Tag Archives: collaborative learning

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

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

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

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




Girls will be girls?

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

Maths standards in Norfolk

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


Girls and Maths - no worries!

Getting the message?


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

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

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

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

John McConnell video still.PNG


Mr McConnell video interview on his experiences with Cooperative Learning.


The project in a nutshell

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

These CPD components comprise:

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


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


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

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

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

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

Cooperative Learning and Maths

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Filed under Cooperative Learning, Maths, SSIF, STEM

Hand in Glove; SOLO Taxonomy & Cooperative Learning

Action Research: Working with Berrymede Junior School has presented an opportunity to better harness the vast amounts of pupil knowledge made visible by Cooperative Learning.

Ever open to hand-carry any and all curriculum content and pedagogical approaches, Cooperative Learning multiplies the value of programmes as diverse as Read-Write-Inc, Talk4Writing, and Maths No Problem. However, one specific approach stands out. 

Unlike the above-mentioned schemes – specific to phonics, writing and maths – this unique approach mirrors the all-encompassing scope of Cooperative Learning. And like Cooperative Learning, it needs an avatar to manifest in the classroom.

This extraordinary approach is, of course, SOLO Taxonomy, which I have wanted to sink my teeth into since attending Laura Kearney’s workshop almost a year ago. (See “Me teaching! You Learning!” – When Teaching Meets Learning@NB2B conference…).


Cooperative Learning goes SOLO

So, what aligns SOLO so perfectly with Cooperative Learning? Ironically, the fact that they are polar opposites:

Cooperative Learning fashions an outward, physical aspect of learning – manifest as tightly organised peer-to-peer discussion, negotiation, presentation, Q&A, sharing, guiding, assisting, note-taking, and so forth.

SOLO Taxonomy fashions an inward, mental aspect of learning – manifest by its organising, qualifying and classifying the knowledge production resulting from this outward aspect.

Then, there is a less fortunate resemblance: Despite their superficial simplicity, both can be applied to anything, at any time, to achieve virtually any objective within their respective fields. As we know, doing everything all at once is seldom successful. Here’s a few items on the SOLO list: “plan teaching,” “assess and guide learning in relation to both functional and declarative knowledge” and “give proximate, hierarchical and explicit feedback, feed-forward and feed-up on learning” (Pam Hook First Steps with SOLO Taxonomy – Applying the model in your classroom, p. 11).

Hence, getting SOLO firmly embedded in your school is a time-consuming uphill struggle to first get everyone’s head around the underlying theory and then anchor practice consistently across all classrooms – on top of everything else you have to do.



To save time and effort, and to minimise risk of wasting both, the alternative is ongoing, costly consulting and coaching from an external provider (building in-school champions, etc. etc). For school leaders, short of time, mental and emotional resources and money, getting hooked on SOLO seems an overwhelming endeavour.

(As for deploying Cooperative Learning without adequate training, we have covered that in How to NOT benefit from a visit to Stalham Academy; a warning to desperate heads.)

Fortunately, I have recently been contacted by Berrymede Junior, a London school looking for a simple, practical way to embed SOLO. This has presented us with the opportunity  for an action research project to synthesise the power of Cooperative Learning and SOLO Taxonomy into an inexpensive, practical and straightforward deployment solution.


SOLO in a nutshell

So, what is SOLO? All references in this article are culled from Pam Hook’s First Steps with SOLO Taxonomy – Applying the model in your classroom.

SOLO stands for the Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome and at its most basic plane organises learners’ performance into four distinct levels of increasing structural complexity. This taxonomy not only makes it possible to identify the pupils’ levels at any given time, but it also makes it possible to classify teacher input. 

Levels 1 and 2 are referred to as Unistructural and Multistructural. These relate to the surface level of quantity: simple recall of factual knowledge or parroting teacher talk.



The difference between levels I and II is the amount of knowledge, from single ideas to multiple ideas, as opposed to the quality of knowledge (see below).

Level 3 is referred to as Relational. From simply listing and describing individual items, pupils working on this level have now moved on to be able to sequence, classify, explain, compare, contrast, analyse, relate, and apply information and procedures.

