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Interactive teaching and learning blog

Improving student resilience through collaboration

February 15th 2017

Curriculum teams have recently been grouped into Faculties at Weydon. The advantages of the new system are already beginning to bear fruit and this blog is about one of these. A strategy to increase student resilience through collaborative working.

As a quick overview of the new system, Faculties comprise of a group of curriculum teams. For example, the one I am in is comprised of geography, history, PSHE and RE: a mixture of large and small teams, meaning teachers in smaller teams are no longer isolated. All heads of faculty regularly contribute to and shape school development, lead CPD (although you don’t have to be head of faculty to do this!) and monitor impact: most importantly however, they lead regular faculty meetings which focus solely on school teaching and learning goals.

We are currently focusing on improving questioning strategies and student resilience. We have agreed to trial a number of strategies around questioning e.g. using Blooms to develop depth and challenge, reducing the use of ‘hands up’ and making sure we allow think time. Nothing new here, but knowing that we will be ‘reporting back’ at the next faculty meeting, plus having the opportunity to ‘unpick’ the challenges means we are all more likely to have a go and moreover, embed the practice.

Most recently, each of us was asked to pick a strategy to develop student resilience and trial it with one class. I decided to trial two strategies. One, the use of Google Documents to increase collaboration between students and independent learning. The second, to use Google Classroom to set a question and ask students to answer in a shared forum, commenting on each others pots.This is what we did, and progress made so far.

I chose a Year 8 class to run my trial with. Year 8 have all recently subscribed to our iPad lease scheme and so all but 3 students in the class have an iPad they can access. The remaining 3 students can loan an iPad from the IT Tech team on a daily basis.

For the first of my two trials, my main goal was to trial the lesson strategy and Home Learning task in order that I could improve the outcomes next time. In fairness, the logistics worked fairly well and the main area for improvement is training the students on how to get the most out of collaboration. In terms of a learning outcome, students needed to reinforce their understanding of the causes of global warming and consider a case study of a place being affected. I chose the Maldives – students particularly like this because I had been there on honeymoon and I was able to share personal photos and stories. I set a range of differentiated questions as a part of task which challenged at different levels of Blooms.

Before I got going, I emailed staff in school to ask if anyone had done anything similar already. Several staff got back in touch and I went to have face to face discussions to benefit from their advice. Key suggestions were to set up the project using the usual rules for group work (assigning roles etc) and for students to work independently in the first instance (on separate documents) so that they didn’t constantly interrupt or change each other’s work as they went along.

This is what I did next. First I set up the task using Google Classroom. All students are set up with a Gmail account and so it is easy to create and share an assignment. I included the guidelines for the task within this and also links to various sources to be used. I didn’t want hours wasted on Google searches so I invested some time searching out the information myself. I often just put ‘BBC’ in the search or ‘GCSE’ to try to cut down on the results and limit them to information students will find accessible. What I have since learned is that YouTube is blocked to any student less than Year 10 and so any resources located there are useless in class.


I put the students into mixed ability groups and gave them these instructions for the group work. Before going any further, they had to think about the task individually, then assign group working roles.


These are the instructions students had access to via Google Classroom. The questions were differentiated and the groups had to work together to decide who was best suited to answer the different questions. They didn’t have to answer them all, although some groups did. I thought I was able to monitor who contributed and this was important for them to know, since they all had to contribute. In reality, I’m not sure I set this up properly and so it didn’t quite work out like that.

Ground rules for collaborative working

  1. Decide on each person’s responsibility: which question/s are you responsible for answering to a high standard

  2. Each person has a responsibility for making a high quality contribution to the group

  3. Decide on whether you will answer all 6 questions or will you select the ones you think are most important/ interesting?

  4. Do not all work on the same document at the same time: create your own documents with one that is shared to everyone. Once you have completed your work, add it to the main document.

  5. Do not edit or change other people’s work. You may comment on it using the comment function. You may need a group discussion about any changes.

  6. Comments could be focused on spelling or grammar; you could ask for clarification or deeper explanation or suggest improvements.

  7. Decide on an order for the document: should Q1 be the the first part of the document? Does there need to be an introduction? Who will write this?

  8. The final report needs to be shared with me - I can track individual contributions and expect everyone to fully contribute

Think about these before you start and discuss them. Are there any other rules needed?

  1. How would you describe the Maldives?

a.            Where is it?

b.            What is it like?

c.            Include maps, photos, descriptions & a fact file

d.            You could include information from tourism Websites, YouTube videos etc but make it snappy and interesting!

2. Define the problem and explain how global warming occurs.

You could include diagrams, video clips and your own explanation. Try to include as much detail as possible. What can you tell us that we might not already know?

3. What examples can you find that global warming is not only a problem for the Maldives?

4. Predict what will happen if we do not do anything to solve the problem.

5. What evidence can you find that global warming is happening? Is there any evidence to suggest that it isn’t happening and that the scientists are wrong?

6. What solution do the Maldivian government propose? Would we all benefit if we followed their advice? Could you formulate a better plan? What are the arguments for and against the different plans?

Next students spent one and a half lessons in class working on the task together. We had the usual Wifi problems and also problems with students unable to log in (use error!), forgotten passwords etc. I’m hoping that these will iron out as they get more used to using the iPads over time, but this was quite frustrating and I need to be resilient myself to push forward and risk the next steps.

In terms of the collaboration itself, this was quite basic during this attempt. There were lots of comments from students like ‘give more detail’ and no attempt to challenge with questions or give specific advice.I was however able to give feedback myself, hopefully modelling the kind of feedback we might use next time.


What students did do well was to work independently from me, reviewing the materials provided. They worked well using the roles assigned to them and on the questions they had agreed to focus on, although I had subtlety given some guidance as to who might attempt which question. Every group managed to create a shared document and they did learn how to use comments within Google to feedback to each other. My main disappointment was the level of grammatical errors despite having multiple checkers and the priority I gave to this task verbally during the lessons. At this stage, I did perhaps expect the level of feedback to be of higher quality but accept that I now need to give more training on how to do this effectively - as well as how students might use this.

The second strategy I used was to set a question on Google Classroom as a Home Learning task. The question was ‘Contribute to the class discussion about what you think the 3 worst effects of tourism in Kenya might be. Suggest possible solutions to the problem (either ones mentioned in the video or ones you have researched/ thought about yourself)’

Students watched the first part of a film about this topic in class. They had to watch the final part of the film at home and then contribute to the class discussion. All students really enjoyed the task, and all but one actually did it by the deadline. Contributions varied but the best were excellent and really set a high bar for future assignments of this type. Because students could see what each other had written, it really did make the best stand out and those taking an easy path were really exposed. I was surprised at how little students had ‘copied’ from each other and pleased that some had actually responded to a post by someone else. An example of one response is below:


We followed up the Home Learning task by using the responses in class to create a ‘Tourist code of conduct’. Students were able to access each other’s answers to help them create their own piece of independent work.

In summary, my plans to improve outcomes next time will be to:

  1. Work with students to improve the quality of their feedback using Google Documents

  2. Refuse to accept work that hasn’t been properly grammar checked

  3. Ensure students contribute to online discussions in the ‘class comment’ box and not submit as an answer (these don’t form part of an ongoing dialogue)

  4. Create the expectation that students must comment on one another's work and make at least one response. 


We would love to hear from anyone also using Google Classroom and documents to encourage collaboration between students. We would love to learn from your experiences.

Posted at 12:07

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