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Idea of the Month Archive

A Taste of PEEL archive

These samples taken from PEEL resources illustrate how PEEL teachers have worked in their classrooms.

The following four articles deal with promoting collaboration and co-operation in the classroom.

Building collaboration and co-operation by Ian Mitchell  (Posted 29/05/2017)

In this article (from PEEL in Practice) Ian summarises the finidngs of a group of teachers who worked for some years on improving the learning of students in their classrooms.

Some ideas:


Explicitly teach what is meant by good learners co-operate   including different roles and their purposes. Use and debrief informal role play on collaborative skills. A Y chart can be built up of what good co-operation looks like, sounds like and feels like. Sarah Foley also focuses on the behaviours good learners show work organization she reports that the combination of these two GLBs is very powerful in her class

 

 Begin the year by grouping students in different groupings, Vary how you group students - same and mixed ability, gender, shared and different interests are all possibilities

 

Teachers reported using grouping methods that were clearly based on chance, such as giving students a card asking them to find someone with a similar birthday or the same football team and to sit with that person for that lesson. In other words working with others can begin with sitting with others

 

Debriefing and sharing pedagogical purposes about why you are mixing then differently are important here. One reason for this is, of course, to learn to work with a range of others, another being that different groupings were better suited to different tasks. If, for example, the task required different skills such as planning, oral presentation, IT, art, then the groups need a balance of these. This leads to the value of getting students metacognitive about their strengths so they can make decisions about what is a good group for them to choose. Different tasks can (should) have different mixes of skills, so to some extent groupings will be task specific.

 

Debrief on how students worked with each other and what they learnt about this.Group work can release teachers to withdraw from actively leading the activity to observing and later give students feedback 

 

Use and build a language of collaboration and community. This includes labels for helpful and blocking behaviours as well as using the pronouns we. our, your.

 

Set tasks that require student interdependence and co-operation

  • There are features of tasks that lend themselves to this:  Tasks that cannot be done by one student, but require contributions from two or more students
  • Tasks where students must listen to and/or build on/use each othe s  ideas or contributions.
  • Tasks that cannot be split into several small tasks which need little re-synthesis.  Tasks that require decision making, problem solving and brainstorming.
  • Tasks that can be done successfully in more than one way and with greater or lesser degrees of sophistication and creativity. In this way, all groups can succeed, but all can also be challenged appropriately.
  • Tasks that cater for multiple intelligences.

 

Collaboration can be at a whole class as well as a small group level. Whole class discussion is an example of the former. For this to have a collaborative dimension, it is crucial that students listen to, use and build on the contributions of others (PEEL principle 6), so 6 talk needs explicit teaching (procedure B7 Listening discussions is one way of doing this)

Limiting the number of questions students can ask promotes collaboration.

All teachers have experienced individuals and groups making no real attempt to work out what do do, but calling on the teacher to do this thinking for them. Sam Scheele reported limiting each group to being able to ask the teacher no more than three times during a group task. It resulted in an immediate rise in co-operation as they worked more things out for themselves

Low self-esteem students in group work may need reassurance, but make them ask something specific

This was another insight from Sam Scheele. She pointed out that when groups have a task that is planned to run over several lessons, groups with low self-esteem and confidence are more likely to ask whether or not what they are doing is OK. Sam said that they needed this reassurance, but that there was a real danger of it turning into excessive dependence on the teacher. She therefore required them to ask something specific, not just  is this OK?


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What's happening to cooperative learning now and what's  in store for it in the future?   (Posted 22/05/2017)


This article is on the PEEL database PEEL in Practice. It is not an original article having been previously published elsewhere, but it fits very well with PEEL teachers' thinking and provides some good ideas for any teacher promoting collaborative learning in their classroom

Any former student who was ever assigned a group project knows the difficulty in group work: more often than not, the bulk of the responsibilities fall on one or two students while the others quietly tag along. Cooperative learning is a highly structured educational model where each member is not only responsible for learning an individual concept, but also for educating other group members about it. While the theory has really gained traction in recent years, cooperative learning was first developed in the early 90s-  it began as an approach intended to be equally applicable in traditional classrooms and in business settings.

