The power of collaborative learning

AfL Inset @StHildasBushey by Melanie Charles @Melanie_Char3

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I am Assessment Coordinator and Form 2 Tutor at St Hilda’s, and also teach MFL throughout the Lower School. I joined St Hilda’s in September 2013, having completed my PGCE at the Institute of Education. I enjoy communicating with others in the profession and I am always looking to share good practice, and gain valuable feedback. I look forward to continuing my journey as a teacher and being a part of TeachAldenham.

At the start of the Autumn term, I ran INSET training on AfL. I decided to plan a range of activities where staff would take on the role of the child. By experiencing a similar level of engagement (and dare I say fun), I hoped they would gain an insight into the type of feedback AfL provides both for the teacher and student, and why it is the key ingredient to a successful lesson.

My session was organised into the following sections.

Sharing Learning Objectives and Success Criteria

Photo credit: Redbridge Network Learning Community

 The first activity required staff to work in pairs. Partner A had 1 minute to describe a picture (see image to right) to Partner B who had to draw it. Once time was up, I asked a few teachers what they thought the learning objective was. Answers ranged from following instructions, to recognising 2D shapes, to drawing straight lines, which were all perfectly valid. Without a ‘common language’, the task had been interpreted in various ways…just as it would with children. This illustrated the importance of pupils understanding the purpose of the activity in order to meet the learning objective.


For the next task, everyone had to draw a house. They then swapped with a partner and marked one another’s picture using the Must, Should, Could criteria on the board. Of course, everyone’s interpretation of a house was entirely different, resulting in a range of scores. This demonstrated that sharing success criteria is … a MUST, SHOULD COULD  so that children know how to achieve the learning objective. We discussed different ways of sharing success criteria  with pupils, allowing them to take ownership of their learning.

Whole class Assessment

For this section, there were several multiple choice questions. Staff were asked to answer in a range of ways from walking to the A,B,C or D corner of the room, holding up the correct answer on  ABCDnumber cards, writing the answer on mini whiteboards and simply using their fingers to show their chosen answer. Counting staff down each time made it more exciting, but most importantly emphasised that answers need to be revealed at the same time, (and discussions saved until afterwards) in order for whole class assessment to be effective.

Photo credit: Flickr picture

Photo credit: Flickr picture

Everyone then received an extract from our Assessment policy, with certain words to unscramble, and a set of traffic light cards. Staff were stopped shortly into the task to display the card which indicated how they were finding the activity (green for straightforward and so forth). Having purposely pitched the task high, some displayed their orange or red card.  This worked well to model how children would be encouraged to persevere (rather than putting their hands up) until a member of staff (or pupil with a green card) provided some support.

traffic light cards

Quality questioning and Effective talk

At this point, I spoke about open and closed questions, and how Bloom’s Taxonomy can be used to generate low and high order questioning. I also showed the link below from Dylan Wiliam on hinge questioning…definitely worth a watch!


Throughout the session, several alternatives to the ‘hands up’ approach were. The resources used (see randomizer wheel below) ensured names were picked at random and illustrated one way of keeping children engaged and focused on the question. They certainly do the trick of keeping everyone awake!

Photo credit: Class tools website

Photo credit: Class tools website

We also discussed ‘Pose Pause Pounce Bounce’, another alternative to ‘hands up’, which serves a different purpose. Often compared to ‘basket ball’ questioning, this technique avoids moving back and forth between the question and answer (also referred to as ‘table tennis’), allows thinking time and lends itself well to differentiation. Hearing several answers presents a valuable opportunity for teachers to consider upon whom to ‘pounce’, and to plan the type of questions to ask when ‘bouncing’ around the class.

Effective feedback and marking

For the next activity, the staff matched examples of written work to the corresponding teacher comments. This was one way of showing how pupils can engage with the success criteria and take ownership of their learning. DIRT (Dedicated Improvement & Reflective Time) teaches us the purpose of effective feedback and marking; an ongoing dialogue, a process whereby the children are actively involved. There are a plethora of ways for children to be involved with the DIRT process; the secret is allocating time in our planning for pupils to read, process and respond.

The Learning Environment

Finally, I spoke about how to instil ‘Growth mindset’ into children (even little Receptions who have just about learnt to sit quietly and write their name!) I spoke to staff about the significance of the language we use, type of praise we give and attitudes we convey, and left a questionnaire for them to complete at the end to consider their own mindset.  At St Hilda’s we encourage the girls to show ‘GRIT’ (get really into trying) which is one way of training the girls to believe ‘anything is possible’. We spoke about resources one might use to promote a ‘Growth mindset’. A story about two characters, one with a ‘Growth’ mindset, the other with a ‘Fixed’ mindset, for example, could work well as a hook to motivate younger pupils whereas one might choose to use Reflective Journals with older children, something I have chosen to introduce my class this year. Sounds simple but allocating a short amount of time to these  each week, has enabled me to learn a huge amount about the girls’ attitudes to their learning.  I recently enjoyed leading an assembly on this (perhaps I shall save for my next blog!)

My last important message was that AfL shouldn’t be about the right time and place. It needs to be ongoing. During my session, I referred to several resources (highlighters, mini whiteboards, traffic light and ABCD cards to name a few) which were in baskets scattered around the room. These really need to be at hand at all times in a learning environment. What goes in? You decide.

At the end of the session, I asked my colleagues to write two stars and a wish. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the comments and look forward to taking these on board in the future.


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