’s sufficiently mind-boggling that it is at once extremely controlled, yet gives an exhilarating sense of freedom.

CLIP defined from Tea Party

And grasping this is really at the heart of the coaching element of the VNET Diamonds in the Rough programme comprised of 8 hours of CPD and 10 hours of SLT mentoring – the stated objective of which is to make participating schools fully independent with Cooperative Learning to get Stalham-level results or better  – bearing in mind they were in special measures when they started.

As incredibly powerful as Cooperative Learning is, it is even more incredibly simple to adopt. I can only once again echo Denise and invite you out to see it live at Great Hockham Primary, courtesy of Alex Bowles.

Other presenters and their CL connection

In closing, I want to share a personal experience. Leadership is a lonesome proposition, where one is responsible for the welfare of many and poor results of – often – a few, and one finds oneself in potential conflicts with and between staff, parents and children.  I have been in a situation in 2012 before I set out as a full time consultant, where I wished I had had access to someone like Kim Frazer before things came to a head.

Another endorsement would be of The Key CPD Toolkit. Thank you to Ms Goodman, who travelled all the way from London to do a 15-minute presentation. The empowering of school leaders to do follow up on CPD is one of my big hobby horses. Though perhaps not cheap, the sustained impact of any initiatives over time, and the implied transferable skills, make Key services very valuable indeed. In and of itself, taking ownership of CPD is the key to success with any CPD input, including Cooperative Learning. But, incidentally, most Key modules on T&L, e.g. Differentiation, EAL, and Able Pupils, slot straight into Cooperative Learning so that any theoretical understanding gained and any associated materials will only further enhance the impact of the VNET Diamonds in the Rough programme – and vice versa.

From the horse’s mouth

For anyone who is interested in what Cooperative Learning can really do, meet the man who got it right. Due to massive oversubscription on a less-than-adequate technical platform, we are re-running the webinar with Andrew Howard of Stalham Academy “Special Measures to Top-500 with Cooperative Learning” on Monday 27 March 7-8 pm. Sign up here, spaces are free, but limited and strictly first come, first served. For decision making heads and governors only.

webinar slide Special Measures to Top500

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Stalham Academy, What Went Right? Lessons #1, #2 and #3.

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

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

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

Not what, but how

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

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

Head, do your homework

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson observations & Cooperative Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key factors in successful implementation

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

Some of her key points include:

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

Do you see?

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

Peer support is not just for learners

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

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

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

This deserves an article in it’s own right.

Full  a document is found here: <>


*) What’s a CLIP?

* * *

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Free Webinar; Special Measures to Top-500 with Cooperative Learning

Finally, dates are set. For all of you who took a keen interest in the Stalham Academy, What Went Right? series, attending this free webinar is a must.

Our main speaker, Andrew Howard, became acting head when his school was put in special measures in May 2014.

By 2016’s SATs, the impact of just three twilight sessions of Cooperative Learning had yielded 81% in the core subjects and had fundamentally changed the behaviour of pupils. Stalham is now promoted by DfE as a beacon of best practice.

Had 100% staff retention as well.




Spaces are free, but limited.

In this interactive webinar, Andrew will explain to you in detail how he used Cooperative Learning to get his failing school into the national top-500 with happy pupils, happy parents, and 100% staff retention.

The webinar will be introduced by Denise Walker, head of Norfolk Better to Best, and hosted by Jakob Werdelin.

We have put a lot of work into making this available to schools because we believe it will make a real difference to teachers and pupils. Please help us by sharing with your colleagues.


“It was actually building in their social skills, that it was important to respect each other’s opinions … it was some great PSHE lessons that derived from it.”

– Rebecca Lamb, NQT at Stalham Academy, 2014.



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“Me teaching! You Learning!” – When Teaching Meets Learning@NB2B conference in Swaffham

Thank you to Denise and Norfolk Better to Best for bringing in Laura Kearny, Mark Burns et al. to present research from John Hattie, great reflections on developing teachers and teaching practice through Visible Learning and Outstanding Teaching, and especially relevant to my own work, SOLO Taxonomy.

I plan to break up the conference into a series of posts and present them integrated with the ongoing production of articles on Stalham Academy’s journey to top 500, which would be highly relevant due to the incredible overlap between the ideas presented at the conference and Stalham’s use of Cooperative Learning. For example, based on a great number of meta-data, Laura gave evidence that Mr Howard’s very hands-on approach in the classroom is the way to go.


Here, Laura differentiated between the Transitional and Instructional leader, the first one a visionary looking at the far horizon, the latter taking a wrench to immediate problems (my paraphrase!). I could see a lot of attending heads got a surprise when it turned out how much more effective the Instructional leader is. 0.40 vs 0.19, in fact (We’ll look at what these numbers mean in detail later).  And that was one of the things I liked most about their approach, that like me, they work with the good practice already in place, rather than re-inventing the wheel.




Laura’s data is extracted from John Hattie’s famous book “Visible Learning – a Synthesis of 800 Meta-Analysis” (Amazon). Hattie is one of the Grand Old Men of student-centred learning, and his book basically analyzes and prioritises the impact of 100s of factors on learning, including ethnic diversity, homework, IBL, and use of various equipment.


Though much of the other data presented confirmed general assumptions, and specifically what we know about the components that make Cooperative Learning so effective, such as metacognition, some things really came as a surprise, and I got quite inspired to sit down with this book from a new angle.


An upcoming theme here at will be precisely that data, and what it means to schools who are, or plan to get, engaged with Cooperative Learning – and the very real impact of what Mark termed “the Perception Gap” on school improvement and research itself.

Me teaching! You Learning! Metacognition is not just for pupils, Tarzan! Speakers brought that one home!

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