It s based on the premise that all group members succeed or fail together. A commonly used iteration of this model is called a jigsaw activity. Each member is required to take ownership of an idea, or puzzle piece, and gain an understanding of it. Then all other group members share their knowledge of other puzzle pieces to fellow group members. When each puzzle piece is understood and assembled, the group successfully grasps a new concept.

There are three styles of cooperative learning groups: formal, informal, and cooperative. Formal groups are very common in classrooms today; educators structure out a particular study method and then designate a strict list of activities, built around a clearly defined subject, all of which is finished over a short period of time. Informal learning is somewhat off-the-cuff and is often used to break up lectures with group exercises. Cooperative-based groups are designed to exist over a longer period of time; group members support each other by meeting regularly and holding each other accountable for their contributions.

The Five Fundamental Concepts of Cooperative Learning

All cooperative learning is distinguished by the presence of five key elements: positive interdependence, face-to-face interaction, accountability, interpersonal skills and group processing. True cooperative learning study design incorporates all five of these concepts for each member to successfully learn. Student motivation is crucial to the entire process; as group members move through an assignment, momentum should be generated by each member s desire to share information so that the entire group succeeds.


Positive Interdependence.  Students must understand that they essentially sink or swim together. Each member of the group must participate fully, or the entire group will fail. Each participant is assigned a distinct role without which other group members will not complete the assignment. Groups may be assigned to develop a solid understanding of a complex idea, to develop a product that has multiple interdependent components or perform peer review of scholarly literature to reach a consensual opinion.The idea here is to use the division of labor to accomplish a mutual goal. Carefully structured design creates an atmosphere that is far superior to seating several students in a group and simply instructing them to discuss an idea. The project outcome, whether it be a grade, a paper or a product, is judged equally among all participants, so all group members have a stake in the success of the project.

Educators can create this interdependence in a variety of ways. The group may have a common goal or incentive; the group s progress may be dependent on each participant s contribution; groups might compete against other groups; or group work can be bound to a designated physical space. Written lab work, research projects, case study review and interactive role play can all serve to foster this interdependence.

Face-to-Face Interaction: Sometimes referred to as promotive interaction, this element of cooperative learning relies on group dynamics to exchange ideas and collaborate effectively. Instructors strive to create as much oral discussion as possible; this is accomplished via classroom message boards like Blackboard or pre-scheduled online chats. These interactions underscore the idea that participants are dependent on one another for success, which ultimately ends up building up the group s trust. Cognitive learning is reinforced when students share data and resources, problem-solve, and support one another s group roles. Educators should consider this an opportunity to challenge traditional societal roles; group facilitators can also use these interactions to observe individual skills or competencies in group members and ensure that each member s  talents are put to the best use. Incorporating spontaneous face-to-face encounters often helps group members get to know one another in a non-threatening environment, which can strengthen a group s  personal commitment to success.

Accountability: Individual and group accountability is really what makes cooperative learning different from the days when lazy participants could get away with little to no contributions. Educators design projects so that accountability is built into the process at both expected and random times. Formative assessment occurs while the project is ongoing and serves to provide feedback to group facilitators and students. Summative assessment takes place at the completion of the activity, and evaluates individual participation instead of evaluating the whole group.

Educators, members of a particular group and the other participating groups can all provide accountability feedback. Teachers may assign roles like secretary or recorder; these individuals must be able to give a current report on the group status at all times, thus requiring good communication among participants. Teachers may also request unscheduled oral reports or administer pop quizzes to test the group s participation; group participants also benefit from this as its a chance for them ro refine their extemporaneous speaking and writing skills.

Students may assess one another s participation during and after the project is completed. Anonymous ratings sheets can be used for this purpose. Other groups may assess the group s accountability by evaluating the finished product or quizzing various group members during project presentations. Students may be required to teach other students or groups what was produced or learned during a project.

