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Collaborative Learning

Posted on: 04 Sep 2020 by Education Director

“Collaborative Learning compared with competitive and individualistic efforts, has numerous benefits and typically results in higher achievement and greater productivity, more caring, supportive, and committed relationships; and greater psychological health, social competence, and self esteem.” Laal M, & Seyed M.G., Benefits of collaborative learning, Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 31 (2012), 486 – 490

As you may imagine this is just one of a myriad of pieces of research that confirms what all current teachers (and coaches) know, but may not practise within their learning spaces. Perhaps it has taken the pandemic to finally convince all of us that if we adapt our pedagogical methods to allow cooperative working between our pupils (and indeed between teachers and pupils themselves) learning will not only become embedded more rapidly but will provide intrinsic enjoyment to the participants. 

Collaborative learning (CL) is not a new fad: teachers have seen the benefits of moving away from controlling the instructional stimuli and obligating a response from the child for some years, yet still I see a comfortable didactic approach in many of the schools I inspect. I should caveat that sentence by affirming that such an approach can be very successful with an academically gifted cohort of pupils.

CL has to be well-planned if it is to succeed. Merely asking a small group of children to work together on a problem who, by chance, are sitting next to each other, will reduce the chances of each individual in that group from using the necessary cognitive skills required. It is likely that one pupil will want to dominate and others will allow it. Devising an exercise which ensures all are involved can be tricky but once done it makes for invigorated learning. You don’t need to go as far as this or this! Frank Dick (one of my sporting heroes) puts it another way: “You can’t learn faster only by having access to your own experience and knowledge. You need access to the experience of everybody.” @FrankDickCoach

The lockdown period also provided an opportunity for teachers from across our schools to collaborate using a medium which had, up until 20th March, been anathema to many colleagues. It is obvious that having access to colleagues’ advice is advantageous but too often teachers in one independent school feel they cannot collaborate with colleagues from another school because they are in competition for pupils. I am sure that no head would ever overtly deny an opportunity, but nonetheless my experience in the Thames Valley was that despite my oft said mantra of Collaboration not Competition individuals in schools were at best reluctant and sometimes deeply suspicious of connecting with others outside their own school gates. Daft isn’t it? I thought working in a group would be different. However, I believe it has taken this recent crisis to really open up many colleagues’ eyes to the support, ideas and discussions which can be available via a computer’s microphone and camera. Enlightened Bellevue colleagues have even taken to multitasking, whilst discussing whether lattice construction or bar modelling is the best pictorial way of introducing 2-digit multiplication. It’s amazing how many miles you can do on an exercise bike whilst listening to such a discussion!

What must not happen now is that we forget and lose those opportunities. Despite the fact that professional development is a tasty worm which heads (and Education Directors) dangle in front of enthusiastic teachers, the best CPD can be found when teachers collaborate. It requires a time commitment for sure, but given the paucity of decent terrestrial TV entertainment (no teacher can afford Sky surely) joining an early evening video call, time-limited, should be far from enervating. I urge you, in fact, implore you, to maintain that link which many of you forged before the summer break. If your subject-area was not involved in any online chats please get in touch with your Education Director and we will make it a priority to link you together. Helen Keller once said (apparently) "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much."  Just beware, another quote from a naughty Roman senator: “Every sin is the result of a collaboration”!

Gregg Davies

Education Director

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