Finally, Level 4, Extended abstract, connects these relationship to broader knowledge, allowing learners to rethink and find new ways to use it as the basis for prediction, generalisation, reflection or creation of new understanding.


SOLO taxonomy overview


(Here’s a task for you to check your understanding: After reading this paragraph, which level best describes your understanding of SOLO and its connection to Cooperative Learning?). I am guessing most would now be Level 2, which is where this paragraph is pitched. However, if you are using Cooperative Learning in your current lessons, you may already be moving up into Level 3, making connections.

For more on SOLO, I suggest visiting Pam Hook’s website pamhook.com/.

Blinded by visible learning?

In order to assess pupil’s SOLO levels and maximise feedback to get those elusive 8 months of additional progress mentioned in the EEF Toolkit, you need to, literally, make learning explicit. Nothing generates more explicit learning than Cooperative Learning. Simply walking around in a class in the midst of any CLIP provides twenty times the information on learning any teacher can reasonably process. And we have not even touched the embedded production of written evidence.

Nothing organises and structures that information overload better than SOLO. When  teachers need to identify levels at a glance/eavesdrop, its far simpler than Bloom’s – and its alternatives, if you scan Terry Heick’s comparison. By using SOLO to classify and organise, you tap more fully into the assessment potential of Cooperative Learning.

In a nutshell, Cooperative Learning provides the high volumes of realistic data that SOLO needs, and SOLO increases precision, speed and scope of what you can do with the high volumes of realistic data provided by Cooperative Learning.


SOLO alone and together.PNG


Shared language?

So, what do we mean by “realistic data”? David Dideau, who famously back-pedalled on SOLO some years ago (Why I changed my mind about the SOLO taxonomy), notes that “teaching children a new cross curricular language of learning assumes that the terms we use mean the same things at different times and in different places.”

That is precisely why we should give teachers and learners a chance to find out what they actually mean. For fans of Bakhtin, the ultimate aim of learning is to help best develop a person’s thought process by allowing their “inner-voice” to flourish.  The inner-voice can only be developed effectively when it has access to a range of different “outer-voices” which can be synthesised, repeated and interpreted using the individual’s own language. (See Mikhail Bakhtin, Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1986).

David Oldham capture

The term “Shared language” comes up again and again in different contexts in this recent interview with headteacher David Oldham. (watch now)

Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns are ideal tools for teachers to micro-manage the expansion of the inner-coming-out. Ensuring a bridging of potential gaps in perception between teacher-pupil and pupil-pupil mitigates the very real risk described by Dideau.

Above every deep is a surface you need to break

Being able to generate revolutionary new thinking and seeing links and connections between different concepts and ideas are utterly dependent on the depth and breadth of what pupils know. In the words of Dideau, “teaching pupils how to analyse in isolation is pretty pointless. They need to have something to analyse.”

For more on how Cooperative Learning promotes simple recall of factual knowledge, see such posts as Cooperative Learning; Closed Questions,  Closed Achievement Gaps and Deconstructing the Progressive-Traditional Dichotomy; a note to Mr Peal. So, I am pleased to note that, like me, Pam Hook and other principal proponents of SOLO identify such surface understanding as absolutely necessary to move on to the deep learning of levels 3 and 4.

Here, we need to again negate the misapprehension that Cooperative Learning is all about pupils venting random opinions completely out of context. I still remember a hilarious example of such by HMI Alan Brine taken from an RE lesson where pupils had been asked where they wanted to go on pilgrimage, where the majority had honestly answered “vacation.” It simply says to the teacher moved ahead before the surface understanding of SOLO Level I was in place: Define “pilgrimage.”

Cooperative Learning is a surgical precision tool to let the teacher generate high volumes of observable learning outcomes. SOLO, the Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes, is a simple, tried-and-tested way to get more out of those outcomes.

Below are some relevant questions you might ask yourself about this article. 

Some illustrative SOLO questions

Now imagine a trusted colleague with whom you could bounce your thoughts back and forth, adding, checking, sharing, suggesting?

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*) Pam Hook, First Steps with SOLO Taxonomy – Applying the model in your classroom, 
Essential Resources Educational Publishers Limited, 2016.  pamhook.com/.



