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…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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…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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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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Cooperative Learning; Closed Questions, Closed Achievement Gaps

Andy Tharby’s article neatly explains my own motives for promoting closed questions – they provide the exactitude which is the foundation for higher level thinking and they mirror the precision that is a hallmark of Cooperative Learning.

A colleague and I were discussing my ideas for an article on open vs. closed questions in the context of Cooperative Learning, when I innocently mentioned @atharby‘s post Closed-question quizzing – unfashionable yet effective as a source of inspiration. His response: How could I champion Cooperative Learning and endorse Mr Tharby’s reactionary views?

Safely home, I revisited the post to see if I had overlooked something. No, it was as I remembered it; well-written with self-depreciating humour,  references to research, final endorsement of open questions in correct context –  basically classroom practice of Bloom’s taxonomy.

So, is it ‘reactionary’ to view closed questions as “a really quite wonderful thing” and share a personal experience that “lists of closed-questions … are amongst the most dependable and useful of everyday resources”?

Or is it rather, as Tharby himself asks, “stating the bleedin’ obvious”? The following hopefully demonstrates that Cooperative Learning makes that discussion obsolete.

 

Before proceeding, please note: while all the poorly executed drawings are from my own hand, the cool character design and sleek style is carbon copied from @jasonramasami‘s original illustration featured in Tharby’s article:

 

tharby-open-closed-final
[  And, please do familiarise yourself with the key before continuing  ]

 

 

Open questions: On the dangers of arming blind people with scatterguns in enclosed spaces

Nowhere does Closed-question quizzing… claim that closed questions should stand on their own – rather “they pave the way for analytical thought.” It’s basic Bloom.

Because, when you ask open questions and expect pupils to acquire your target (the red bullseye) without first delineating relevant vocabulary, concepts and context, this is likely to happen:

The danger of open questions

In case you are wondering, the guy with the arrow in his behind is the teacher.

Because children often lack the vocabulary and reference frameworks that adults take for granted, higher order thinking – let alone “enquiry-based learning” – requires preparation by the teacher. Taking the original article’s reference to Ted Hughes’ poem Bayonet Charge as an example: As a 40+ adult, I intuit just from the title that we are are dealing with a World War One poem – and up pop associated experiences of reading “All Quiet on the Western Front” as a teenager and of flickering black & white images of soldiers going “over the top.”

However, for children in the today’s classroom, “over the top” would likely refer to a detested classmate’s latest hair-do and the very word combination Bayonet and Charge might have no time-space associations at all; It seems the GCSE Bitesize commentary on the poem assumes they don’t even know what a bayonet is (“…long knives attached to the end of their rifles,” apparently).

How open questions open achievement gaps

Furthermore, who stands to benefit most from open questions? Child A, whose home is full of books and whose parents converse with him over dinner? Or Child B, who is fortunate to chance upon a red-top newspaper used to wrap cheap fish & chips and whose single mother’s longest sentence on record is “Go pick up some fags, yeah!” Now imagine that sentence is presented in Urdu or Polish because Mum doesn’t speak English.

So while Child A’s reply to the juicy open question “How do you think the soldier in the poem Bayonet Charge feels and why?” might be “I think he feels like a cog in a machine, because it mentions him being ‘a hand’ in a ‘cold clockwork,'” you are lucky to get “Dunno” from Child B.

Tharby neatly sums up the above in relation to reading comprehension: “Any densely-packed piece of writing (…) presents a problem. Many children will scan the words but fail to digest the finer nuances of meaning. Closed questions encourage close reading and also allow us to guide students towards the key information.”

The problem with open questions is further exacerbated by discussing them in a full-class plenary where you engage in a five-minute exciting dialogue with Prodigy Child A, while Child B (and everyone else) quietly drifts off. However, refraining from giving Child A the opportunity to explain and explore his thoughts by sticking with closed questions just to engage Child Bs is equally unfair. Ah, the conundrum of differentiation!

Fortunately, replacing that five minute plenary with a CLIP like Catch1Partner in a class of 30 secures a total of two-plus hours worth of differentiated learning opportunities for every single child, regardless of background.

But first things first.

Closed questions, closed gaps

The reason I initially caught onto Tharby’s article was that he so neatly explained my own motives for promoting closed questions – they provide the exactitude which is the foundation for higher level thinking and debating and they nicely mirror the precision that is a hallmark of Cooperative Learning.

Yet, with Cooperative Learning even a closed question may open an opportunity for differentiated higher level thinking and language acquisition through mixed-ability peer learning, as demonstrated below.

