Collaborative Learning Communities – embedding the Rs (pt 7 in a series)

At the heart of Olevi lies the principle that shared learning methods are beneficial to all. Here we explain that when it comes to creating successful collaborative learning programmes, it’s all about the Rs.

The principle of collaborative learning has provided the building blocks for Scholé, an educational approach that blends global best practice with a pupil-first philosophy and has now been rolled out across 20 schools in Africa. Scholé has become so effective through the use of Olevi programmes that the initiative and the work of founder Catherine Stevens was awarded the Exporting Excellence trophy at the EducationInvestor Awards. 

I have supported Catherine over a number of years. When designing and realising collaborative learning programmes such as that of Scholé for students, teachers or leaders, I have discovered that successfully embedding the Rs in the action is what it’s all about.  There is a large number of these Rs and by no means is this list complete.  As usual you will have developed your own. However, this is how I describe what I see on the ground as a learning programme is realised and then refined

What are we trying to achieve?

The learning outcomes of the programme are defined in the results we want our students to achieve. By results I do not mean solely examination scores, but the broader development of the student, including their adoption of good learning and citizen habits. We need to ask a DR ICE question – are these broader achievements encapsulated in the role models we are trying to realise?

Where are we now?

To start the process of designing a learning programme, we must first articulate the knowledge and skills that are to be studied. Then, based on this, the appropriate learning activities are selected using the three Olevi learning activity phases – 1: information, 2: experience, 3: coaching and mentoring. 

Great care is given to the sequencing of these learning activities, especially when progression is being used. 

The resulting action is described in the form of routines, rubrics, rituals, rewarding and reinforcementThe learning programme carries the student on a journey from what they already know to what they need to know. Peter Matthews in his keynote speech at the Olevi International Conference in October 2019 referred to the effective starting point as one which took into account the student’s zone of proximal development. 

Routines can vary from minimal to all-embracing.  They ensure sequencing and often provide a secure framework for teacher and student learning to take place. In an outstanding learning programme, both benefit from the action.  Often the routines create a rhythm and cadence or pace to the learning programme that the student finds reassuring. 

Rubrics provide us with the polish on the action. They give us the method by which the action is to be carried out. They are often used to articulate the emotional and social content of the learning, the behaviours and depositions that make the difference.

Rituals most commonly book-end the process and are used to recognise key moments in the student’s journey.  They are often associated with rewards.  Along with knowledge and skills, they are often the part the student remembers.  They can, like rubrics, enhance a sense of being part of a specific collaborative learning community.

Constant reinforcement of learning is a built-in non-negotiable, especially when the knowledge has a highly tactical nature.

How do we move from A to B?

The students’ results are reviewed and reflected upon in an informal and formal process. Evidence is used to redefine the action.  

This process is enhanced by reflecting our action against reference points such as DR ICE  or the four capitals. Jackie Smith describes her work to develop moral capital amongst her teachers in Uganda.  

Outstanding teachers and leaders continually refine the action based on the evidence which emerges as a result of reviewing the result and the process.  Many of us still use WWW EBI to review the process. From this, we reflect these outcomes against the reference points such as DR ICE or the four capitals

It becomes over time a process of refining the action by identifying of non-negotiable and degrees of variance. We become adept at focusing upon those slight changes in the nuance of the action that makes the critical difference between good and outstanding and outstanding and world class. 

Finally, when the dust has settled on a successfully completed learning programme, we ensure that the student has something tangible left behind, their aRtefacts (you must excuse my turn of phase and allow an Essex boy a bit of poetic licence), the physical and increasingly digital evidence that sometime in the past, effective learning took place. 


This slide is taken from my presentation “Challenge Partners in a Box” and illustrates a significant number of the Rs I have mentioned above.

The information presented above was first published in a note sent to Catherine Stevens when she was designing her African school programme, Scholé, which has recently been named the winner of the Exporting Excellence Award at the 2019 Education Investor Awards.

I am happy for you to use the material above.  My only requests are that you recognise the source and if you have the time, send me any appropriate comments.