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Filed under Cooperative Learning, other teaching methods, SOLO

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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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

…Best Use of Teaching Assistants with Cooperative Learning#6; V-VII On linking structured, quality TA interventions to regular teaching

This is the final instalment in our series of articles explaining how Cooperative Learning will make the seven recommendations in the EEF Making best use of TAs Guidance Report a lived reality in your school, simply and cost-efficiently. 

This article discusses Recommendations V-VII, found in Section 6 & 7 of the report:



The essentials of the relationship between Cooperative Learning and recommendations V-VII have been dealt in the previous articles, so this final instalment therefore mainly recaps and links these key points to connect structured, quality TA interventions to regular teaching – in the minds of teachers, TAs and learners.


Cooperative Learning and small-group interventions


According the the report, TAs working in structured settings with high-quality support and proper training is where the 3-4 additional months’ progress is found. Adversely, when TAs are deployed in more informal, unsupported instructional roles, they can impact negatively on pupils’ learning outcomes (p. 23).

Thus, the key to success in out-of-class interventions is the amount and type of training, coaching and support provided by the school. We have already discussed in Recommendation IV how TAs should (A) always take part in training sessions, and how (B) they are involved in the staging and running of Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns (CLIPs) in classrooms on a daily basis.

The combined effect is that TAs very soon take ownership of the CLIPs. Through training and direct experience, they understand when, how and why individual CLIPs should be used. Though coaching is indispensable, and should take place in any circumstances,  the shared language and simple consistency of Cooperative Learning allows for an incredibly cost-effective and safe transfer of good classroom practice into small-group interventions run exclusively by support staff.

“…learning the ability to implement during interventions and tailored to individual needs.” -Cat Moore, teaching assistant, on the best part of attending Cooperative Learning CPD at Fakenham Junior School, 2017.

Take note that the SEN Code of Practice makes it clear that teachers remain responsible and accountable for the progress and development of the pupils in their class, including “where pupils access support from teaching assistants”. Cooperative Learning should never be used to transfer teacher responsibility to support staff.

Instructions from teachers to coordinate interventions could be as simple as “Boss and Secretary these three questions and send them back in.” For an example of Boss & Secretary in class, revisit this video in Recommandation IV where Gypsie explains her knowledge of division to Sidney at Sheringham Primary Community School:


Sheringham Boss & Secretary.PNG



However, in an intervention, the TA would model the Boss-role extensively, tweaked to match special needs, integrate targets from each SEN pupil’s individual development plan, and/or micro-guide the two or three pupil Bosses present in a 4-6-pupil intervention.

As a result, the supported pupils regularly moving back and forth between interventions and classroom teaching will find total coherence in the execution and outcomes of activities: the only difference being the increased level of adult support and possibly differentiated content.

This is especially important as the report makes clear that it cannot be left to the pupil to make links between the coverage of the intervention and the wider curriculum coverage back in the classroom. Given that supported pupils are usually those who find accessing learning difficult in the first place, this presents a huge additional challenge.

Cooperative Learning lets you use evidence-based interventions to reflect similar evidence-based class teaching to secure consistent and high-quality teaching across the school, yet lets you involve SEN and other vulnerable pupils on an equal footing.

TA with small group

Ideal intervention is what you get when you stage things properly. (From the Report, p. 13).

The ideal intervention

The Report lists specific trusted programmes (p. 24), including Talk for Literacy which we have already dealt with in relation to Cooperative Learning, but also gives general guidelines for how ideal interventions should look.

Summarising the key points, also found on page 24:

Sessions have structured supporting resources and lesson plans, are brief (20–50mins) and regular over a sustained period with clear objectives and “possibly a delivery script.” This should now be familiar to those who have been following this series.

TAs receive extensive training from experienced trainers and/or teachers (5–30 hours per intervention). Basic training consists of 3-4 twilights with the rest of staff (i.e. 6-8 hours), and class specific training from teachers take place in class as discussed above. Baring occasional monitoring and coaching – which should be a given regardless of intervention type – there is no need for further investment of valuable time.

Assessments are used to identify appropriate pupils and track pupil progress. We have discussed the issue of visible learning through Cooperative Learning on multiple occasions. This is a good summary.