Remember that Cooperative Learning should not increase your workload or require special materials, so I am going to use an original quiz sheet Tharby has used with Bayonet Charge. Here are the first three questions:

1. What was the soldier doing just before the poem started?
2. Which ‘r’ is repeated in the 1st and 2nd lines?
3. What is coming from ‘a green hedge’?

We will look at variations in tasks and materials ([questions]) at the end of this article, but here are instructions for one sample Cooperative Learning activity (Fig. I):

“The objective is to compare your answers and investigate differences. When I say “Go!” you are going to grab your [questions], poems and a pen, stand up, find a partner and ask your question (Fig. II). Let him explain his answer. If he can’t answer, or you disagree, support him and guide him by identifying where you think he has gone wrong (Fig. III)

C1P cartoon 1-3

Note in Fig. III how the sneaky teacher is carefully listening in. 

Sample discussion Child A and B

A: “My question is: “What was the soldier doing just before the poem started?”

B: Wait, I am reading…. It doesn’t say, innit!? (Fig. II)

A: “Read the first line to  me…”

B: “Sudd… Sudden …. Suddenly he awoke and was … was run … running…”

A: “What does ‘awoke’ mean?”

B: “Oi, he must have been sleeping!”

A: Got it! Well, done, you!” (Fig. IV)

Now, the pair of them swap roles (Fig. IV-VI) before bidding farewell and finding new partners (Remember this is happening in 15 pairs across the class). If you choose to have single [questions] on individual cards, have them swap those cards to distribute learning. 

All the while, you notice the sneaky teacher is pulling out and preparing his open questions (Fig. V-VI) based on his unobtrusive monitoring. It is instant Feedback giving 8 months of additional progress per pupil per year, straight out of the Teaching & Learning Toolkit.

C1P cartoon 4-6

Sample discussion B and A

B: “Ok, my turn: My question is …uhm …: “Which ‘r’ is repeated in the 1st and 2nd lines?”

A: “Well, obviously ‘raw’ is repeated: ‘Suddenly he awoke and was running – raw… In raw-seamed hot khaki…'”

B; “Yeah, you are right. Why two times, though? Why be’s poems so hard, innit?!”

A: “Well, repetition makes you notice that word and it connect ideas. The first ‘raw’ is himself, the second raw describes … hot khaki. Weird. Khaki’s a colour.”

B: “No, it’s be’s a uniform. I plays “Ghost Recon” on my bruv’s PS4. We always wear khaki, like.”

A: Ah, because khaki is the colour of the uniform! … ok. Thanks for helping me with that one. 

B: No sweat….’raw’… ok.

Once the basics are covered with closed questions, the more high-level objectives can then be engaged with open questions, again in pairs. As before, the teacher models the relevant language, behaviours for learning, specific vocabulary. etc. (Fig. VII).

C1P cartoon 7-8

And, as before, students support each other (Fig. VIII).

Now bear in mind that you can vary this endlessly to suit your specific needs:

  • Each pupil could read the whole text and answer all closed questions individually before comparing with partners;
  • each pupil (or team) could focus on one closed question to better support partners in the following cooperative activity;
  • Pupils could read the text and come up with the closed questions themselves (A feat of higher level thinking in itself);
  • a sub-task could be to follow up any closed question with their own question starting “why” or “how”;
  • you could even write the questions and your answers on flashcards (if your class is really struggling);
  • you can track responses by letting pupils note and sign answers in logbooks.

You don’t even have to get them out of their chairs. The same principles apply in a Think-Pair-Share: Read the poem, Think, and answer the questions; Pair up and discuss; take it to the next, open, level in Share.

The point is that with Cooperative Learning, you can close achievement gaps and get more teaching and learning out of your current list of closed questions – in preperation for open questions, of course.

c1p-cartoon-7-81.png

 


NB: The sample conversations are between higher and lower ability pupils. When two lower ability pupils meet, it is a different story, yet collaborating on a closed question brings poem analysis within range of even your most struggling child. And if you run with a basic Catch1Partner with materials, where they swap question cards, every pupil will have the option to discuss an answer twice – first when he is questioned and takes that card, then again when he elicits an answer from the next partner. 

Some related articles:

Mr Tharnby’s work has been quoted before in:

Deconstructing the Progressive-Traditional Dichotomy; a note to Mr Peal

More on vocabulary:

The Chemistry of Communication; Oracy Skills in Science (and everywhere else)

On unobtrusive monitoring:

Monitoring and real-time feedback in the Cooperative Learning classroom

On closing achievment gaps:

EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit; a Cooperative Learning gloss

And Jason’s site saamvisual.com/school is well worth a visit.

***
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Filed under Cooperative Learning, English, language teaching, Vocabulary

Feedback strategies & Cooperative Learning

This brief article explores how Cooperative Learning seamlessly integrates Feedback, making it possible to reach a total of 8 months progress per pupil per year with an investment of as little as £5 in one-off costs.

