It’s been too long since I have written a blogpost! I’ve been swept up in the inspiring world of #learningpowerpioneers, bouncing incredible Learning Powered ideas between world-leading learning powered minds.

It’s been a whirlwind and a joy – and at the same time I have about 5 blogposts swirling about my mind! So, with mates (Argentinian delightful drink which fuels inspiration!) in hand, I am sitting down and focusing to write at least one!

Learning Power Pioneers

Our focus in Learning Power Pioneers this term is deepening, broadening and strengthening collaboration skills. Discussions have been rich and varied, from the subtleties of language, to setting up the learning environment to stimulate collaboration, to building leadership skills, to modelling collaborative learning ourselves (through, for example, setting up our own Learning Power Pioneers study groups in our schools).

This blogpost will focus on the latter – modelling our own collaboration – as well as using this to deepen thinking within the classroom.

Collaboration between adults

  • How often do your students see you collaborating?
  • What do they see when you do this? Is it an effective model for collaboration?
  • Are you purposefully collaborating with other adults and making this visible to the children?
  • Are they seeing “the guts” of this process – unpicking and understanding what this looks like and how they can then apply it?

With these questions in mind, and having been recently inspired by Andrea Honigsfeld’s workshops at the ELLSA conference, myself and our lead English Language teacher at our school went about planning some co-teaching. We had several “barriers” to consider:

  • We have little pre-planning time. How could we create an effective model for co-teaching that we could deepen and build on?
  • We needed to make time and cross-over our timetables – could we find a regular slot to team teach? How might this look?
  • What roles could we take on in team teaching? How would be bounce off one another and deepen one another’s ideas and, more importantly, those of the children?

Our plan

We knew we needed to keep things simple and, even better, create a regular routine/slot that we could trial and then build on. We had been inspired by “Number Talks” – provoking mathematical thinking through showing children “real-life” mathematical pictures and the children unpicking the maths they could see.

Example of lateral thinking through number talks, showing 8 dots arranging like 5's on a dice. Children are asked "What can you see? How many different ways can you see it?"
Example of “Number Talks”

We loved the idea of Number Talks because:

  • We could use the Thinking Routine “think pair share” to good effect.
  • Within this we could promote “thinking time”
  • Number Talks promotes lateral thinking with no “right” answer. The pictures “could be” anything – this was fertile ground for inclusion, having a go, challenging yourself, valuing other people’s answers, turn taking, building on one another’s ideas, seeing links in maths – so, very Learning Powered!
  • This also meant that it was supportive and inclusive for English Language Learners – the routine would enable children to understand the expectations. It was visual and tangible, sentence stems could support exploration and sharing of ideas.

The process:

Ondine, my co-teacher, and I set about planning our first session. We gathered thought-provoking images, discussed our roles, thought about how to structure our sessions. We planned to show the children an image and give them a minute silent thinking time to unpick any maths they could see. The extra challenge was to see how many different ways you could see the image and to try to find a way no-one else would think of. As the children came up with ideas, they could show us on their fingers how many ideas were popping into their heads. Then, they had time to share with their partners, which Ondine and I facilitated, then with the whole group.

Ondine took on the role of “note-taker”, making the children’s ideas visible by writing equations, pictures and words they were saying. I facilitated the talk and discussion. We both questioned and wondered with the children. We modelled good collaborative skills between us, respecting one another and valuing each other’s input, for example, by purposefully saying things like:

“That’s a really interesting point, isn’t it Ms. Becky … and I was wondering …”

“Could we just come back to …’s idea. I think we could delve deeper.”

“Sorry, I just got excited by …’s idea! I think you had something you wanted to add before that.”

In this sense, we were modelling valuing the children’s input, being okay to go off on tangents and return to ideas, being polite and mutually respectful.

In hindsight, it would have been even better if we’d have explicitly pulled out the thinking behind this language with the children:

“How are Ms. Ondine and I collaborating together? Do you think we’re doing a good job? Why? Why not? What could we do better?”

“What kinds of things are Ms. Becky and I saying to each other to show respect? How are we helping one another?”

Next time, this is definitely what I would do. You can’t remember to do everything when you are trialling something for the first time!

The results:

Oh wow!! This became one of my favourite times of the week. Just 15-20 minutes of discussion and SO much mathematical thinking came out, way beyond “year group expectations” – We discussed triangle numbers, quadractic equations, Pythagoras – some of the mathematical thinking we touched on provoked an “unknowning” discussion between myself and Ms. Ondine, which was a beautiful way of modelling being okay with not knowing the answer (“I’m not sure if I remember how this works Ms. Ondine? Is it like this … or like this …? What do you think?”)

An example of gathering children's ideas around Number Talks
An example of making the children’s thinking visible during a co-taught Number Talks session.

The children’s ideas were a joy – everyone had something to contribute – and it was often towards the end of a discussion that the richest ideas would come out – modelling “what else …” thinking – sometimes the longer you stick with a problem, the more answers you can see. In the example above, you can see the children starting to come up with subtraction problems, as well as addition.

Children also often came up with “out of the box” thinking and wonderful questions. One Number Talks provoked a lot of shape discussion. At the end, one child wondered

“Does a hexagon and 6 triangles always make a star?”

Wow!!! We loved that. So we set up a shape investigation in the class for the children to explore just that. So the discussions we had during Number Talks led to child-initiated maths investigations, empowering the children and deepening their thinking further and beyond that 15 minutes.

Child-led maths investigation
Child-led maths investigation, inspired by Number Talks

Moving forward

Having trialled this approach with my Year One class, Ondine branched out and started co-teaching Number Talks with other teachers. It is now spreading in our school as best practice – I love this way of developing learning power – starting small, trialling an idea, tweaking it and making it work, then working out how to adapt and deepen it in other classrooms across the school.


How are you modelling collaboration to your children?

Do you co-teach? What are the advantages? What are the barriers?

Are you interested in becoming a Pioneer?! Our community is currently full and will re-open to a small group of keen, reflective thinkers. Be the first to find about when the group reopens by signing up to the mailing list here.


Leave a Reply