Interpersonal and Small Group Skills. The social skills that are required for effective group collaboration are learned skills that students often need to be taught. As group participants learn to function as part of a team while they accomplished a defined task, this cooperative learning increases cognitive development. Social nuances such as leadership, trust, confidence, good communication and conflict management skills are all required to function in a group; educators anticipate this in project design and focus on this aspect of learning just as much as the task at hand. Over time, students should be able to appreciate other group member strengths and weaknesses, and then learn to articulate questions and answers about projects.

Group Processing. This fifth component of cooperative learning is absolutely essential, though it is the step most likely to be rushed at the end of a project or class. During group processing, participants reflect individually and collectively on what worked and what didn t. Helpful and unhelpful behaviors are identified; ideally, decisions are made about the next time the group works together. This important phase adds much to students   comprehension of the material.

In a best case scenario, all students give and receive positive feedback on individual contributions; this positivity will drive momentum in future group work. Students reflect on that feedback and then set goals for improvement. For example, a participant may choose a social skill that he or she would like to improve, or a group can decide to ask more questions of one another in the future. Finally, participants should have a celebration of some sort that marks the end of the project; this will also motivate positive cooperative learning experiences in the future.

Advantages to Cooperative Learning Models

Cooperative learning is of enormous benefit to schoolchildren. Academically, group participants gain a better comprehension of the course material when all five elements of cooperative learning are instituted. Students work with participants who have different learning styles; teaching a peer not only reinforces cognitive comprehension, but is likely to be better understood by the other student. When working in groups, lower-performing students will work harder to keep up with high-performing peers. Since group grading provides more students with an opportunity to win in the somewhat competitive school atmosphere, there is additional incentive to achieve.

Socially, learning in a group model exposes children to different learning styles, cultural or ethnic backgrounds and varying levels of enthusiasm. Cooperative learning allows educators to reinforce concepts of equality in the classroom, using a group environment to discount stereotypes. Sharing is implicit in this teaching model, enforcing the idea that knowledge is for everyone. Children who receive recognition for taking risks become more comfortable in doing so. Students also enjoy classes that require participation more than a traditional lecture class; in fact, they are more likely to attend and complete these courses.

Perhaps most importantly, cooperative learning teaches necessary life skills. Working as a group to reach a common goal demonstrates the value of teamwork, for example. Some group participants will emerge as natural leaders, allowing them an early opportunity to develop effective leadership habits. The ability to communicate ideas well, obviously a cornerstone life skill, is necessary for successful cooperative learning. Conflict can unfortunately be part of any collaboration effort, and conflict management skills cannot be taught too early. Learning to make decisions within a group also prepares students for a productive career.

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Developing a collaborative classroom by Tanya Whiteside  (Posted 16/05/2017)


This is the second article from PEEL in Practice on the theme of developing a collaborative classroom.. Tanya's article highlights the ways she developed collaboration and co-operation in her young primary school students

I wanted to create an environment within my classroom in which students happily worked with each other. For me this was incredibly important to start the implement from the very first day as students were often very reluctant to work and socialise with students who were not their friends or in the class the previous year.

Initially this was done in quite an informal way. My first step was for students began to become familiar with their classmate through play. Each morning my students would start their day with different forms of investigations. Sometimes this would be board games, lego, construction materials etc inside the classroom where the students had the choice who they worked with and what activity they participated in. This allowed the students to informally socialise with each other and work as a team to play and create. Each morning students started their day in a different way. After the first few days students were then randomly allocated a buddy to play with. This allowed them to work with someone new. With their partner they were able to choose which activity they wanted to do and could join with another group to complete their chosen investigation. The purpose of this was to encourage the students to work with somebody new as after the first few days the students would play with the same people each morning.

This continued over the first few weeks of school and allowed the students to get to know each other and also find in an informal way commonalities between each other. This initial investigation time would continue normally for the first half an hour to forty minutes. After this time we would reflect as a grade on what we did, who we played with or new facts we learnt about each other. The collaboration was the main focus of this reflection and the students understood that this was not just play but there was a purpose to what they were doing.

