Tag Archives: collaborative classrooms

How to NOT benefit from a visit to Stalham Academy; a warning to desperate heads

I am very happy that so many have taken an interest in the success of schools I have worked with. I am less happy to find that some visitors have disregarded the context of that success.

Stalham Academy has recently issued a disclaimer email to schools whose staff have visited them following the Regional Schools Commissioner’s endorsement.

The upshot of that correspondence is that, while they welcome observers, under no circumstances will Stalham Academy accept responsibility for haphazard attempts to replicate “Cooperative Learning” in schools following such a 2-hour visit.

While Andrew and Glenn have made every effort to demonstrate how they have deployed my original 2014 Skills & Mastery CPD course to improve their school, I know that they do not advise randomly dumping Cooperative Learning into classrooms without proper training, any deep understanding of its application, context or, indeed, of its aims. (Some of the requirements of leadership may be found in this series of articles).



Warning do not try this at home



On the contrary, they have clarified to visitors that success depends on SLT systematically connecting Cooperative Learning to all areas of the SIDP, including assessment systems, as well as the overall vision for the school’s ethos as a safe and collaborative community of pupils, parents, and staff.

Furthermore, precisely because my CPD always reflects the needs of each specific school, it may well be that Stalham Academy’s use of Cooperative Learning is not even best practice for your school. Bear in mind that Stalham had just gone into special measures, lost their headteacher, and converted to academy status when the acting head and I planned their CPD.

Thus, Stalham Academy’s results are absolutely not the sole result of my CPD provision, but of an ongoing and systematic and responsible effort by all staff to operationalise my training to meet their needs and achieve their vision.


” Jakob’s training leaves nothing to chance, is focussed, thorough, reflective and takes good account of the real development needs of the team.” 

-Tony Hull, CEO of Evolution Academy Trust, on “The Real Value of TAs” tailored Cooperative Learning programme,  July 2017. 

To write off their hard work because one chooses to blatantly disregard their advice in search of a free magic bullet is unfair. To repay their hospitality by speaking ill of them to one’s colleagues and to denigrate Cooperative Learning as a “fad” simply to cover one’s own shortfalls is the height of ingratitude.

Cooperative Learning is a cost-effective solution, but any solution must be applied correctly. I therefore strongly urge past and future visitors to Stalham and other schools to not to write off Cooperative Learning with the comment “We tried it out when we came back and it didn’t work.”

Should you hear such talk, please urge the concerned individual to contact me for a meaningful dialogue about the requirements of their situation.


“We found working with Jakob really effective, he …  listened to us and adapted his programme specifically for our teachers and our children.”

 Ben Rogers, Vice Principal at Norwich Primary Academy, 2015.
(Watch Vice Principal Ben Rogers and Year 3 teacher Ms Shane Horne discuss their experiences with Cooperative Learning in these short video interviews) .

My training has come a long way since 2014, as it continuously evolves to integrate changes to statutory requirements and DfE recommendations, relevant research (such as best use of TAs), and include a host of ancillary objectives, ideas and experiences from working with a number of schools and training providers.

I, therefore, trust that such a conversation seems a fair proposition?



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Webinar Summary Part #2; Special Measures to Top-500

This is the second themed recording from the webinar Special Measures to Top-500 with Cooperative Learning.

The first part introduced context – definitions of Cooperative Learning, related research, the EEF Toolkit & Pupil Premium, and more.

In this second part. Andrew Howard, then acting head, describes step-by-step how Stalham Academy reached the top with happy pupils, teachers, and parents. Cooperative Learning is essentially about ownership – for pupils to gradually become independent of their teachers, for schools to become independent of consultancy as quickly as possible.

This is where the meat is.

“It makes learning and teaching very visible. As you develop your toolkit of CLIPs, you can develop more and more and more and more ways with which you can engage your pupils and give really, really structured feedback based on what you believe good teaching and learning is.”

– Andrew Howard,  Webinar Special Measures to Top-500. March 27, 2017.


