Tag Archives: Cooperative Learning

…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:

Rec V-VII

 

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

Rec V-VI.PNG

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:

REc VII.PNG

 

 

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.

 

connect_the_dots

 

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

 

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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.

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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).

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Warning do not try this at home

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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.

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” 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. 
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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.

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“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) .
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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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…Best Use of Teaching Assistants with Cooperative Learning #4; III “Use TAs to help pupils develop independent learning skills…”

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 III:

EEF Recommendation III header

 

The Guidance Report refers to EDTA research which has (unsurprisingly!) shown that improving the nature and quality of TAs’ talk to pupils can support the development of independent learning skills. TAs should, for example, “be trained to avoid prioritising task completion and instead concentrate on helping pupils develop ownership of tasks.” (p, 4).

The don’ts of TA interaction with pupils

The following figure is found on page 19 of the Report. In the following, we will demonstrate how Cooperative Learning will evade these pitfalls.

Rec III Figure 1 (Avoid...)

 

In a Cooperative Learning classroom, the pupils are the primary teaching resource and thus, as a baseline, TAs should only interfere with peer learning when strictly necessary, such as challenging off-task behaviour.

As a rule, the pupils are given freedom to work things out for themselves and request differentiated support from peers, which secures enough thinking and
response time while the limited access to pupils immediately solves the problems of TAs inadvertently prioritising task completion, high use of closed questions, ‘Stereoteaching,’ over-prompting and spoon-feeding before they arise.

(Note that it is the teacher’s responsibility to provide relevant language to facilitate these peer discussions, including relevant social skills and specific phrases, such as “Can you give me another example, please?”)

As for the use of closed questions, the tasks which form the content in any Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern are clearly modelled by the teacher, who picks the questions which will best achieve his objectives. (For more on closed questions, please see Cooperative Learning; Closed Questions, Closed Achievement Gaps).

Because the TA is present (and indeed should take part in) this modelling, only relevant interventions will take place because he or she will know exactly which type of questions (open or closed) to ask, the intended scope of the discussion, as well as the interaction itself. Please see the article on Recommandation II for more on this.

The dos of TA interaction with pupils

Vice versa, Cooperative Learning also facilitates the polar opposites, found on the same page in the Report.

Rec III Figure 1 (Encourage...)

As with the teacher, unless allocated a specific group or single pupil for very specific reasons., the main objective for the TA during activities is to monitor and to intervene only when necessary. This ties straight in with providing the right amount of support at right time, giving the least amount of help first to support pupils’ ownership of the task, and pupils retaining responsibility for their learning.

As for open questions versus closed questions, these are selected only to support current objectives, we have discussed this above.

Finally, as for making pupils comfortable taking risks with their learning, because Cooperative Learning takes place within pairs all within (teacher-appointed) small, tightly knit teams, it thoroughly operationalises Mary Myatt’s doctrine of “high challenge, low threat.”

 

High challenge

Focusing on the second part of Myatt’s famous book title, on the EEF resource page, you will find a practical framework designed to help TAs scaffold pupils’ learning and encourage independent learning. TAs should move down the

TAs should move down the layers in turn, the lower layers corresponding to the lowest challenge. However, again, this procedure should really take place between peers across the class.

TA scaffolding framework

Just strike out “TA” on the text by the left-hand arrow, and replace it with “Peer.”

 

The initial expectation is that pupils self-scaffold whilst the TA observes their performance, which is exactly what happens anyway in a Cooperative Learning classroom. TAs should then intervene appropriately when pupils demonstrate they are unable to proceed. It is obviously “important the tasks set by teachers, and supported by TAs, provide pupils with the right level of challenge.”

Please view the original document here. Furthermore, on page 19, you will find a framework that TAs (and peers) can use for more effective questioning. Blow it up to a full-size poster, or put it on your interactive whiteboard.

Finally, for anyone in doubt about the validity of the relation of Cooperative Learning to the EEF Guidance, this is a quote from page 18. (For those who have done training with me, you will know how the formative assessment is a given).

 

Rec III Quote

 

In the next post on Recommendation IV, we will discuss how you avoid spending your valuable lesson preparation time ensuring TAs have the essential ‘need to knows’, such as the concepts, facts, information being taught.

