Pupil Premium Strategies #3 – Approaching Collaborative Learning

This is the third in a series of blogs giving an overview of research-proven strategies that schools can adopt when budgeting their pupil premium – and how we can help. Previously, we discussed Using Feedback

Often introduced at a primary school level to develop the skills related to collective learning, collaborative strategies involve encouraging participants to focus on how their own contributions shape the work of the group. More colloquially called group learning or group work, it’s a low-cost strategy that can be flexible and adaptive.

Tasks require pupils to support each other in learning, and the fact they are in the same age group means their learning is just focused on just one level of the curriculum depending on key stage (differentiating the strategy from peer tutoring, where the learning can span one or more key stages). Working as a group isn’t necessarily something that comes easily, so students will need support and practise to work together; this does not happen automatically. Competition between groups can be used to support pupils in working together more effectively within their group, though over-use of competition can focus learners on the competition rather than succeeding in their learning, so it needs to be used cautiously.

For it to be most effective, group sizes should be kept small so it is easier to moderate and ensure each individual has the opportunity to contribute. By explaining and negotiating their own contributions, pupils are developing their own problem-solving skills [source], as well as learning to listen to other people’s contributions and apply them in practical situations. When introducing collaborative working to younger children (at primary school), most approaches and strategies aim to gradually introduce the concept rather than jumping into group work in the first instance. This also benefits the teacher, who will be actively adapting their contextual ideas to suit the setting in which they are teaching, be it a whole class as individuals or in structured groups.

We can help to facilitate collaborative learning in teacher and student planners; including a page in your school’s teacher planners that lists the most appropriate collaborative learning activities for different year groups is a great way to support a whole-school approach, while outlining best practice for group work is a good page idea for student planners.

The Collaborative Learning Project has a huge resource hub that features many different activities sorted by subject. Introducing light competition as part of group activities has been found to provide benefits, though this should be carefully planned and overseen to avoid negative effects.