Jigsawing your seating…

#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…

Search For Solution
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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.

Elsewhere, in Visible Learning for Teachers (2011), John Hattie (@john_hattie) says of peer tutoring:

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…

Step 1 – collaborative learning

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.

Step 2 – peer teaching



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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……

This post from Alex Quigley (@HuntingEnglish) offers some sound advice around setting up groupwork generally.

This post  from David Didau (@LearningSpy) has a few of his own reflections on jigsawing that are worth a read.

Wooden mannequins pushing puzzle pieces into the right place
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HOT Hexagons…

#15MinForum – 19/4/16

Tuesday’s 15 Minute Forum was led by Simon Bromley (@RCGeography), our Geography Subect Leader, who shared a great technique to encourage pupils to develop their ideas by looking for and explaining links between them…

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Although this is a great strategy for giving groupwork the sort of structure it can often lack, the ultimate aim is to encourage and support higher order thinking…



In Geography, as in other subjects where students are asked to produce extended written pieces that ‘provide developed and linked answers, showing a full understanding’, a key challenge is stretching the pupils to extend their points, link them together (and back to the original question), and explore ideas in as deep a way as possible in order to show the interconnectedness of ideas and concepts. Anyone who teaches topics that look at competing issues and multiple viewpoints, or which require students to adopt a discursive, analytical or evaluative position where there may be multiple routes to a good answer rather than a single correct idea will appreciate the importance of ensuring students build their ideas and explain and justify them along the way!


There are all sorts of ways to encourage Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS), but with HOT Hexagons it is all about the design of the resource. At first glance, HOT Hexagons are just cards with statements printed on them… sounds just like a card sort, right? The simple but important difference is in the shape: rather than the linear sequences that card sorts typically lend themselves to, the hexagons make it easier to turn the task into an exploration of multiple links…

An example inquiry question:


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Some of the cards that go with the task:

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And some examples of student work:

There is clearly an investment of time in preparing the resource, but if it can be used by several staff across a department and returned in schemes of learning each year, then it is an investment worth making. There is a nifty hexagon generator here on Pam Hook’s (@arti-choke) website that might help (or create a blockbuster board in powerpoint!)

Things to think about to support and extend students…

  • Make it an expectation that every contribution a student makes to their group’s hexagon ‘sprawl’ is met with the question ‘why’ from the rest of the group – the aim should be for students to build upon or challenge each other’s ideas.
  • Vary the text amount – reducing the literacy demand can make the task more accessible for younger/less able.
  • Provide students with a starting point and/or a mid-point, or provide them with some links to get them started by modelling.
  • Decide the groups in advance to ensure you’ve got the balance you want (be that to spread out ‘characters’ or to ensure particular combinations of students in order for them to support and challenge each other).
  • Include blank hexagons which students can use to add their own ideas or to create categories or to explain their links.
  • Have students take a gallery walk to look at the work of other groups (make sure one member of each group remains behind as the curator to justify the work of their group!), or just have a single envoy from each group visit other groups, or a couple of roving reporters who can summarise the work of the whole class.

Moving towards a written task:

Use additional hexagons, whiteboard pens directly on the table (keep the babywipes handy!) or simply transition onto paper to identify the key themes/concepts based on the final layout of the hexagon strands. Use these key concepts/themes as a skeleton structure for the paragraphs of an essay, before then moving to a full essay plan full of well-developed and linked ideas!


Where to next?

The HOT Hexagons link very neatly with Biggs and Collis’ (1982) Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) Taxonomy, which is well worth taking some time to look at and think about. The taxonomy describes the stages of a student’s understanding in five steps of increasing complexity, from ‘pre-structural’ to’extended abstract:


credit here


Read a little more here about SOLO and see here for some compelling reasons why it should be our taxonomy of choice over Bloom’s!

David Didau’s post here, and this one from Damian Clark give a little more insight into the power of HOT Hexagons and SOLO.

This page of Pam Hook’s, here, is another one worth a few minutes of your time…

Expand your horizons with HOT Hexagons!

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Scaffolding talk for learning

#15MinForum – 9/2/16

15 minute forum 9-2-16This week’s 15 Minute Forum, delivered by Emily Johnson (our Teacher i/c KS3 English), focussed on a lovely little strategy for scaffolding discussion. Emily shared an approach that she has been using with her sixth-form English Literature students, but it is easy to see how this might be (or perhaps ‘should be’, given the importance of talk for learning)  successfully used across key stages 3-5 in a range of subject areas…

Why should we care about the quality of student talk?