Webinar Special Measures to Top-500 (7).png

CLIPs – Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns Andrew define in a practical way how learners interact with materials and each other to achieve various objectives, giving full control of the learning process. More on werdelin.co.uk.

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 four articles for Senior Leadership: Stalham Academy, What went Right?


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May 15, 2017 · 13:19

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.

webinar slide Special Measures to Top500

Get notifications on Twitter.

werdelin.co.uk is the business end of cooperativelearning.works.
Any questions or comments, enter them below or contact me directly at werdelin.co.uk.


March 29, 2017 · 18:02

Inside out? collaborating introverts

In a recent article in The Atlantic, Michael Godsey claims that the growing emphasis in classrooms on interactive arrangements can be challenging for introverted students who tend to perform better when they are working independently and in more subdued environments.

The author argues that such students sometimes appear shy, depressed, or antisocial, when they actually “feel at their most alive and their most switched-on and their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments.”

These are valid concerns, especially with government and business driving student-centred learning at full tilt. So, for the benefit of heads and teachers considering Cooperative Learning, I hope to address some of the points raised in the article.



First of all, as always here on cooperativelearning.works, the term ‘Cooperative Learning’ denotes the structural approach which “consists of students in small hand-picked teams or pairs working in a number fixed “Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns”, called CLIPs. These CLIPs define step-by-step how students interact with materials and each other and are void of content.” See werdelin.co.uk for the full description.

These standalone CLIPs are deployed by teachers at specific points during lessons, to achieve specific aims. Teach SPaG, drill dates, assess writing, present knowledge, solve worksheet tasks, reflect on own learning: It is a precise tool, not vague “student engagement.” Cooperative Learning may even be used to support such quiet, supposedly introvert skills as reading and text comprehension. Examples are found below and are being made available on Cooperate Be Literate. I have outlined some examples how to facilitate rote learning and of the misuse of the term Cooperative Learning in my Note to Mr Peal.


Student-centred vs teacher-centred ratios

Any experienced educator knows continuous discussion may well be engaging, but also taxing. I therefore always warn teachers not to exceed 80% Cooperative Learning in any lesson. In a Cooperative Learning classroom, students passively receiving input from the board, or passively listening to an open class debate, is a relevant piece in a bigger puzzle.

Relevant because, as the teacher, you possess unique knowledge and you see the big picture, which needs to be fed to the class as a whole. Not only to set up tasks, but to steer the learning process through-out the lesson. That in itself should be ample argument for giving teacher input space. (The fact that your class input will be more relevant and precise if you have monitored during the preceding Cooperative Learning sequences is a sidenote here).

Then there is the issue of precision. What sort of relevant discussion will students have if they have not been presented with clearly delineated objectives, understand the context and, for most subjects, have certain hard knowledge in place? Unguided pupil discussions, not preceded by input or modelling, is often of a shockingly low level, especially in classes very used to teacher-centred learning styles. For interesting examples, see Andy Tharby’s “English teaching and the problem with knowledge” .


The introvert steps of Cooperative Learning interaction

The ratio aside, Cooperative Learning in itself does not have to entail excessively social or overstimulating mandates; it can easily involve quiet components that facilitate internal contemplation. Think-Pair-Share comes to mind, and we will use this classic Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern as an example.

The Think-step may be 30 minutes of quiet, individual reading, followed by Pairs spending five minutes working out a summary of interesting or difficult points, presenting answers to comprehension questions, etc.

In the final step, Share, the pair then become responsible for presenting or arguing their case in front of another pair, who may hold entirely different views. This step may also last as little as five minutes, and interaction may be micromanaged to stress individual accountability or left as an open discussion at students’ discretion, permitting the more introverted students to lean back and let the partner do most of the talking. As a teacher, you always know best what is good for your students. Cooperative Learning will simply give the tools you need to make it happen.

For the last five minutes of this 45 minute lesson, the teacher rounds off and corrects key points he picked up while listening in or guiding individual groups, and answers any final questions.