Connecting the dots

Crucially, the final piece of advice, Recommendation VII, is to build bridges between what happens in these two learning environments:




Nothing is more explicit than Cooperative Learning. By being exposed to identical CLIPs with more support,  pupils coming back from interventions to land in a duplicate activity in class may all of a sudden become a valued resource for their peers. For many disadvantaged or lower-attaining pupils, such academic appreciation by peers might be a first-time experience.

With this connection between academic results and self-esteem, we conclude our series on the seven recommendations form the EEF’s Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants Guidance Report. 

The key message of this series is that the shared language and simple and consistent framework that Cooperative Learning provides ensures a flexible, yet homogeneous, toolkit and ethos throughout your school, from the headteacher to the to teachers – and, most importantly teaching assistants – probably the most undervalued and untapped resource in English schools today.




Index of articles:


As I work with schools, more and more best-practice comes to light. You are welcome to contact me if you have questions or wish to learn more.

Our next area of focus will be on how Cooperative Learning makes SOLO Taxonomy simple and accessible.

* * *

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…Best Use of Teaching Assistants with Cooperative Learning #5; IV “Ensure TAs are fully prepared for their role in the classroom”

This series of articles explains how Cooperative Learning will make the seven recommendations in the EEF Making best use of TAs Guidance Report a lived reality in your school, simply and cost-efficiently. 

The seven recommendations are found in Section 5 of the report; This article discusses Recommendation IV:

EEF Recommendation IV header


In order to achieve this, the Guidance Report recommends schools “provide sufficient time for TA training and for teachers and TAs to meet out of class to enable the necessary lesson preparation and feedback.”

TAs & teacher training

In relation to training, Cooperative Learning CPD should always include all teaching staff, precisely because it reduces the need for shared PPA time, simplifying logistics of day-to-day school life and freeing the time allocated for more strategic objectives.

One of the main reasons I charge in batches of 20 delegates is to remove the temptation in schools to save money in the short term by sending only teachers to the training. It is simply a lot more cost-efficient on so many levels to include everyone, not least the value of support staff feeling that they are, indeed, part of the team. More on this pricing structure.

PPA time and/or visible modelling

Specifically, the Report notes that this allocated lesson preparation time should ensure TAs have the essential ‘need to knows’:

  • Concepts, facts, information being taught
  • Skills to be learned, applied, practiced or extended
  • Intended learning outcomes
  • Expected/required feedback.

Looking just at the Cooperative Learning, by attending the training, support staff fully understand each Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern (CLIP) which is then replicated with different content, day in and day out, so they know exactly what good practice looks like.

A reminder here: The CLIPs need to fuse with your content to become an activity (e.g. just imagine a Think-Pair-Share with no question – not a lot to work with, is there?). Therefore, actual day-to-day practice requires an alignment of objectives, materials, and CLIPs. And this bit is, on the whole, the teacher’s responsibility as the objectives are taken from the lesson plans and the materials are often dictated one way or another, whether by last year’ s leftovers, by school policy, or something else.

Therefore, one would expect that in order for the TA to be “fully prepared for their role in the classroom” shared PPA time would be a requirement and, ideally, she should be a part of setting up sessions, as noted in Recommendation III. However, we all know that this is not always possible or convenient.

But because the TA is present in the class when the subject-specific task is injected into the CLIP, whether the TA or a pupil is “used” to model the interaction – she will also understand the unique subtasks, language or vocabulary required by children to complete the task.

As a result, as a TA, you can rush into the room five minutes late from some off-the-cuff behaviour intervention, follow the teacher’ s lead within the well-known structure of the selected CLIP  to immediately assume a role almost on par with the teacher once the activity kicks off: “Remember, Robbie, in this exercise, you need to ask your teammates to actually count/spell/explain before answering your question” orDo you remember what Mrs Harrington demonstrated with Mike? Make sure to tell your coaching-partner to keep his ruler horizontal when doing the X-axis.”