Emily and I have talked and shared some interesting reading recently about the importance of developing oracy and placing value on the process of talk, and Emily gave a short summary of this to set the context to the session. In part, this is about recognising the critical role of ‘talk’ in the relationship between language, learning, thinking and understanding, and in part it is about helping to bridge the gap (or, for some students, the chasm) between thinking and writing by forcing students to articulate, organise and develop their thoughts coherently in verbal expression before committing them to paper.

Abstract speaker silhouette with bubbles

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These points are hugely important for students across the spectrum – from those whose written work is routinely disordered or underdeveloped through to the most literate and able students (some of whose writing can be unnecessarily overwrought, pretentious or perhaps just plain waffly – forcing them to first discuss their ideas (using a framework that supports but doesn’t restrict) can often be helpful in forcing them to frame their ideas in a more succinct format).

Moreover, the way we structure, manage and model talk, dialogue and discussion should strive to ensure that students not only reap the benefits of talking themselves, but also that they listen, really think about and engage with the things they hear, and support others with their thinking (inluding a respect for alternative positions).

How do talk cards work?

The cards themselves each contain a  statement/ instruction/ assessment criterion taken, in this case, from the marking scheme or assessment objectives of the specification. For example, the English Literature cards that Emily shared included statements like ‘support your statement with a quote’, ‘suggest an alternative interpretation’, ‘make a link to the typical features of the genre’ etc.

Talk cards

When writing the cards, it would seem desirable to emphasise more than just brief factual recall, focussing instead on the narrating, explaining, analysing, speculating, imagining, exploring, evaluating, discussing, arguing, justifying and questioning that Robin Alexander refers to as the repertoire of ‘learning talk’ in his work on dialogic teaching.

Running the activity:

  • A question is posed to the whole class (for example ‘How does a Hardy present Tess and Angel’s relationship?’), and students are given thinking time (5-10 minutes) during which they individually start pulling-together various sources of information from previous lessons/ homework tasks (having already spent time reading articles and completing close analysis work)
  • Students distribute the cards in their groups (4-5 students). If you have colour-coded the cards to indicate the level of challenge associated with each one, students might be asked to ensure an even spread to each member of the group, or alternatively you might differentiate them yourself by distributing the cards yourself while the students are still pulling together their sources of information, giving some students more of the high challenge cards.
  • Students start playing their cards! As a student plays their card, they make their contribution to the discussion, agreeing with,  buildling upon, or challenging the previous contribution, or taking the discussion off in a new direction.

The process could continue indefinitely with card replenishment, or it becomes a simple competition: the first student to get rid of all their cards is the winner! Encouraging competition encourages students to self-regulate: if they, collectively, think someone has played a card and not actually contributed a suitably pertinent or robust point, they reject it. This in itself encourages students to engage thoughtfully with other people’s ideas.


A little more reading (about talking)…

In this short article from Robin Alexander on the essentials of Dialogic Teaching, he summarises key features of scaffolded dialogue, amongst which he includes:

  • interactions which encourage children to think, and to think in different ways
  • questions which require much more than simple recall
  • answers which are followed up and built on rather than merely received
  • feedback which informs and leads thinking forward as well as encourages
  • contributions which are extended rather than fragmented
  • exchanges which chain together into coherent and deepening lines of enquiry
  • classroom organisation, climate and relationships which make all this possible

There isn’t much in this list that the talk cards won’t help us to start exploring and embedding. He goes on to suggest that…

These forms and dynamics of talk contribute to:

  • uptake (one person responding to and taking forward the ideas of another)
  • scaffolding (providing the child with an appropriate linguistic and/or conceptual tool to bridge the gap between present and intended understanding)
  • handover (successful transfer of what is to be learned and assimilation of new learning to existing knowledge and understanding)

It strikes me that this activity, and others like it (which we can hopefully explore moving forwards), could go a long way towards embedding some of these features and ideals!

For a more detailed overview of Dialogic Teaching than the short pdf linked above, I would thoroughly recommend Robin Alexander’s book (well, more of a pamphlet really) Towards Dialogic Teaching: rethinking classroom talk. An insightful and very accessible entry into thinking critically about student and teacher talk in classrooms…