Using Cooperative Learning Structures to Teach Teachers

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Each month, we meet with our first year teachers in the district to help them adjust to the expectations and the rigors of being in the classroom everyday. I have spoken about this before, but the program uses Marzano, et al’s, book Classroom Instruction That Works as a framework for teaching strategies that are research-based and effective. More than anything we do instructionally, the workshops always help the teachers come together to discuss success and failure in their classrooms; it provides them with a support structure in which they can reflect on their practice and share their uncertainties about what they are doing.

Last month we spent some time with cooperative learning structures and how to use them to help students take responsibility for their own learning through collaboration. The feedback we got from that meeting was really positive, so this month we decided to use the structures as a means to teach the next theme in the book: Goal-Setting and Feedback.

One of the most significant parts of my own learning this year has been to make every attempt I can to be a practitioner of what I teach. You have read it here before: “Be the change you want to see in others.” So when we were planning this month, Dan and I created the sessions entirely around learning structures and reaching as many intelligences as we could. Here is a list of what we did and the accompanying structures:

  • Clock Buddies: as soon as they walked in we handed them appointment clocks on paper and asked them to make appointments at 12 (with someone not in your building), 3 (with someone in your building), 6 (someone in your subject area), and 9 (random). We used these throughout the session to organize ourselves.
    • this got them moving and engaging and really set the tone for their activity level for the day.
  • RAFT: Sternberg created this concept based on his three intelligences. What we did is ask the teachers to write an entry on their blog using the idea of choosing a Role (object in their classroom, a student in their classroom, an observing administrator), an Audience (a parent, an administrator, a reluctant c colleague, etc.) a Format (classified ad, instruction manual, letter to the editor, observation narrative, etc.) and write about a Topic (why should we use cooperative learning structures in the classroom?).
    • immediately it got them thinking differently because we asked them to reflect via a different modality then they were used to. A little cognitive dissonance is a good thing!
  • Walk and Talk: They read a section of the book on their own, then we used our 12 o’clock buddies and asked each group to do some guided reflection using a graphic organizer. However, we asked them to do it while on a Walk and Talk. Since yesterday was a gorgeous day here in New Jersey, we allowed them to walk anywhere on the school grounds, inside or out, and asked them to discuss the reading and fill in the graphic organizer as they strolled.
  • Wows and Wonders:” More reading was done independently and then we used our 3 o’clock buddies and paired the groups up to form larger groups. Since we were talking about goal setting, we asked each teacher to write a brief statement about how they use goal setting in their classroom. We then used a Round Robin format where they passed their statement to the left. Each person was responsible for writing a “Wow,” on the page and then passed it along to the next person in the circle until eventually they all received their own page back. We did the same again, only this time we asked each person to write a “Wonder,” statement on each other’s page.
    • This allowed everyone to get positive feedback, but also framed the constructive feedback in the form of a suggestive question, which works a lot better than a “you should have done this” statement.
  • Four Corners: After reading the feedback section in the book, we asked the teachers to pick one of the four research points made in the reading as the one that they would like to have a discussion about. Each corner of the room represented a different point. They moved to that corner and were asked to use a graphic organize to lead their discussion about that point.
  • Numbered Heads: as they discussed, we walked around and gave numbers to each group member. When it came time to wrap up, we picked numbers randomly and asked that that person tell us what their group discussed about a certain point within their topic.
    • this gave everyone time to add additional information to their organizer and hear points that pushed their own thinking.
  • Parking Lot: also as they were discussing feedback, Dan and I circled the room and distributed a blue and a yellow post-it not to everyone. We asked that on the yellow they tell us something about their own learning from the day’s session–what did you learn today? On the blue, we asked that they help us with our learning–what could we have done differently today? As they left the room for the day, they put the yellows on one wall and the blues on another.

We are in the process of sorting our notes out and going over the feedback (it was just yesterday), but I could already see that the teachers were engaged with one another at a level that we’d seen glimpses of before but couldn’t sustain. Also, on a selfish note, I did so much less talking, used so much less tech, and spent so much more time listening than I had in any of the the previous meetings.

If we are truly about changing the way our schools work, about reforming our practices to meet the needs of students, modeling said practices and methods should be the first order of business. Think of your next factulty meeting. How much will you move about the room to discuss an issue or concern or theory (trips to the food area don’t count)? Will the dialog be one-way, two-way, or circular and constant?

I realize that all meetings and sessions vary, and that decisions about presentation and lesson design are germane to the material itself, but when we can we should use what we know to produce lessons, meetings, professional development courses that we would want to sit through. Ask yourself, would you want to be in your class?

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4 thoughts on “Using Cooperative Learning Structures to Teach Teachers

  1. Patrick,

    I was just sitting here wishing that this had been a workshop day I had attended. Your approach just sounds so mindful and well-thought out, and developed with your goals in mind.

    And thanks for sharing the specific details. That’s a very helpful model for the rest of us!

    I think there is a tremendous power in teachers having conversations as part of their own learning. And it always seems like there is too little time for us to talk to one another within our own buildings, so the opportunity you provided in this setting seems very valuable in sustaining their learning.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. I recently found your blog through a Google Reader recommendation. You have fabulous things to share!

    Thank you so much for modeling good instruction with teachers—especially newbies. While everyone can benefit from this type of professional development, I truly believe that beginning teachers are most likely to adopt and implement such strategies as part of their regular classroom practice.

    Great job!

  3. Thanks!

    Glad all of you took the time to read this and could pull something away from it. I admit, I have been a poor responder–things have gone nutty here.

    What we are really interested in doing next year is to pull in some of our veteran practitioner’s to work with these teachers, and to use this current group of new teachers to help next year’s group.

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