Author Archives: Claire Young

On Doing What Makes Me Happy – Co-operative Learning – Values and Practice

“Happiness is when what you think, what say and what you do are in harmony.”  (Mahatma Ghandi)6c7bc1d280e258ac4102eed00469e194

Co-operative learning makes me feel happy.  It also makes me feel perplexed and challenged but this discomfort is worth it, most of the time.  The thing that makes me happy about co-operative learning is the interaction between the values driving this pedagogy and the practical tools it offers us.  Through co-operative learning we’re given specific structures to teach in a way which make values of collaboration, respect, co-operation and growth real in our learning communities as well as offering really high quality, deep and challenging learning experiences.  In co-operative learning I’ve found a set of teaching behaviours – things to say and do in my classroom – which are in harmony with what I think teaching is actually about.

As co-operative learning makes me happy it’s a part of my practice (and my values) that I always really enjoy sharing with colleagues. I got to do this at the Preston Lodge Learning Festival.  When I’m sharing, the main thing I want to share is the actual experience of learning co-operatively.  I don’t think the values and power of co-operative learning can fully make sense without actually doing it, hearing it and feeling it.   I can make this happen in a room with people.  I haven’t yet managed to work out a way to share this on the screen.  So, here I offer an invitation to you to seek out the real life experience co-operative learning for yourself.  Have a read through my thoughts on the values which I think are at the root of co-operative learning and the way these are then converted into practice in learning communities of any and many kinds.

Value: Learning is a social activity.  We learn best in a learning community.

Practice:  Co-operative learning is rooted in face to face interaction.  If we aren’t talking with the people around us about what we’re learning and what they’re learning then we’re missing out.  So, co-operative learning uses a whole range of strategies (many of them also part of the learning tools promoted under the banners of collaborative learning, critical skills or active learning) to make sure that as we hear and read about new concepts we’re also talking them through with people.  It gives us structures to make sure that we’re discussing the big questions of our learning as part of formulating our individual responses to these questions – testing out our own thinking and building on what we hear from others.  This can be through a think-pair-share, a placemat activity, a graffiti board or a jigsaw activity, with co-operative learning structures giving a framework to direct our attention and our conversations onto learning and then push our thinking further.

Value: When we’re creating learning communities we are committed to creating communities as well as making learning happen.  Community means a place where we know that we belong and we feel like we belong.

Practice:  In our learning community we talk a lot about our learning.  We also talk about ourselves and learn what we all have in common.  We learn about what makes us unique in the group.  We learn about how to listen well to others and make them feel valued.  We learn about how to celebrate success.  We form a strong team identity which connects us to people who, before, may have been nameless strangers who have been issued with the same timetable as us.  This isn’t done by someone telling us it’s important and then moving on to the ‘real’ lesson.  We’re given time to get our voice on the table with short, fun questions and activities to share what’s important to us (usually silly things to start with) and we’re given activities and spaces in which to create a team identity with the people that we’re working with.  There are games to play and challenges to overcome.  As we achieve together we build our skills of encouraging others and celebrating success. We feel good about what’s going well and are more equipped to respond positively at times when things don’t go well.

Value:  We learn with and from everyone in our learning community – this means that everyone in our learning community has something to teach us and we have something to teach everyone too.

Practice:  In a co-operative learning group everyone has a clear role so they know what they’re responsible for to make their group work.  The work being done is carefully structured so that each of us is developing knowledge and skills which our team mates will need.  When we take on a task the activity is chunked to make sure that we all need to be involved to be successful and we can’t be successful if we leave someone out.  There will still be differentiation and adaptation, but we all learn with and from each other.  (And, also, because we’re investing time in building our community we’re more ready to value the contribution that different people can make and realise the different ways that people learn through life.)

Value:  We improve ourselves, our relationships and our learning through deliberate practice and a conscious commitment to development.

Practice:  We talk regularly about what we’re learning, how well we’re learning and how to move our learning forward.  Alongside talking about our academic learning we talk about our social learning.  Alongside our clear learning goals there are social goals.  These help us know where we’re going next to make our community a more purposeful, inclusive and harmonious place.  This may sound grandiose but in practice it means we’re spending time together thinking about our attentive listening skills, how we encourage someone, how we stay focused on the work, how we take turns, how we include others.  Our social goals run through our learning experiences.  We collaborate to decide what success will look like.  We agree the behaviours that will make success happen and then we challenge ourselves to put these things in action.  At the end of a learning experience we take the time to process how our social learning has gone, reflecting on what’s been good, what success feels like and deciding what we need to keep working on to get even better.  There is an authentic, caring and often challenging discussion in our learning community about how we treat each other and how we learn together.  This means we’re becoming a stronger learning community in which everyone is able to do our very best thinking and realise our full potential.