 

EEF Recommendation IV header.PNG

 

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

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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.

executive-coaching

 

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?

 

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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.

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*) “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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ASE London #1: Out of the Question …

It was a pleasure to attend yesterday’s Association of Science Education’s London and Essex Summer Conference “Supporting Learning for all in Science” at the Institute of Education, London. For someone like me, whose method deliberately targets achievement gaps, the title alone made coming irresistible.

A special thank you to Sheila of ASE, who virtually singlehandedly made it all happen, and to everyone who took interest in my impromptu stall. You should now all have received a welcome mail to COGS.

Due to the content void nature of Cooperative Learning, though specific examples here are taken straight from STEM KS3+, the theory connecting CL with questioning techniques, and the cooperative activities themselves, benefit equally in any subject and key stage. You will also discover what a milk float is.

Questions in Context

I know Dr Lyn Hayes, who invited me to the conference, from our work with the INSPIRE STEM PGCE training programme at Imperial College in January. I have previously explored the relationship between Cooperative Learning and STEM with Ben Rogers at the 2016 Annual ASE Conference at Birmingham University, where we presented the course Great Reading, Great Learning, and lately with Math leads in Leicester for SDSA, where the enhancement of Singapore Maths through Cooperative Learning was made very clear by delegates themselves. (More information here).

At yesterday’s conference, I prioritised  “Developing good questions for STEM learning” with Mary Whitehouse of University of York Science Education Group and “The Language of Mathematics in Science” with Richard Boohan & Roni Malek. The regular reader of this blog will recognise the obvious connection to my planned work with Mrs Hennah on oracy skills in science.

My final top choice was unfortunately cancelled; as I am involved in a Strategic Funding Bid to close gender gaps in Maths, another of my top workshop choices from the programme was “Improving Gender Balance” with Nicky Thomas from the Institute of Physics. Hopefully next time?

 

Cooperative Learning & Questions

Mary Whitehouse (@MaryUYSEG)  opened her keynote with the seemingly ubiquitous reference to Hattie’s research on effect size, recapping the impact of assessment (0.46), spaced practice (0.71) and feedback to the teacher (0.73) – all of which, as followers of this blog will know, are integral (assessment and feedback) or easily facilitated (spaced practice) by Cooperative Learning.

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Specifically, I was very happy with her quote from Hattie: “Structuring class sessions to entice, teach and listen to students asking questions to students is very powerful.” If that is not a description of Cooperative Learning and three of its main outcomes,  it’s not Cooperative Learning. I will attempt to exemplify in the following commentary on Whitehouse’s workshop.

Why asking the right questions is crucial should hopefully be something all teachers are aware of; what is less obvious perhaps is the support Cooperative Learning offers in situations where questions are poor or just plain intermediate in quality – which may well be the majority of questions in the average lessons.

First of all, if you cannot have quality, you can always have quantity. The simultaneous engagement with your questions by every single pupil in the classroom, and the stacking afforded by such basic Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns as Think-Pair-Share (discussed below), means any ‘less good’ question will be dressed up in peer-to-peer feedback and support and automatic differentiation through negotiation. (Who knows, you might get lucky and get the metacognitive comment “I think this question is stupid, because…”).

Also, since every single pupil is presenting their understanding, the assessment element is very strong. So, while the poor question posited might only have half the effect of a good question in the same cooperative activity, it still has a substantially higher impact than that question asked from the board and discussed with a lower ability pupil who is off on a tangent, while the rest of the class of 32 pupils nod off (Dare we say 3100% higher impact, mathematicians?).

Vice versa, good questions enhance Cooperative Learning dramatically. Because Cooperative Learning is nothing but a precise, surgical delivery tool for your input, the more powerful the input, the more powerful the impact. And, again, assessment is improved in correspondence with the quality of the questions asked.

So, with no further ado, onto Mary Whitehouse’s presentation  “Developing good questions for STEM learning”.

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Mary and the Word

There are many benefits to making up questions, not least the fact that it forces teachers to think about which outcome they want and helps crystallise it. Specifically, Mary pointed out that looking closely at which answers your question might elicit is a good measure of the quality of your question in reference to you learning objective.