For examples of such phrases and vocabulary, enjoy this Boss & Secretary presented Gypsie and Sidney of Sheringham Primary Community School:


Sheringham Boss & Secretary.PNG
Gypsie uses Boss Secretary to explain her knowledge of division to Sidney. She shows that she understands the process and uses the correct vocabulary. Next, they will swap over. If Gypsie had made a mistake, Sidney would have followed her instructions and showed her….

Peer-coaching: The TA as a mirror

For TAs looking for continuous professional development or planning a teaching career, there is an added bonus. Consider for a moment the ‘need to knows’ outlined in the report: “Concepts, facts being taught, Skills to be learned, Intended learning outcomes, Expected/required feedback”


Teachers will find they get a lot out of spending a bit of time with their TA looking at each of these points in turn, sharing reflections on the choice of CLIP to match intended learning outcomes,  helping each other to pick the best vocabulary and phrases to facilitate conceptual understanding, foreseeing problems in the application of acquired skills, etc.

Especially given the fact that Teaching Assistants of have unique knowledge about individual pupil’s “quirks” – and these do become apparent when working closely with peers – he or she is in a unique position to anticipate problems which could be triggered.

Furthermore, because these discussions with the teacher give an understanding of how and when to use the CLIPs effectively, the TA will be a lot more confident when using Cooperative Learning in any out of class interventions.

We will look at this in more depth when we discuss the next two recommendations:

Rec V and VI (Out of Class).PNG




The following figure is found on page 19 of the Report. In the previous post, we discussed how Cooperative Learning will help TAs to evade these pitfalls.

Rec III Figure 1 (Avoid...)



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Please do not hesitate to comment or ask questions directly by contacting me.

werdelin.co.uk is the business end of cooperativelearning.works.


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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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Making best use of … Leadership; Coaching & Cooperative Learning.

Cooperative Learning makes learning visible. But, perhaps more importantly to senior leadership teams, it also makes visible their key area of responsibility, namely the teaching.

Were I to sum up Cooperative Learning in one word, it would be empowerment. Empowerment first and foremost of every pupil; self-confidence, courage, curiosity, choice, to name a few; empowerment of teachers (and their support staff) by making all the tick-boxes of outstanding teaching available in a simple, manageable manner; and empowerment of senior leadership teams (SLT) by facilitating their key role as guides to good teaching.

It may be obvious that empowerment of teachers is a prerequisite for the empowerment of pupils. But I venture here that empowerment of leaders in their role is in some ways a prerequisite for the empowerment of teachers themselves.

The responsibility of leadership

This article discusses how Cooperative Learning may empower all levels of your school community by working from the top down. Counter-intuitive, perhaps, and certainly something which needs to be tweaked to reflect the ethos of each school.

The fundamental assumption in this text is that 1) you are a leader because you have more to give – perhaps a more comprehensive educational background, more experience, better communication skills, patience, or decisiveness, to name some – and that 2) most of your staff could actually benefit from you, and actually wish to.

Empowerment via the top-down approach has several aspects. School leaders struggle with an overload of tasks which push the focus away from the raison d’etre of any school: every-day excellent teaching and learning in the classroom:


Headteacher's priorities.PNG

For those who use the Eisenhower/Covey matrix.


Given schools only exists for the sake of teaching and learning, and the documented positive impact of coaching on teachers professional development,* you would think that weekly lesson observations of every teacher by an experienced leader would not just be a given, it would be a right, the violation of which could bring the NUT down on the school’s head.

However, learning walks/lesson observations are often draining because outcomes seldom match the effort; objectives are not clear and feedback is not practical and, as a consequence, observations often result in vague hints which are seldom followed up, rather than instantly applicable advice that actually improves life for teachers and pupils from the next day and onwards. (Which only increases the sense among teachers observations are not about them being raised, but being judged).

We have previously discussed how Cooperative Learning has the capacity to effectively turn fluffy concepts of “secure more pupil engagement”  into practical reality. The question is, how does the school take ownership of this capacity?

Why coach leadership

The answer is to turn leaders into just that: Trusted, inspiring guides, who master Cooperative Learning enough to take the torch from the consultant and drive their school’s vision. So, rather than having me come into classrooms following CPD to observe and coach teachers, I began coming into classrooms to observe and coach school leaders doing the same.

There are numerous benefits to this, four of which are listed below.


