Collaboration in the Classroom

In the infancy of this project, I had been reading up on Project Based Learning and its application as demonstrated by High Tech High in America, introduced to me by fellow teachers and Twitter buddies (@DKMead, @mlovatt1). I had also been experimenting with the use of SOLO Taxonomy, another fantastic concept which has really enthused me (for more info on SOLO I would definitely recommend following @DKMead, @lisajaneashes and @Totallywired77 @dockers_hoops). The structure of the project and the use of Anamazing were ideas presented to me during TEEP training by @DKMead & @fhegarty ( and something which I have continued to adopt in such activities as it offers a structured approach to feedback and group work tasks, always offering very positive results.

Before exploring the planning elements of the project, I needed a ‘problem’ or target area to address with the group who were a top set key stage 3 group, very ‘able’ and capable of producing ‘quality’ as individuals but lacking slightly when it came to working together as a group. Although pupils were very keen to present their own ideas and interpretations, they were not the ‘community’ of learners that I needed when it came to group tasks and it was here that I identified the ‘target area’ that the project would be developed to tackle. My main aim was to get pupils working together collaboratively, sharing and valuing the contributions of others and offering quality feedback in order to improve a collaboratively created ‘end product’.

Being an English and Media teacher I had to get some sort of technology in there (my passion for the effective use of technology within the classroom is a blog post in itself and will be coming soon!) and chose to tap in to the pupils’ confidence and experience with digital cameras to develop what would normally have been a basic storyboarding task in to something ultimately more engaging, an Anamazing a technique  introduced by TEEP ( some years ago.


The Task

Pupils were working on a new unit, Scene of Crime, in which they were developing their writing to inform, explain and describe technique. The task involved the pupils working in role as detectives to decipher a crime scene sketch and identify the events leading up to the death of the victim. Of course, the task involved them honing their developing reading to infer and deduce skills, required of all good detectives, but the main aim was to have the pupils working in groups to decide on one key chain of events, thus focusing on the ability to work collaboratively.

crime scene picture prompt


Pupils were given the required outcome, a digital storyboard created on PowerPoint which clearly identified the chain of events, justifying their choices and clearly referencing the evidence from the sketch. In addition they were given the resources: a collection of playmobile characters (I have used these with all ages including NQT’s with very positive results!), paper, pens and resources to create the backdrops for each scene, a digital camera and card reader. It was made clear at this point that although the ‘end product’ was required, it was the learning journey and their ability to work collaboratively towards this that was being assessed. With this in mind, I handed the success criteria over to them. They (as a class) suggested what effective collaboration should look like and sound like from the point of view of an observer; each offering was discussed for its merits and added to or removed from the list before the pupils finally agreed the criteria that they would be assessed against. The benefit of pupil agreed criteria, I found, was that they had personalised the assessment and therefore were even more determined to achieve it, it was their own. This was displayed throughout the project on the white board as a point of reference for the groups.

Assessment criteria pupil


Groups were chosen (by pupils designed to promote the pupil-led nature of the task) and they worked to decide on the key events that led up to the death of the victim. The challenge here was to agree on one clear series which the pupils initially struggled with as each individual had their own definite ideas (note initial ‘problem’). It was pleasing to see that in order to address this issue, pupils were regularly seen to refer to the collaboration criteria that they had set, and I was particularly pleased to hear phrases such as “That’s a great idea but what about the evidence?”, “we’re all talking at once, let’s take turns and hear everyone’s ideas” linking in with the “let’s be diplomatic about this!” approach. All the while, I was able to stand back and watch the process of collaboration; pupils were listening to each other and valuing the contribution of each member. At this point, and for much of the task, my only input was to offer silent feedback (via post-it as not to disturb the discussion) which referenced the success criteria, identifying examples of how they were demonstrating these qualities or otherwise.


Having finalised their group sequence, creating a basic drawn storyboard with captions to describe the images and speech and though bubbles to enhance this; groups were then asked to hand over their work to another group to receive feedback. The feedback process was set up to include different coloured post-it notes (a valuable resource that teachers cannot be without – can you see a developing theme?!): yellow for positive feedback e.g. what was effective? And green for critical questions – areas that required more e.g. questions that were left unanswered by the sequence. At this point, I found that the critical questions produced the higher quality feedback, requiring groups to reconsider their interpretation and ‘plug the holes’ in their theory. Although the yellow positive feedback was useful, it wasn’t yet offering the depth required with comments such as “The pictures are effective as they clearly demonstrate the events” – this could be improved.