And, obviously, he collects those note made through-out the three stages, giving clear, written evidence of the learning process. 30 minutes quiet reading, 10 minutes of group work, all in one Cooperative Learning interaction pattern.


Think time

Think-Pair-Share is not unique in affording an individual element as an integral step. In fact, I push for CLIPs to be preceded by “think time,” again preferably with note taking, which gives written evidence of learning. This will also continuously promote identifying key points, concise, precise language, and legible writing; every day, every lesson, with a practical purpose and instant consequence, as the individual accountability inherent in CLIPs often means notes may serve as materials for peers.

Many course participants will remember the Simultaneous Write-Round here, where students individually contribute to a piece of creative writing, based on written input from others. After having jeopardized team performance a couple of times, and understanding the vital role they play as individuals, most students see the benefit of clear writing. This especially true if some time is dedicated to team building exercises.


Getting the introvert out there

We’ve demonstrated above that Cooperative Learning strategies aren’t irreconcilable with the needs of introverts. So in the following I’d like take a step further and point to some of the areas where Cooperative Learning may decidedly benefit introvert students – while bringing their deep thinking to bear on the class.

I have no doubt that introverts are not always “shy, depressed, or antisocial,” and that we should not conflate introversion with an inability to self-advocate. But, let us face it, chances in the real world are not hurt by the ability to present one’s knowledge coherently, argue one’s case, learn from others, negotiate with equally intelligent peers, or reframe one’s understanding to meet needs of very different temperaments and learning .



Similarly, extrovert, talkative students should benefit from, and appreciate, the more profound, worked-through solutions which I often find comes from so-called introverts. Learning to be quiet and simply listen is a crucial human skill, and where better to train it than with an introvert, struggling with every word? By engaging each other in the managed form of CL, both reap subject knowledge and get an opportunity to reflect on benefits and drawbacks of these personality types.

Godley concedes that the ideal, of course, would be to establish arrangements that facilitate differentiated instruction for varying personality types, but that “this might be difficult in large classes with students of diverse levels of proficiency and motivation.”

My claim here is that Cooperative Learning is uniquely suited to facilitate this full-spectrum differentiation: By securing both simultaneous interaction across the class and equal participation, Cooperative Learning will give introverts the time and space needed to present their capabilities in their own tempo, to the benefit of extrovert pupils. On a practical level, this might take the form of working out useful phrases, such as “Do you need any help getting started?” or, vice versa, “No thanks, give me a moment, I just need to phrase this right…”.


Signal to noise

Finally, Michael Godsey worries collaborative arrangements may “inherently enable noisy, distracting conditions that make learning particularly difficult for [introverts].”

It does not hurt to state the obvious: students in any collaborative class must be drilled, drilled, drilled, for everyone’s sake, to recognise appropriate volume. Short voices means that no one outside arm’s reach will hear a word; an all-round useful human skill, and transferable, too. Many so-called introverts don’t mind a quiet, thoughtful discussion. What they do mind is a shouting contest.

The author admits that group activities can serve a purpose in the teaching of introverts and refers to several recent studies that confirm the mountains of evidence that “students who engage in cooperative learning tend to outperform those immersed in traditional learning approaches—namely lectures.”

Here I want to point out that with CL it is never an either-or. Specifically on the subject of lectures, I am currently trialling a programme for a university interested in how Cooperative Learning may facilitate an effective, manageable move towards the student-centred environments required of 21st century tertiary education by the Bologna process.

A key element is CLIPs which organise input processing to provide context, aid retention, clear misunderstandings, share ideas. Dropped in at crucial points during standard klectures, such 2-5 minute interactions are a simple way to shuttle back and forth between very traditional lecturing and innovative student-centred learning.

The real problem is, for Mr Golly, how “…trends like “collaborative learning” and “project-based learning” and “flipped classrooms”—are applied often neglect the needs of introverts.”

Key word here is applied. I feel I have made my case for Cooperative Learning to be considered….








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