#15MinForum – 24/5/16
This week’s 15 Minute Forum was led by Richard Stansbridge, one of our Year Leaders and a Geography teacher… and DT teacher… and BTEC teacher…. something of an all-rounder, you might say! Richard presented a great idea related to jigsawing group work…
The power of peers
At its heart, this is a strategy that relies on students working cooperatively in a first group task to develop/ extend their own understanding of a given topic, before then peer-teaching in a second group task with a new team.
In Dylan Wiliam’s (@dylanwiliam) Embedded Formative Assessment (2011), he identifies four main factors that emerge from the research that lead to the profound effects that cooperative learning can have:
- Motivation. Students help their peers learn because, in well-structured cooperative learning settings, it is in their own interests to do so, and so effort is increased.
- Social Cohesion. Students help their peers because they care about the group, again leading to increased effort.
- Personalisation. Students learn more because their more able peers can engage with the particular difficulties a student is having.
- Cognitive elaboration. Those who provide help in group settings are forced to think through the idea more clearly.
the effects are as great on the tutor as on the person being tutored… students learn much more when they become their own teachers (and teachers of others)… when students become teachers of others, they learn as much as those they are teaching.
So, some solid reasons to explore the strategy, play with it, refine it and embed it… (no wonder Phil Beadle has been quoted, in this post at least, as calling it “the ultimate of all teaching techniques”!)
Running the activity…
The first part of the activity involves students working in groups on a given ‘topic’ to become an expert. Richard explained that for him, this starts first with thinking, recall and sharing of initial ideas (I’m a big fan of the mantra that all group activity starts with individual thought!). Working as a group, students then draw on a range of resources (either using their own research skills, work from previous lessons, or carefully chosen resources shared by the teacher) to develop their own understanding and to prepare new resources with which they will later teach others (continually reminding the students of this responsibility to ensure they are striving for high quality!). There is a great opportunity at this point to engage students in agreeing success criteria for the teaching resources they are developing for the next phase of the activity…
Students then move to their new groups with the responsibility of teaching the people in their new group… with an emphasis on ‘teaching’! Richard explained that he will typically have encouraged them to have developed some sort of resource to teach from, and will provide them with additional resources with which to do the teaching (mini white boards etc). Nonetheless, there will still be a few individuals who need reminding (and possibly supporting) to do something other than simply say “here are my notes – copy them!” Again, there is scope here for working with students to reflect on what good teaching resources look like, forcing them to think about their own learning in the process. Likewise, there is an opportunity to support students with considering the language they use to challenge and support each other in this group context.
What is the key to making it work?
Planning, planning, planning. Although Richard felt that all of the potential challenges of working in this way can be mitigated with careful planning and assertive behaviour and classroom management strategies, he did highlight a few key areas which should be considered, including:
- The resources being used in both stages. What do you want the students to use? What do you want students to develop as a teaching resource? Have they got everything they need and do they know how to use them effectively?
- Quality control. How do you know the peer-teachers are teaching the right thing? This brings to the fore the potential tension between the process of student learning and the coverage of curriculum content. Richard’s response was that having students work in this way frees the teacher up entirely to circulate, listening and observing, offering insightful, timely feedback and prompting as appropriate, which should take care of most of the concern. That said, it will always need following up at some point!
- The level of challenge. Are they learning a new topic or developing something about which they already have some ideas? Pitch it too high or too low and the group dynamics could be affected… Or is it a revision task with the emphasis on resource construction? Hattie identifies that cooperative learning tends to be “most powerful after the students have acquired sufficient surface knowledge to then be involved in class discussion and learning with their peers”
- The groupings. Perhaps the biggest factor – are the groups based on separating out certain characters? How are you going to ensure individual learning needs are effectively supported? Are the groups mixed ability or similar ability? Richard expressed his personal preference for mixed, and the research backs him up: Marzano, Pickering and Pollock, in their review of the existing research on cooperative learning (Classroom Instruction That Works (2001), p87), identify a strong effect size for heterogeneous (mixed) grouping compared to homogeneous (similar) grouping…
…students of low ability actually perform worse when they are placed in homogeneous groups with students of low ability—as opposed to students of low ability placed in heterogeneous groups. This is evidenced by the negative effect size of –.60. In addition, the effect of homogeneous grouping on highability students is positive but small (.09). It is the medium-ability students who benefit the most from homogeneous grouping (ES = .51).
Richard closed the session with a few suggestions for developing the idea further, including the use of roving reporters and envoys, or expectations around final presentations back to the class……