Peer feedback

In order to add value and depth to the feedback, I asked each group to verbally offer their comments to the group whose work they had assessed and set up the tables to allow groups to sit opposite each other. Feedback ‘rules’ were created to ensure that comments could be not only heard but considered; the group receiving the feedback were asked to sit silently, only being allowed to respond when they had received their feedback and thanked the group delivering it. I found that this approach really enabled pupils to see the value of the feedback process, demonstrating respect for those giving it and subsequently encouraging them to really value the comments that were being made. This promoted discussion afterwards and was reflected in the redrafts as it was clear that the groups had deeply considered the critical questions and worked hard to address them.

Having had the opportunity to both give and receive feedback, we came together as a class and had a discussion about how the different forms of feedback had made pupils feel. I was pleased to see that they were able to deconstruct the different methods, identifying that the post it note feedback during the initial stages was felt to be “encouraging” and “exciting”, ‘allowing us to get on without disturbing the discussion’. Pupils felt that they “enjoyed being able to look critically at the work of others” and “be part of improving another groups’ work”. They also felt that the structure of sitting across from another group and having to be silent while receiving feedback was “frustrating at first as I wanted to respond” but ultimately made them “really think about the feedback” given by other groups on a deeper level which was seen in the second drafts produced by pupils.

As ‘old hands’ with SOLO Taxonomy now, I asked the groups to complete a self-reflection of their second drafts, having considered and implemented the feedback given, using SOLO symbols to identify their level of thinking, classifying any additional information required to develop their interpretation of the crime scene sketch. This group have responded well to using SOLO to explain their level of thinking and although basic in this task, the comments prompted discussion on ‘next steps’ required, improving their interpretation and securing their understanding of the events.

solo feedback


For the next stage of the process, that of creating the digital storyboard, collaboration was again the key focus and pupils were assessed against their previously agreed criteria when performing role allocation, taking pictures & transferring them to the computer and working to deadline; collaborating to reach their goal with the constant reminder of their self-set criteria on the board visible to them throughout. From a teacher as facilitator point of view, my role was simple; stand back and observe the collaboration of groups, offering only feedback against the criteria. At this stage it was evident that pupils were very dedicated to the quality of their collaboration and it was interesting to see how far the groups had come from the initial stages. They were demonstrating collaboration, as they had agreed it would look and sound; they were listening to each other and valuing the contribution of each member of the ‘team’, working as a learning community rather than a group of individuals at last!


Having completed their PowerPoint presentation collaboratively, it was important that the groups were able to showcase their work. Although the project was designed to focus on the process rather than the product, it was important to the pupils to be able to ‘show’ the work that they had created. In order to link this with the key skill of collaboration, all pupils within each group were required to participate in the presentation, in addition to creating a feedback sheet which would be used to assess their skills. Setting up the final presentations in this way enabled pupils to value their collaboration and consider the journey that they had taken.

Pupil storyboard

By means of presentation feedback which was constructed in the same way as in earlier stages, (silent until feedback had been given); pupils were able to evaluate their group and individual contribution to the collaborative project and set individual targets for future projects. In addition to this, I asked them to complete a self-evaluation and reflection on the project itself and was pleased to see that they had really valued the process of collaboration, rather than just seeing it as a bolt-on to the creation of an end product. The comments produced by pupils, demonstrated their ability to value the opinions of others and their enthusiasm at the idea of structuring their own learning. I have certainly noticed a difference in recent collaborative tasks.

Pupil self reflection


On reflection, I have further reinforced my own passion for using cameras within the classroom as an engaging tool, by looking at how we can drag storyboarding (a very useful if not slightly outdated technique) in to the 21st Century! In addition, I firmly believe in the power of using digital cameras to document and evaluate learning as it is happening (alas, this is a post of its own currently in production) and this project has only sought to reinforce this. The main aim however, was to get this group working collaboratively and engage with feedback on a deeper level and with this in mind, I have certainly noted improvements.

On one level, pupils setting their own assessment criteria is a very powerful tool in developing engagement in the task, as demonstrated by the desire that I witnessed throughout, to ‘evidence’ the agreed behaviours, subsequently seeing pupils ‘succeeding’ by taking ownership of their own success criteria. On another, I now have a group that value the contributions of others rather than simply seeking to promote their own opinions and end goal. That is not to say that pupils were completely without this ability at the start, it was there and needed to be nurtured; pupils did this themselves and evaluated their ability to do so at every step, reflecting on their achievements.

From my point of view, the pupils were able to work independently, having received guidance only on the required outcome; teacher input was minimal, placing the responsibility on the pupils who subsequently enhanced their ability to work collaboratively and independently. Pupils were able to focus their reflection, in this case, on the process rather than the product, producing positive learning behaviours and personal skills and qualities that can be developed in future projects.