(This article is a natural follow-up to EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit; a Cooperative Learning gloss, and of special interest to attendees of Charlie Hebdo in Luton and last week’s MTA event at Berrymede Junior School in London).

From the Sutton Trust/EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit definition:

Feedback is information given to the learner or teacher about the learner’s performance relative to specific learning goals or outcomes, to redirect or refocus either the teacher’s or the learner’s actions to achieve a goal, by aligning effort and activity with an outcome.

Information given to the learner

Feedback can “be about the output of the activity, the process of the activity, or the student’s management of their learning.” These three correspond roughly to 1. evaluation of a product, 2.  formative assessment and even 3. self-regulation (which is a separate strategy from the Toolkit) respectively, all of which are ideally suited to Cooperative Learning activities.

First of all, because of the reflection and negotiation required by these three is built into any social activity, feedback is implicit. The teacher has only to adjust the volume or focus by dropping in questions.

Assume in the Charlie Hebdo lesson plan (see below), we have reached the stage where our students present their core arguments to partners, before a Live Opponent.  Repeat that step a couple of times, but give the ancillary task: “Before switching to a new partner, tell each other how to improve your next presentation.” Then drive sub-objectives by giving detail: “Remember how we discussed pausing at commas and full stops when reading out? Same thing here. You do not want to rush through.” or “Is there a way to make the language more concise.” etc.

Remember that having the recipient writing down the feedback, and having the advisor sign it, again ensures accountability for both parties.

Secondly, because of the tightly controlled organizing of peers and teams means the teacher is able to control the who gives feedback to whom – negating the usual perils of less organised group work. This is especially important if you want to leverage Higher with Lower Ability Pupils. I hope to write more on that in a later post. In the interim, you will find some details on equal participation here.

Information given to the teacher 

As for feedback to the teacher, there is obviously the information automatically culled on the learning process, implicit in all proper Cooperative Learning. Here, first port of call is again unobtrusive monitoring. Added to this is the activities staged with feedback as the specific product.

As an example, I refer to the newsletter eCL#3: Charlie’s Angels or Sympathy for the Devils… RE Lesson Plan on the Paris attacks. Attendees of last weeks MTA event at Berrymede in London will recognise the many levels information can be culled in written form – notetaking before presenting, note-taking during interviewing, during listening to other pupil’s presentation, as well as any other way one normally secures written evidence; with Cooperative Learning, it is never an either/or. The end of the plan also gives examples of homework.

Effect

Feedback studies tend to show very high effects on learning across all age groups. Generally, research in schools has focused particularly on its impact on English, mathematics and, to a lesser extent, science and recent meta-analysis of the impact of formative assessment on writing indicates gains of 8 months’ progress are achievable. Given  feedback is integrated implicitly and may be explicitly organised with superior effect this makes structural  Cooperative Learning exceptionally  effective.

According to Sutton Trust research, some studies reporting lower impact indicate that it is challenging to improve the quality of feedback in the classroom. But with Cooperative Learning, because the individual accountability makes feedback implicit in the    Cooperative Learning activities themselves with no further preparation from the teacher.

In a recent study, some teachers initially believed that the programme was unnecessary as they already used feedback effectively. For such teachers,  Cooperative Learning would simply be a tool to further increase focus and effect of their feedback.

Working explicitly with feedback however does require some delineation – as I often warn teachers is that Cooperative Learning  will give what you put into it. For example, the literature on feedback draws an essential distinction between feedback targeted at the self (‘Great sentence; you are a superstar!’) and feedback which promotes self-regulation and independent learning (‘You have learned some adverbs today. Check if you could add some adverbs to improve your sentences.’).

It was not clear in observed lessons that this distinction was consistently understood by teachers, and this is important because Cooperative Learning  will engage students in both cases, but the outcome is very different. Precisely because Cooperative Learning multiplies the effect of the input, it is recommended that staff be provided with a large number of examples illustrating the variety of types of feedback.

Price tag

This research is based on whole school intervention, involving 10 schools and around 4,000 pupils at a cost of around £88,000. The cost per pupil is approximately £22 according to the Sutton Trust research. Referring back to the previous articles, where we mentioned the price of the basic Skills & Mastery as less than £5 for a collaborative learning programme normally priced at £40, consider saving an additional sum by restricting  feedback CPD to best practice questioning techniques, rather than a full scale package.

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Evidence culled from the action research project Anglican Schools Partnership and Effective Feedback and Teaching and Learning Toolkit.

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Filed under Cooperative Learning, Didactic methodologies, get started with CL, integration, Lesson plans, other teaching methods, Research