Having written all this, I still mainly feel that to really share what co-operative learning means I need to be doing it not talking about it (or typing about it).  I feel happier that way and I suspect that you might feel happier too.  Until we can meet and work on this together, I hope that there’s a learning community of some kind near you who are working co-operatively.  That way you can join them and see if it makes you feel happy too.

Challenge and reward + making homework work #pedagooreview

The words challenge and reward are oft applied and sometimes over used in the attempt to sum up the experience of us teachers.  Despite them being well worn, they’re two words that continue to mean a lot to me and they sum up a lot of what I have to say in reviewing my teaching year.

It has been a year of immense challenge, not least in striving to meet the high expectation of delivering consistently engaging, relevant and meaningful learning experiences that I, my school and the Scottish curriculum sets for teachers.  There have been many moments of reward too – encouraging observations from students on their own learning or on their experience in my classroom, enthusiasm from other colleagues for the work we’re doing to develop our practice, seeing progress being made and knowing that my teaching has played some part in this being achieved.  This year I’ve had the particular privilege of witnessing a couple of students reach a turning point in their own self-perception – realising that they are people of real skill, with the ability to work on and apply these skills and the power to make themselves successful if they so choose.   These moments have confirmed for me that teaching is worthwhile.

There have been may strands to my teaching year: pushing to really embed co-operative learning in my classroom; connecting with more teachers in my own school and beyond to share and build on practice; not just believing in the growth mindset but teaching it to my kids; deepening my understanding of what assessment that really progresses learning looks like; learning John Hattie’s mantra of ‘know thy impact’ and continually trying to keep at the front of my teaching mind.  The question of ‘is what I’m doing progressing my students’ learning?’ is now ever present, as is questioning what to do differently when it’s not.   All these things have added challenge to my year but are things I’d recommend any teacher to try – with each there have been tangible rewards.

All of these strands have woven themselves together in a change I’m making to how I use homework with my classes.  The change was inspired by Neil Winton’s (@nwinton) session at the Pedagoo Teachmeet in Glasgow (to go for an overview) .  He shared with us the work he was doing to free up how students can show their learning.  It was pushed further by reading about Tait Coles’ work to develop Punk Learning (see  or follow @totallywired77 for more).  This was something I found out about thanks to the world of teachers on Twitter and was serendipitously picked up on at a similar time by a colleague of mine in science: a fact that we realized not by speaking to each other in school but again through the platform of Twitter.

All of this in itself sums up the way that my own professional development has changed (I hope irrevocably) this year thanks to Pedagoo and the general enthusiasm of teachers who love to teach.  The momentum created by these folks setting up their own structures through which to share pedagogical ideas and approaches (teachmeets, #pedagoofriday, blogging…), circumventing more traditional models of how to share teaching knowledge and expertise, has given me so many new perspectives to use in my own teaching and delivered them in such a way that I have the energy and brain space to put them into practice.

And what is my new bit of practice?  I’ve experimented with setting open questions or tasks for homework, linked to the key idea of recent learning and challenging students to respond to these in anyway they so choose.  So, after my S1 class had been developing their research skills, while learning about the growth mindset, they were set the task of creating a resource that would help other 12 year olds to learn about their learning (bearing in mind that a lot of the sources we’d been using in our own research were geared more towards adults).  My S3 class finished reading Frankenstein and then had two weeks to create a response to the question ‘what makes us human?’

From both classes they were responses worth waiting for.  Students came back with videos they’d made, going out and sharing their learning with other friends and family, with animations created on websites I’d never heard of, with pieces of creative and non-fiction writing that spoke with their own voice and with models and posters.  The minute the homework responses arrived I realised that first time round I hadn’t planned properly how to give the work the audience that it deserved.  It needed to be seen by more folk than just me.  It was also homework that I was genuinely excited to mark, not least because my students where sharing with me what they really thought and felt about what were learning, rather than simply parroting back set, pre-planned responses.  It was also homework which let my learners show how they liked to learn and show me where the limits of their learning were – taking ideas as far as they could in the medium that they felt most comfortable in rather than producing a limited response to an overly structured task.  It was fascinating.

