Research School Network: Collaborative Learning: increasing the efficiency Analysing the benefits of collaborative learning in classrooms

Collaborative Learning: increasing the efficiency

Analysing the benefits of collaborative learning in classrooms

by Shotton Hall Research School
on the

Collaborative Learning approaches are firmly back in the spotlight. Whilst the impact of the Pandemic in schools often meant front-facing rows and little movement from students’ assigned seats, a fresh academic year has encouraged me to consider the benefits of collaborative approaches in the classroom.

Collaborative Learning is defined by the EEF (2021) as an approach which involves pupils working together on activities or learning tasks in a group small enough to ensure that everyone participates’. And thus, one of the great pitfalls of collaborative learning is evident: how do we ensure every student is participating? Can we guarantee that collaborative learning is more than just sitting pupils together and hoping for the best? Although there are many factors to enabling students collaborate effectively, here are two of my crucial initial steps:

  • Pre-populate your groups. Teacher-chosen groups can be a sensible first step when introducing collaborative tasks. Research suggests that the optimum group size is between 3 – 5, with children not from the same friendship group. Teacher-chosen groups can be a great way to differentiate –Strickland’s (2005) model for grouping students can provide a useful rubric: she suggests ranking students from highest to lowest performing, and then this provides an opportunity to group students in both similar and differing levels of attainment. It is demonstrated in the below diagram:
Strickland’s (2005) model of flexible grouping

Furthermore, Nagel (2001) identified three key components in successful groupings: knowledge (the information each students possesses), power (the level of influence each student has over the others) and affection (creating a safe environment for students). Reflecting on some of these strategies and considerations may foster a more successful group dynamic, allowing students to fully benefit from a collaborative task.

  • Accountability. One of the most crucial elements of successful collaborative work is ensuring that all participants maximise their individual input. Johnson et al (2001) found that assigning students within each group a specific role can focus a student’s efforts and provide a more fruitful outcome of the group work, as it functions as a initial scaffold, which in time should be removed. Examples of group roles can vary greatly, and some I’ve found to be more useful than others – such as an assigned Summariser’ can illicit solid student elaboration which improves the group response. There is also evidence (Coggeshall, 2010) to suggest that group roles should be rotated to ensure that challenge is maintained, which for me is important – we want students to be able to self-regulate their own learning to eventually cover all of these roles as this scaffold is removed. Although this took some planning time before the lesson, it provided a much smoother process when the students did work collaboratively.

Overall, the re-introduction of collaborative learning in my lessons has, I believe, proven fruitful. Using these tasks as an opportunity to discuss the mechanics of successful collaboration has seen an improvement in the social skills of learners in my classroom, whilst also providing the opportunity for high-quality oracy work; undeniably, this is an element of literacy that has taken a significant hit due to online learning (CfEY, 2021). Furthermore, perhaps its greatest benefit has been found in the opportunity to embed and internalise teacher-taught concepts – a vital stage of Freyer and Fisher’s (2013) Gradual Release of Responsibility. As we (hopefully!) emerge out of the other side of school closures and large class absence, I truly believe effective collaborative study will be essential to bridge some of these gaps.


CfEY & University of Oxford (2021) Oracy after the Pandemic: What Ofsted, teachers and young people think about oracy, CfEY, available at:…

Coggeshall, Bonnie, (2010). Assigning Individual Roles and its Effect on the Cooperative Learning Setting Mathematical and Computing Sciences Masters. Paper 99.

EEF (2021) Collaborative Learning Approaches. EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoun…

Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2013). Better learning through structured teaching: A framework for the gradual release of responsibility (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Johnson, D.W. & Johnson, R.T. (1993). Implementing cooperative learning. The Education Digest, 58(8), 62 – 66

Nagel, G.K. (2001) Effective Grouping for Literacy Instruction. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Strickland, D (1995) within Ford, M.P. (2005) Differentiation through Flexible Grouping. Available at:…

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