As we mentioned in the last of the articles on Stalham Academy, you can stage and execute a perfect cooperative activity which has absolutely no value to the objectives of the lesson. One of the ways this can happen is precisely the question you pick for the Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern, whether it be a Think-Pair-Share or Boss & Secretary. It is akin to a doctor who performs his surgery perfectly but on the wrong organ.

Among the things one should also be wary of when writing questions is whether any additional context is needed. Mary had some of us chuckling when she gave the example of pupils with a Chinese background responding to an exam question starting with the words “The batteries in the milk float are…” I chuckled somewhat less than others, as I , poor foreigner that I am, didn’t know what a milk float is. (She suggested trying “electric car” instead).

Milk float

Milk float courtesy of milkfloats.org.uk

Finally, and especially in the case of multiple choice questions, ask yourself if pupils could get the correct answer for the wrong reason – such as luck or misunderstanding?

 

The good multiple choice question 

As Mary pointed out, understanding the purpose of your question is the key to success. For example, “diagnostic questions” test pupils’ understanding to better guide teaching. If a Y7 teacher automatically assumes her new pupils can distinguish “force” and “energy” a whole world of mess opens up. Multiple-choice is a very simple, and easily assessable, way of checking precise understanding of concepts (We have already discussed closed vs open questions).

Mary Whitehoude, diagnostic questions

Here, Mary demonstrated an alternative, collaborative, way to present multiple-choice questions which really struck a chord with me. One of the main reasons Cooperative Learning yields 5 to 8 months of additional progress per pupil per year is the feedback element: Opening discussions between pupils give teachers insight into the thinking process that produces the wrong answers.  As any teacher will be aware, there is often a weird logic behind pupils’ misconceptions that need to be recognised before it can be challenged appropriately. An unfortunate example is found in the next instalment of this when we get to “Confidence Grids.”

The following item was developed to show how GCSE exam questions can be converted into diagnostic questions: The words in the speech bubbles are based on information from the OCR GCSE mark scheme and the examiner’s report:

The question is: “How can very high temperature lead to death?”

How can a very high temperature lead to death

By referring to the examiner’s report, you are sure the wrong answers are common misconceptions that you need to weed out.

 

Getting more out of it with Cooperative Learning

Now, it is entirely possible to present this task on individual pieces of paper, give them a couple of minutes to think and tick the ones they agree with and collect the evidence, but Mary’s point was obviously that one should use this in group work.

However, there is group work and there is Cooperative Learning. Group work risks loss of accountability, equal participation, off-task behaviour, etc. as discussed in multiple previous posts.

Therefore, in the following, I want to demonstrate the benefit of dropping this IWB task into a tightly timed Think-Pair-Share (e.g. one minute to Think, two minutes to Pair and three minutes to Share)With an enforced written element delineated at each stage in the form of “I/my partner and I/our team think X is correct/incorrect, because…”, you achieve the following:

  • get each student to capture their baseline understanding in writing.
  • get each student to practice writing a concise argument, and orally presenting it.
  • promote and train a scientific mindset.
  • acquire written evidence of each student’s specific misconceptions of ideas as well as concepts.
  • ascertain fluency (e.g. high level pupils will produce multiple answers and less capable pupils perhaps only one or two).
  • save plenary feedback time by letting pupils correct some of their wilder misconceptions with their peers.
  • check and improve the precision of subject vocabulary and general language.
  • get written and oral evidence of misconceptions and their corrections as pairs negotiate their individual findings.
  • acquire profound insight into the reasons for any misconceptions by unobtrusively monitoring discussions, securing effective, targeted next steps.
  • get written evidence of self-confidence: which pupils can stand their ground in an argument and who folds, even if he is right. (This needs to be dealt with as it is a matter of too much or too little self-confidence in the pair, both of which impact negatively on personal relationships – think PSHE for which every teacher should feel responsible – and scuttle calm analytical thinking required in science).
  • Get an on-the-spot written summary of each group’s understanding as the final Sharing stage will be the result of combined thinking and debating in each group.
  • feed back this data straight into the current lesson, because eight groups in a standard size class of 32 reduce the amount of data you need to process by a factor of four.
  • avoid marking
  • instilled confidence and team cohesion, as any plenary responses from individual pupils will represent a group effort, saving much humiliation (and recognising the value of collaboration which is indispensable given the complexity of modern science).
  • save time on plenary feedback, as you already know where the trouble spots are.
  • and a whole lot of other things, including automatic differentiation, positive peer pressure, social skills, language acquisition, etc., etc., etc. But that’s just basic Cooperative Learning for you.

