Collaborative Learning

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How can teachers make learning stick?

We now have evidence to suggest that on average, some classroom methodologies have a bigger effect on achievement than others. I was recently reminded of a technique I’ve used in the past, shared by Steve Garnett and Dragonfly CPD which I blogged here; Teaching in an Evidence Based Classroom.

In this post, you will find a simple and pragmatic idea that works; adaptation will be needed for subject and age.

Collaborative Learning:

According to Education Endowment Foundation, collaborative learning has a moderate impact for very low-cost, based on extensive evidence. The 4 padlocks on this image suggest how secure the evidence is. In this case, using 3 or more meta-analyses to draw conclusions.
Collaborative Learning Education Endowment Foundation

What Is It?

Collaborative or cooperative learning can be defined as learning tasks or activities where students work together in a group small enough for everyone to participate on a collective task that has been clearly assigned. This can be either a joint task where group members do different aspects of the task but contribute to a common overall outcome, or a shared task where group members work together throughout the activity.

How Effective Is It?

Effective collaborative learning requires much more than just sitting pupils together and asking them to work together; structured approaches with well-designed tasks lead to the greatest learning gains.

How Secure Is It?

Evidence about the benefits of collaborative learning has been found consistently for over 40 years and a number of systematic reviews and meta-analyses of research studies have been completed. In addition to direct evidence from research into collaborative learning approaches, there is also indirect evidence where collaboration has been shown to increase the effectiveness of other approaches such as mastery learning or digital technology.

Back To Back:

Back to Back, or B2B is a simple and very effective way to engage students. Activities are easy to set up in any subjects and if suitably structured for students’ and their capabilities, can have positive impact.

What Should I Consider?

  • Students will need support and practice to work together.
  • Tasks need to be designed carefully.
  • Competition between groups can be used to support pupils in working together.
  • Encourage lower achieving pupils to talk and articulate their thinking. (Source)

How Does It Work?

This technique is best demonstrated through the following example. Why not try this in your classroom?

shutterstock_244274785 Boys and girls sitting back to back on a white background

Image: Shutterstock

  1. Design (any) activity with the objective in mind.
  2. Sit students back to back in pairs.
  3. Display an image at the front of the classroom.
  4. Ask one student (from the pair) to describe the image on display.
  5. The students sitting with their backs facing away from the image are to draw what is described to them (by the students facing the   front/image).
  6. Some form of conclusion and peer-to-peer assessment can be made based on the outcome.
  7. Partners can then swap over and the information / image can then be adapted to suit where the lesson plan / objectives are intended.
  8. Seeing this in action in our recent staff CPD session was powerful; pragmatic classroom ideas having impact on learning.

shutterstock_183171572 Orchestra instrument positions

Image: Shutterstock


Once you try this – whether staff CPD or in the classroom – the impact is clear on learning. Active listening is heightened and subject content is more likely to stick.

Why not (beat the end of term blues and) give it a try in your classroom this week?


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  1. Education Endowment Foundation.
  2. Research for Learning: Dragonfly CPD

2 thoughts on “Collaborative Learning

  1. Do you think it is more challenging to be the describer, or the listener, or does it depend on the activity? I’m thinking about this as a differentitation opportunity.

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