1. Improve Cooperative Learning and basic teaching skills

Teaching becomes visible through Cooperative Learning. Here it is important to grasp that weakness in the understanding of teaching is not the same as weakness in the execution of the Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns (CLIPs).

I specifically coach to maximise the benefit of Cooperative Learning – a clear objective with clear outcomes that I feel confident I can secure during one lesson/feedback session, and although I deal with matters which impinge on the quality of Cooperative Learning (e.g. timing and directive modelling) any underlying deep or subject-specific issues (e.g. misapprehension of objectives, or inappropriate levelling), is best dealt with in an ongoing process with responsible school leaders.

So by coaching SLT rather than the individual teacher, the benefit of the coaching is much more ongoing, comprehensive, and cohesive; and here, the clarity of Cooperative Learning will not only disclose gaps in teaching skills but will give very practical tools to close them, presented in a respectful, and perhaps less direct, manner.

2. Put victims at peace

Most teachers are used to being masters of their own classrooms and, as do most people, dislike the sense of being observed and judged, even if they are brilliant. By focusing attention on the performance of leadership in the role of coaches, it is possible to secure accountability and improvement while being more respectful of teachers’ integrity.



3. Fast-track to independence

By turning SLT into capable Cooperative Learning coaches, the school becomes independent of further external consulting, which is, of course, the ultimate goal for the school – and for me a sign I have done my job right.

4. The learner becomes the master

The practical coaching of SLT will enable leaders who are so disposed – there is at least one of those in every school – to move Cooperative Learning to a whole new level, tweaking, experimenting, combining, Stalham Academy being an obvious case study. But this cannot be done without mastering of the basics. “Wax on, wax off,” for those who remember the Karate Kid’s ordeals (Youtube).

Stages of lesson observations

There are several ways to approach Cooperative Learning lesson observations. The following discusses options of (A) Before, (B) During and (C) After lessons – with (B) obviously being indispensable.

(A) Before the observation

Ideally, the teacher presents the rationale behind the lesson plan prior to the observation (whether to me directly, or to a member of SLT being trained by me). This presentation includes shared reflections on pacing, choice of materials, assumptions about previous learning, securing evidence, as one normally would, but specifically how the CLIPs support this. “Why this CLIP and not that? Which sub-tasks fit in the objective? What target language are you requiring them to use?” For practical reasons, we usually do this in a break immediately preceding the lesson.

A special benefit of this approach is that I can confirm that the teacher grasps where and how to use the CLIPs in the context of the lesson, so that the observation may focus solely on the execution of the CLIP itself. By coordinating when CLIPs are used, it is conceivable to observe up to three separate classes within the span of a lesson slot.



(B) During the observation

With the coach(es) present in the classroom as the lesson takes place, there are two options: one is passive observation for later feedback, the other is active guidance as the lesson proceeds. As Cooperative Learning turns the focus away from the teacher, it is possible to have a real-time conversation about what is happening in the heat of the moment. For example, a reminder to monitor the whole class and not get sucked into the individual pupil’s issues is a classic.*

(An alternative version of this is to watch a video recording of the lesson together, where the teacher can see himself from the outside and discuss his observations with the coach. However, there is a risk that too much detail is lost in a video, as the coach cannot direct attention to individual pupils or teams).

(C) After the observation

It is crucial that the feedback following the lesson is a two-way process, respectful, yet honest. When coaching leaders, I usually run the feedback in the following stages.

1. Alone with me, the senior leader gives her own take on the Cooperative Learning within the lesson, and I fill in the gaps, add to the precision of language, or correct errors. Where relevant, we discuss the relationship to teaching skills and we use a checklist to make sure bases are covered. This checklist is provided to all staff during training (and every teacher is expected to laminate it and chain it to his wrist). Sometimes, the oral feedback is prepared with me playing the role as the teacher.

2. The observed teacher enters and gives his own subjective perspective. (“God, I was horrible!” is not an uncommon – and incorrect – opening statement, which reflects the strain of being monitored more than anything else). What is important that the teacher is allowed time and space to reflect on himself, and come up with his own solutions, first and foremost.