My next step was to see how this would then transfer into their work. Each morning for the first few wees  students would sit with a different person in the grade. Initially this was initiated by me by providing the students with different criteria as to who they would sit next to.

"Find someone who barracks for the same football team"

"Who has the same amount of people living in their house as you?"

And so on. My aim in providing students with questions like these was that they would find similarities between themselves and their new classmates. My students quite liked this and by the end of the first week were providing questions of their own. Students knowing and understanding each other is only the initial step in creating collaboration in my classroom, creating a classroom atmosphere in which my students happily worked with whoever is a term long process.

Throughout the term students completed many activities which required them to work with a partner. Initially it was important that students learnt the behaviours needed to one with just one other person. As much as possible during English and Maths sessions students would work with somebody else to when completing an activity. When completing this it was important that one of our WALT s (We Are Learning To) was teamwork as this would then guide our reflection at the end of the session.

Moving on from small partner activities I would also intersperse activities which required the students to work in small groups. One such activity was our straw challenge. In this activity students needed to work in a randomly allocated team and in 15 minutes needed to use the materials on the table to create a structure which would hold as many books as possible. A WALT was shown to the students and they understood the purpose of this activity was teamwork. It was interesting to see how the students went about this activity and which teams did and didn tt work well together.

Throughout the whole of the first term activities like these were completed with the kids. Over time the students became more comfortable working with each other. What I learnt from this experience was the importance of explaining the purpose of the lesson to the kids. When they understood that they were working on teamwork and this formed our reflection at the end the students then understood why I thought this was important. As the term progressed the students also understood why this is important and they too wanted to develop a classroom in which they didn t care who they worked with.

I would not say now I have the perfect classroom and like every grade 6 room there are students who always want to work together and others who always struggle to find a partner or group to work in but by spending this time at the start of the year and continuing throughout the year completing small activities which encourage them to work with different people I now have a grade who will work with anyone.

The next step was for my students to make independent decisions about who works in their team to benefit their own learning by choosing to work with students based on their own strengths and weaknesses. But that is a story for another time.

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PEEL procedure C14 Jigsaws - Posted 8/05/2017

Jigsaws were not a PEEL invention and many teachers are aware of the technique and use it in their classrroms. It is one example of many that PEEL teachers have

used to promote colaborative learning in their students.(Some of these articles are listed below).

Jigsaws were developed as a procedure to promote co-operative learning (see Slavin, R. (1985) Learning to co-operate: Co-operating to learn. New York: Plenum Press).  Co-operative learning places a

premium on students working in collaborative groups, learning with and from each other.  A jigsaw requires students to be arranged firstly in expert groups and then rearranged into home groups. 

Each expert group researches or in some other way builds a body of expertise in a (different) part of a topic or skill.  The group has a collective responsibility to ensure that each member shares the expertise

and is ready to teach their colleagues when they return to their home group.

The home groups contain one or two members from each expert group.  Every student is now an expert in one aspect of the topic and it is their job to share this expertise with their home group colleagues.  The home group now has to collaborate to synthesize the information or skills brought by each member with some overall product.  In a classroom making regular use of co-operative learning the home groups are often stable over several months.

Another variation is described in (Using PEEL Strategies in VCE Biology and English ) called Analyse, Summarise, Teacherise. In  the first stage, each student was given one of seven themes to analyse a text that the class was studying.  Rather than working in an expert group, the students used previously learned rubricks to make notes analysing the text from the perspective of their theme.  In stage 2 they had to put aside these "expert" notes and in a fixed five minutes time period, prepare a summary of their thinking on a template provided by the teacher.  In the third stage, each student acted as an expert" on their theme, but rather than doing this in a home group, they did it in pairs where each member had (again) 5 minutes to teach the other on their theme, the students repeated until all had been exposed to every theme.