And as Mary pointed out, student work is a great resource to acquire further inspiration for questions.

(For schools who have been through my CPD: We have discussed the cons and pros of Think-Pair-Share vs Meet-in-the-Middle. Both could be used here, but the benefit of that extra layer the pair element gives  before they come together I think is a case for TPS. Again, you know you objectives, students and materials best. Cooperative Learning must never be a straitjacket).

Disclaimer: This articles represents my own limited understanding of Mary Whitehouse’s workshop, and does not claim to include all elements or accurately reflect her presentation.

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Trusted partners: VNET/Werdelin present a Hands-on Introduction to CL

Working with Viscount Nelson Education Network, I am presenting Introduction to Cooperative Learning on the 14th July.

I am very proud of being accepted as a trusted VNET partner. I am especially happy about VNET’s minimal staff and commitment to independence and empowerment of schools through bespoke programmes that reflect their needs, which express my own take on school improvement.

As a partner, I have therefore agreed on an enhanced pricing model for VNET Schools. We are also offering opportunities to develop bespoke packages across multiple VNET Schools. All part of the benefit of being part of the VNET Network!

VNET – “the artist formerly known as NB2B”
Norfolk County Council’s highly successful Norfolk Better to Best (B2B) programme which delivered tremendous Ofsted outcome improvements across Norfolk over the last three years has recently been taken over by the community interest company Viscount Nelson Education Network CIC (VNET). VNET has been founded to ensure that the community network of schools that was formed through B2B, committed to a self improving approach and being both givers and receivers of support, could continue without funding form the LA.

The VNET approach is to provide tailored school improvement from best of breed partners who are matched to the needs and philosophy of the school. No two schools are the same, and therefore, a system of school improvement where one size fits all fails to deliver the desired results for many.
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The workshop

The workshop is our response to a number of requests from Headteachers following previous Tea Party discussions and Special Measures to Top-500 webinars with Andrew Howard on the considerable impact of Cooperative Learning in the area.
While it is well known that the Sutton Trust – EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit rates Cooperative Learning among one of the top investments of Pupil Premium funding, the aim of this Workshop is to give Headteachers who are keen to know more a chance to experience in a practical way.
In the workshop, we demonstrate how a single, simple activity from the programme may be used across all subjects to instantly generate outstanding teaching and learning by:
  • Sharing knowledge, reflections and ideas across class.
  • Activating prior knowledge.
  • Making students aware of their own learning process and knowledge gaps.
  • Retaining or explaining knowledge.
  • Drilling rote learning and procedural skills.
  • Providing formative and summative assessment.
  • Securing written evidence of learning.
  • Subtly guiding focus towards specific learning objective

 

Closed question, closed gaps

Even your closed questions yield more with Cooperative Learning. Read Cooperative Learning; Closed Questions, Closed Achievement Gaps)

 

As part of the workshop, Heads will receive handouts to take away – allowing participants to pilot techniques in their own schools with their current lesson objectives and materials. There will also be case study materials about the considerable impact similar programmes have made on other schools.
Booking & Details

Title: An Introduction to Cooperative Learning Hands-on Workshop

Date: 14th July 8:30 am – 10:30 am

Place: Information Suite, VNET offices
South Green Park, Mattishall
NR20 3JY (map)

Booking: To book your place, please email anita.lee@viscountnelson.net asap. This session is limited to a maximum of 12 Headteachers on a first come first served basis, and is provided as part of VNET Membership.

 

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For more information on Cooperative Learning, please visit www.werdelin.co.uk
VNET homepage is found at viscountnelson.net

 

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