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A Taste of PEEL - extracts from PEEL resources


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

This is the first of several articles we will be posting relating to developing collaborative classrooms

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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Jouney 4 Using Reflection - A summary by Ian Mitchell (Posted 1/05/2017)

This is our final post on the series Using Reflection. Here Ian Mitchell summarises ways in which students can be encouraged to refect on their learning.Reflection on learning (and teaching) can be done from a number of different angles and levels of sophistication; briefly highlighting a good learning behaviour can be considered a form of reflection as it invites students to think about something that has just happened in a more general way, asking groups to reflect on the pros and cons of different ways of tackling a task requires higher levels of student understanding, skills and willingness to reflect. Some ideas on encouraging reflection in students

4.1  Reflection can be before, during or after a task (these lead to somewhat different purposes

Reflection before a task can include students thinking about what they want or need to know, or (differently) devising an overall plan for a multi stepped task before diving in. Reflection during a task could include getting unstuck or thinking about the significance of a particular outcome in terms of the overall goal. Numerous examples of reflection after a task are given below (e.g. see) 4.2  Reflection is more than just remembering or recounting

It involves some form of analysis, often using a framework such as Good Learning Behaviours   4.3  Debriefing is a crucial teaching procedure for Journey 4

It has taken us some time to recognise the importance of debriefing. (See Debriefing with year 12 further down this pag)e Without debriefing an activity just remains as an activity that students do because the teacher told them to   4.4  Look for opportunities to praise students during a debrief (PEEL principle 11)   Praising GLBS is, of course not the only way of praising students during a debrief; there are many things they may say that provide opportunities for praise.   4.5  Reflection is in part about finding the right time and the right focus for that moment   Identifying when a class has done well on some aspect of learning (say engaged in a good discussion that clearly led to some rethinking by some students) is important the teacher needs to think carefully during a lesson about what should be the focus of reflection, looking for examples of either or both of good and poor learning to return to. For example a good piece of social reflection (see 4.12 below) needs an occasion where there has been some good social behaviours across the class. The end of the lesson is not always the best time, sometimes a teacher may stop the class to capitalise on something that has just happened.   4.6   Debriefing can be done 1 on 1 while students are working   4.7  Debriefing can be woven into teacher talk during a lesson

For example a teacher may comment on Good Learning Behaviours as they occur.   4.8  Early in the year, debriefs are likely to be more scaffolded than later as students gain experience in reflection

Early in the year the teacher is likely to ask much more specific questions - as stated in 4.5, these need to be as appropriate as possible to the lesson that has just happened, but variety matters; do not ask about everything that might be relevant and teachers should vary what they ask about.   4.9  The specific detail of the questions teachers pose for reflection is very important.  

Some examples that have proved successful:   What prior knowledge did you have that was useful? (Use the stem) I used to think .... but now I think Why did we do this activity? How does today s lesson link to our big ideas? How does today s  activity/lesson link with previous lessons? What is something you learnt today? How is [a piece of content] different from [a similar idea dealt with earlier]? What sort of thinking did this procedure get you doing? Why do I love Jarryd s question? (one agenda here is to raise Jarryd s self-esteem) What did Jarryd show me by asking that question? What was Jarryd linking back to by asking that question? Did your plan help you structure your work?Are there other ways we could have done this?Why am I asking you to reflect on this in this way

4.10  Questions and follow up comments need to be framed in ways that the students will see that the reflection is going somewhere.

Reflection for its own sake will not be supported by many students, they need to see that it (for example) is enriching their understandings of the content, or helping them work better in groups or giving them ways of solving problems such as getting unstuck.   4.11  An activity that promotes higher order thinking is only worthwhile if we take the time to talk it through with our students.

This comment from Sam Scheele is framed a little provocatively, but if a task, for example, asked students to apply a concept to a new, hitherto undiscussed situation, then this type of higher order thinking needs debriefing - particularly if it is a form of thinking that will be used in assessment - where some students may complain that the teacher had not told them the right answer.   4.12  Debriefs can involve a learning, content or social agenda

Put another way, reflection can be about ideas and understandings, about doing the task more .independently or about themselves as learners; both of these last two can be thought about from a personal/individual perspective or from a social/group perspective.   4.13  Students can be reluctant to take risks when invited to reflect during a debrief

Asking students to contribute to a debriefing discussion can seem risky to students not very used to the process and to how the teacher may react. They may decide to make safe comments that may be more recounting than reflecting. It is helpful here to make the teachers agenda(s) as clear as possible, it can also be helpful to frame a question that a more cautious student is very likely to have something to say on in order to give them the experience of a successful contribution.   4.14  Students need to build value for debriefing, so sometimes debrief about the debrief and how it was helpful

If, for example, a debrief has focussed on showing how a very fluid discussion, where the class collectively worked out some valuable content themselves, debriefing on how the debrief had clarified what had been learnt can be helpful.   4.15  Getting students to engage in written reflection is more challenging than getting oral reflection

After all a piece of writing does look more like a teacher task and students need to see that it is going somewhere useful.   4.16  It can be helpful for students to maintain a record of their reflective comments and then return to this

If, for example, students have been making comments on things they did and did not do well on, saying constructing essays, then looking for patterns in these comments can provide value for making them.   4.17  Look for opportunities for students to set tasks that flow from written reflections such as setting goals

This builds on 4.15 and 4.16, students can set goals for improvement based on their reflective comments.   4.17  Longer review sessions can be established  as a routine that students see as valuable for pulling together what has been done. (PEEL principle 10)

Sam Scheele ( Friday feedback sessions) and Deb Taylor, ( Wednesday wrap ups ) both found that devoting a longer period every week or so allowed students to see how different activities were linked to the same big ideas and to pull together what had been done in terms of purposes in ways that the students (and the teachers) saw as very valuable.   4.18  Reflection can be about a unit as well as a lesson   This takes 4.19 a step further   4.19  Debriefing plays a critical role in beginning and sustaining later journeys: 6,7 & 8, so look for elements of these to comment on.   This is discussed below.   4.20  Reflection can be a central part of assessment, not just an add on (PEEL principle 12)   The increasing use of student developed digital portfolios means that students are reflecting on their learning in ways that are central to assessment. This raises a number of issues, one being that good portfolios will not contain just good work, but should contain evidence of students being able to improve on initially less successful work.   4.1         4.21 Getting students seeing assessment as often having a formative function opens up important aspects of reflection (PEEL principle 12)

Students typically see assessment purely in summative terms, PEEL principle 12 is about moving assessment into the process of learning and this involves multiple aspects of reflection.


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