Jigsaws have been used where the different expert groups variously consult different sources on the same topic (see Note Take Activity - Year 8 History), or research different aspects of a topic (perhaps the most common use - see Experts), or construct different ways of representing the same information (see Introducing Statistics), or learn different parts of a musical performance (Using the Jigsaw Procedure) or to construct a student set test for revisions (Jigsaw Group Tests). Sarah Ebsworthy (Putting the Zing back into Creative Writing) used a jigsaw technique to improve her students creative writing skills; the (3) expert groups brainstormed imaginative adjectives and adverbs that could be used in one of three parts of a bland sentence and the home groups used these ideas to expand the sentence into a vivid paragraph.

In setting up a jigsaw, it is essential that the home group contain at least one member of every expert group, hence the number of members in the smallest home group determines the possible number of expert groups and there must be no more home groups than expert groups. A class of 25 could have 5 expert groups (A to E) of 5 students who then rearrange into 5 home groups of 5. With 23 students you could only have 4 home groups if you still wanted 5 expert groups. The best way to work out your groupings is to construct a quick grid of home groups v. expert groups and populate it with the number of students present. Figure 1 contains an example for a class of 23 students:


Expert Groups
Home Groups A B C D E
1 2 1 1 1 1
2 1 2 1 1 1
3 1 1 2 1 1
4 1 1 1 1 1
As can be seen, Expert Groups A, B and C each have 5 members, with 4 in the remaining expert groups while Home Groups 1, 2 and 3 each have 6 members with 5 in the remaining home group.

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Teachers who have worked with PEEL ideas regard student reflection as critically important in their development of their independence as learners. If our students are to take more control of their learning, they have to be able to reflect on their work, analyse their errors and understand where and how they can improve.  They have to be able to recognise the times when their understanding may be a little shallow, and then take steps to redress this situation themselves.The following articles all come from PEEL in Practice

How exactly can we build good student reflection  by Ian Mitchell   (Posted 10/04/2017)

(Members of the group whose ideas are used below are Amy Coath, Sarah Foley, Judie Mitchell, Nicole Murnane, Sam Scheele, Damien Toussaint, Deborah Taylor and Tracey Van Gemert)

Since the first year of PEEL we have been trying to get students reflecting on their learning and on lessons. There have been many successes reported, but it is not simple to achieve, Tracey wrote:

Reflection has always been a challenging area of teaching for me. The main areas of challenge are

1.       Coming up with meaningful reflection questions

2.       Engaging the students in the reflection as part of their learning, and not just the end of the class.

3.       Encouraging the students to Take a Risk and contribute to the reflection even if they were unsure about the relevance of their comments.

The phrasing of the questions is vital, they should embody the kind of thinking you require of them and, ideally be phrased in such a way that students can see where this might go in the short term - that the reflection will be of some value to them.

At a recent meeting of the sharing pedagogical purpose group, we looked at an analysis of articles written earlier and pooled ideas on specific teacher questions/prompts that had been found to be likely to be successful. We were pleased with where we got to, although of course this is an incomplete list:

What prior knowledge did you have that was useful?

If the lesson has been one where some students have rethought their ideas, use the stem

Now I think .......

To get students focusing on the big ideas that underlie your tasks ask

How does today s lesson link to our big ideas?

Later, as students get used to linking to big ideas Judie asks

Why did we do this activity? and builds an expectation that the answer must be in terms of big ideas

How does today' s  activity/lesson link with previous lessons?

Is particularly useful  if the lessons involves different types of activities such as theory and practical work, but for students to see that this is going somewhere useful, the teacher needs to show how this can (for example) help them write up their practical activity

How is [a piece of content] different from [a similar idea dealt with earlier]?

e.g.  how is dissolving different from melting? How was the invasion of Iraq different from the crusades? The payoff for students here is if they can see how they are likely to confuse the two (similar) ideas

What sort of thinking did this procedure get you doing?

Again the students need to see that understanding this will help them use this procedure, or help their understanding of an idea, or help them do something better (it depends on the procedure).

Sam has reported a trio of questions that she might stop a class to ask after a good question (or some other good learning behaviour).

Why do I love Jarryd 's question?

What did Jarryd show me by asking that question?

What was Jarryd linking back to by asking that question?