3. The leader being coached then uses this as a sounding board for the feedback, rephrasing it as needed to match, tweak, or correct the perspectives of the teacher. There is, of course, no reason to repeat problems that the teacher flagged up himself, except to note his insight, as realistic self-assessment is one of the single most valuable skills one may have.

4. Now comes the important part: the practical application of the feedback. This means picking the most important few issues, and presenting solutions in an actionable form. An example is given in the following section.

5. The teacher is offered time discuss with me directly, with or without the leader present.

6. I give the leader ia set of final comments on her interaction with the teacher. This will usually focus on the clarity of her message. Hence the extreme example below.


Exemplary feedback

Here is an example of what that could look like, with the wrapping peeled away:

“You pointed out yourself that you find it difficult to connect back to previous lessons. So, what we have agreed is that, starting tomorrow, every lesson will begin with a such-and-such CLIP, staged just like this, using these metacognitive questions about their prior knowledge, and securing this type of written evidence. The CLIP will last minimum five minutes, excluding staging, and you will use a on-screen timer to make your two Asperger’s pupils feel safe. You will dedicate yourself to monitoring, leaving the overall control of the class to your TA, who you will have carefully instructed in this task. A specific target for you is to stop waffling and to bring your modelling down to 45 seconds, giving more time to put the pupils in control of their own learning. So next week, I will pop in and have a look. We’ll take it from there. Any questions?”


Soddin’ Growth Mindset!

I intentionally stripped the fluff of the example above, because I want the content of the feedback to be crystal clear. Two points here: Number One, the “action plan” is the result of a dialogue between the teacher and the leader during the coaching session. Number Two, I do not, and I do not ask leaders to, speak that way to staff. However, behind the coating, that is the level of specificity you need to arrive at. If you find it a challenge to empower yourself in your role as leader to do that, consider asking other leaders in your hub or trust on how they do it.

Because, as uncomfortable and un-British as it may feel to risk stepping on people’s toes (I’ve actually had people apologise to me about the English weather!) just remember that you are doing the teacher and the pupils, both entrusted to your care, a severe disservice by not bringing out the very best in your staff.

As a Dane, I come from a very direct culture where many a casual conversation would be considered extremely rude by the British. Yet, one benefit to this obnoxious forthrightness is that it negates the confusion between what is professional, realistic feedback and what is a personal judgement to which one is entitled to respond emotionally. Those two are not the same.

On that note, ponder this: With smiling faces, we teachers drill into a pupil standing nailed to the whiteboard and feeling utterly humiliated in front of their whole class, that “It is GREAT to make mistakes because we can learn and grow!” Yet, some of us flatly refuse to rectify our shortcomings with a trusted colleague in a private setting, though we affect the futures of thousands of children over the course of our careers?

There is no real reason to feel judged in learning from colleagues, and certainly, there is no shame in learning from a colleague with superior skills or more experience. So, in summary, a trusting, collaborative ethos is not just a requisite for children to learn, but for adults as well. Coming full circle, the capacity to learn and improve is the basis of all empowerment. For pupils, teaching staff, and leaders.


Recognise this?



NB: This article has been in the pipeline for a while, and was inspired by a novel take on coaching by a school I am now working with. Here, rather than sending leaders on learning walks, teachers are paired up with a sparring partner, who take turns observing and coaching each other. This opens an opportunity to dedicated use of Cooperative Learning to share practice and experience between those pairs and keep leadership informed in an informal and non-threatening manner. I am hoping to write an ongoing series on this theme. (And learn something new in the process).

You can follow on Twitter or join the mailing list for updates.

Also, benefit from related articles written for leadership on best-practice.

* * *




*) “The reflection promoted by effective mentoring and coaching approaches in turn encourages a collaborative learning culture in organisations. For schools, this is particularly important, as it may alleviate some of the sense of professional isolation….”

From Mentoring And Coaching For Professionals: A Study Of The Research Evidence, P. Lord, et al., National Foundation for Educational Research, 2008, p. viii,  https://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/MCM01/MCM01.pdf  (accessed 17 September 2017).
**) Because the learning is so in-your-face, it is almost impossible not to step in. But unless the (indispensable!) TA is present to keep a bird’s eye view, this is not advisable.


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