This is not to say that it was all reward and no challenge.  As already mentioned, I realised instantly that I needed to do more to integrate homework like this into the wider class experience.  This is needed to recognise, celebrate and hopefully deepen the effort and learning that goes into students’ responses.  Also, although many students really engaged with their task and produced something that was authentic and interesting, I felt a few used the open structure to do the least they could rather than show the most that they could and some continued to find it hard to hand in anything at all.  So, I’m continuing to think about how do to things differently to broaden out the enthusiasm, care and deep learning that a lot of my students have already shown as I move forward with this. Having launched two individual approaches in English and science, in the new year I’ll be embarking on a more collaborative approach with my colleague.

I know that I’m not there yet with getting the best learning that I can from this approach but I’m excited to be part of it.  Also, through deciding to give this new idea, picked up in a 30min session, a bash I feel that I’ve inadvertently set myself off on a new path, exploring what my learners are learning and how my learners are learning.  Further, it’s challenging me to think carefully about how I lead their learning to make sure that they’re learning for themselves and have the enthusiasm, energy and opportunities to push themselves to their very limits, maybe even beyond (to use some more well worn words).

I have found the challenges of this year hard.  Pausing to think through my experiences though, has made clear to me that as challenge is what I want for my learners it’s what I need to embrace for myself too.  Further, I teach in the hope that the progress that comes from embracing perpetual challenge is reward enough.


Learning how to learn…(aka another reflection on #tmslfFringe)

This phrase came up time and again during the discussions I was part of at the Pedagoo TeachMeet and it’s the phrase that best sums up the experience for me – most importantly because the day reinforced strongly for me how I learn and, in my opinion at least, how we as profession should be learning to learn.  Give me a one off twilight course or in-service input and I’ll engage at the time but it’s hit and miss as to whether I’ll manage to draw the great ideas into my classroom or if they’ll just stay filed in my CPD folder for a less busy time.  Give me some educational research or reading and I’ll be challenged and inspired, understanding what I could do better but at the same time I’ll often feel overwhelmed by how to get the great ideas off the page and into practice by myself.  Give me a group of other teachers sharing what’s happening in their own classrooms and enthusiastically opening up the floor for others to discuss, share experiences and work out what it could all mean for them and I feel energised and determined to improve and develop my teaching.

This is not to say that I (or others) don’t learn from one off courses or professional reading or indeed to argue that we don’t need them.  Both have been important in introducing me to AiFL strategies, the growth mindset, co-operative learning…so many ideas which make me excited to be a teacher.  However, just as we aspire for our learners to be able to collaborate, share, root new concepts in their own experiences and prior understanding and be able to take ownership of their learning, I think we as teachers need to make sure that we do the same.  My time at the Pedagoo TeachMeet allowed me to bring my own teaching experiences and ideas to the day, link them into the work being done in other classrooms and engage critically in discussions with other teachers to work out how I can change what I’m doing for the better.

Best of all I left a day of interesting, challenging, inspiring conversations confident that through #pedagoofriday, the pedagoo blog, the online community of teachers I’m tentatively joining and hopefully plenty more teachmeets to come, these conversations will continue.  After Saturday I’m confident that I’ll be able to keep learning from my peers, keep learning by taking risks and keep learning new ways to get my learners learning.

So, when we were asked in our final session to identify what we’d be able to use from this day on Monday my first answer was to talk more to the people I teach with everyday about their learning and teaching so that I can keep learning from what’s happening in other people’s classrooms in my own school.  I’m also going to be changing my S3’s upcoming end of unit homework task thanks to Neil Winton’s workshop, drawing on more resources and ideas to encourage a growth mindset in my learners thanks to Jenni Ewan and, in the longer term, trying out SOLO taxonomy as a way to help my young people how to progress their learning thanks to Lisa Jane Ashes’s clear explanation of how it all works.  The content of the day was fabulous but it was the process that mattered most to me.

I want my department  and my school (and maybe even my local authority) to learn from Pedagoo.  I truly believe that we teachers, as learners, need to learn through dialogue, sharing and collaboration and Pedagoo is making this happen – in style.