One agenda here is to raise Jarryd s self-esteem, but Sam is also showing how his question can help learning. Sam wrote that it is not until they have unpacked the question that she actually addresses it. She deliberately shows a lot of enthusiasm, even excitement as she unpacks the question to convey how important it was to her.

Did your plan help you structure your work?

Other questions relating to (say) writing can get students thinking about how to do this better

Are there other ways we could have done this?

Is a question that can help build a sense of shared intellectual control

A more sophisticated question, appropriate after students have understood that the teacher has an agenda of improving learning is

Why am I asking you to reflect on this in this way?

In an earlier meeting Sam made the point that An activity that promotes higher order thinking is only worthwhile if we take the time to talk it through with our students.

To do this you need the right questions, ones that relate to changing students ideas on learning being more than recall and, critically, coming to value this

So far this article has been about debriefing on a lesson but at an earlier meeting, Amy pointed out teachers need to stimulate reflection at the end of a unit or extended task, and that this was often missing. This led to discussion that teachers often do not think carefully about how to finish a unit in ways that generate reflection about what was done, why and what has been learnt. This is a strength of focus questions; at an earlier meeting

Nicole made the point that a good focus question will cohere the sharing (this actually provides one criterion for constructing focus questions). However once again, the teacher needs to keep the focus question prominent throughout the unit, not just use it to get things going.

To sum up, good reflection involves high quality learning and students need to learn to do it, but the journey of doing this has to be one which they see worth undertaking and well framed teacher questions as well as linking the reflection to things that the students see value in doing better are important.

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When is the best time to review learning?  by Darren Mead  posted 24/04/2017

In this article by Darren Mead taken from PEEL in Practice, Darren explains how he encourages students to review their learning throughout the lesson.

Like all good assessment for learning strategies,  I believe an effective review should start at the beginning of the lesson establishing what the students already know, giving them something to measure their success against, something real to reflect upon. This is why the PEEL strategy of the "Semantic map" is so effective. Students are given a topic broken down into smaller concepts. They quickly bullet point their knowledge at the start of the lesson, it is important that at this stage all responses are welcome. Teachers may want to phrase this task as "write down what you think you know"  They then return to it later using a different colour pen and add new learning and correct any misconceptions they originally had. It is vitally important that the new learning is made obvious to everyone. It helps the student see their success and highlights the areas students have missed to the teacher informing future planning.

As a modification to the Semantic map I came up with a graphic organiser that does a similar but more structured job, which has assumed the title the "time" review. The desire was to identify for students when they had learned something, in an attempt to assist their meta-cognitive process.


Semantic map

The benefits of not back loading the review section include a possible way of tackling the problem of getting students to review. Avoiding a teacher led review is imperative so that the review has meaning to the learner. Obviously a student who has the skills to review will do so more effectively, although this is dependant upon two key dispositions of the student. Firstly their "sensitivity" to the need to reflect upon their learning must be high, thinking along the lines of "I m getting a little confused about this topic, I should pause and try to make sense of it" would exemplify a learner "sensitive" to this need. Secondly not only do they need this awareness but also the "inclination" to do something about it, almost a motivation to do it. Without explicitly trying to develop these traits, we will always have less effective reviews. My immediate thoughts on how to tackle this focus relies upon the regularity of reviews where they become part of the norm and hopefully sensitizing them to the need to review. The "time" review graphic organizer also highlights to the student their progress so hopefully increasing the motivation to review. To capitalize upon this it is important to feedback on their reviewing.

Time review

In using this over a couple of years I have found that it only takes  a few minutes every 20 minutes or so for students to reflect upon what they have learned scribbling down the key points. A longer period of time is beneficial to the "what s new?" and what was wrong at the beginning?" section at the end. This can lead to a very interesting discussion about how they know they were wrong or have learned something. This in turn helps the students complete, what they often find the most difficult thing to do and comment on how they learned. This meta-cognitive thinking could also influence these dispositions especially if they identify the method that helped them most was the reviews during their learning!

In summary reviewing every lesson is useful in the development of our learners, but regular reviews during our every lesson is better still.

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