How to teach without teaching: making the most of collaborative learning

There will always be less curriculum time available than we’d like. There are always constraints, conflicting priorities and the relentless pressure to ‘cover the curriculum’ and arguments about breadth vs. depth always turn out to be circular. In this post, English teacher Leor Holtzman considers strategies to make the most of one of our greatest resources: the students themselves.

Is one half term enough time to explore a play or novel in depth? Will my students be fully equipped with the knowledge of the key themes, characters and plot ready for the exam? For most of us on many occasions the answer is a resounding NO! and worst of all, as a teacher I am often left thinking “Help! What can I do?”

Last week, I took a risk with my Year 11s. Having tried collaborative group work with them in the past, the feedback from the students was mainly “We don’t like this Miss. We want to work on our own”. That’s the version of ‘working on our own’ that inevitably means coasting.

I’m not one to let this put me off. We are currently working on Romeo and Juliet in preparation for their GCSE English Literature exam, and as always time is against us.

One strategy that I have been trialling is focusing on key characters and allocating a key scene to each of the students. My main objective is covering large portions of the play in depth and detail in a short space of time, while encouraging students to navigate around the scene and work independently to analyse it.

The students were provided with a question sheet that guided them to develop evidence, inferences and analysis of the themes and author’s ideas – they each have responsibility for becoming the ‘specialist’ in their scene. I wanted to make sure students did not coast for this section and so included an opportunity for students to review their learning by using Pair Compare, where students who have the same scene share and develop ideas together.

In the next stage, students have to share their scenes with their table groups. The aim is by the end of a lesson, students have notes, analysis and an understanding of each of four key scenes.

To ensure students have completed this phase to the expected standard, I set an exam-style question which provides student with an opportunity to apply their understanding to structured an answer. Feedback is given using the exam marking criteria with formative comments to show how to improve.

This strategy has been highly effective in:

  • Covering a large amount of content in a short space of time
  • Students working independently to gather information
  • Encouraging student-led learning
  • Students working collaboratively while teacher facilitates
  • Little time or resources needed for planning

The process can be repeated and adapted to suit whatever content/criteria you are covering, the same process is applied to another character, and my planning is done for another week!

For further information on this approach, please see the ‘Jigsaw’ strategy in Paul Ginnis‘ ‘Teachers Toolkit’ or this post by David Didau: The expert approach to group work


About Stacey Partridge

Assistant Principal responsible for Teaching & Learning and CPD, Stem, Transition & primary liaison. Applied Learning Quality Nominee, CEIAG, Prince's Trust and SMSC. Wellacre Academy Flixton, Greater Manchester
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One Response to How to teach without teaching: making the most of collaborative learning

  1. Pingback: What happens in our best lessons, and how do we know? | Making Our Best Better

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