Fostering engagement with learning materials: a collaborative approach

B. Ajitha

An effort to impart in-service training to teachers can be considered a success when there is evidence of receptivity to the ideas presented, a translation of the ideas into a plan of action and a commitment to see through the plan’s implementation.

Applying these insights to the weekly in-house training programme at Delhi Public School, Coimbatore has helped improve the engagement levels as well motivation to learn among teachers.

This study was undertaken to gauge the effectiveness of collaborative learning strategies to:

  1. Address the attention deficit and disengagement among teacher trainees during the trainer-led pedagogy sessions.
  2. Infuse enthusiasm among teachers towards learning and encourage openness to highly effective and result-oriented teaching strategies.
  3. Create a culture of learning through vibrant discussions and deliberations on educational practices for better learning outcomes in students.
  4. Encourage teachers to apply the insights gained from the training in everyday classroom instruction and lesson planning.

The instructor-led pedagogy sessions primarily delivered in lecture method were found to be ineffective to engage the teachers throughout the sessions. This was despite the good presentation skills of the facilitator. To overcome this problem, in other words to encourage active participation of teachers, we focused our energies on two collaborative learning strategies, namely Jigsaw Strategy and Reciprocal Teaching.

A six week long in-house training programme was organized. The learning material on fundamentals of learning and inclusive teaching was shared with the teachers. The teachers were then asked to split into small groups to engage with the material, to have detailed discussions, and to clarify misconceptions. By the end of six weeks, they were expected to have a better understanding and awareness on the efficacy of the material in everyday classroom teaching.

Jigsaw Strategy
Jigsaw, one of the many popular collaborative learning strategies in practice worldwide, was chosen to introduce new learning material to teachers, aid comprehension, and appreciate its implication for the teaching-learning process.

A relevant and useful four-week long course on the learning process titled Uncommon Sense Teaching was identified (accessed through the MOOC platform COURSERA) and shared with the teachers. Each of the four videos could be accessed by the teachers one day prior to the training session. This strategy was used for the entire learning material of the identified course.

Teachers were first put in groups of four. These groups were named the breakout groups. Expert groups (so called because of the in-depth knowledge of teaching-learning material that the members gain out of discussions in this group) were then formed from the breakout groups.

The discussions first began in the four expert groups, where all the participant teachers were assigned evenly to the four groups. Each group watched the assigned videos on the topic. The teachers made notes on these videos. This was followed by a discussion where the teachers compared notes to deepen their comprehension. They also clarified misconceptions they had while interacting with the material on their own.

With a deeper and broader understanding of the material reached through the discussions in the expert groups, teachers then returned to their breakout groups. Here one member from each of the four expert groups gave an informal presentation of the insights garnered from engagement with the assigned material.

At the end of the presentations, the teachers left the session not only with enhanced understanding of the learning material and its implications for teaching but also with a sense of agency to apply the pedagogical principles in everyday classroom teaching.

This strategy was also adopted for the virtual mode using Google Meet. Grouping of teachers was shared via a Google Sheet which also had details of the learning modules assigned to each of the expert groups, meeting links for both breakout and expert groups. It also had names of teachers designated to create the meeting links and facilitate the discussions in the respective groups.

Reciprocal Teaching
Another tested technique for collaborative learning – Reciprocal Teaching – was also used during the teacher training session. This technique averred to enhance comprehension of difficult texts by means of assigning clear-cut roles to group members while interacting with the given texts.

For the two subsequent weeks of the training sessions, articles from the education site for teachers-Edutopia were selected. The teachers had to evaluate one of the many structured approaches to integrate differentiated instruction in classroom teaching and ideate on its adaptation in their classroom instruction.

The entire lot of teachers were divided into groups of four. Handouts of the articles along with a graphic organizer were distributed to aid discussion and scaffold learning. The strategy involves four distinct processes namely predicting, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing – each of which were modelled to the teachers and are described below:

Predicting: Teachers, in groups, wrote down what they thought the topic of the learning material entails. This was based on whatever they were able to infer from the heading, sub-headings, illustrations and infographics prior to reading the article in the handout. Later, after reading the article, they had to either confirm or reject their predictions based on the evidence they encountered in the article.

Questioning: As teachers read the material, they noted questions that arose in their mind with respect to its teaching implication in their classroom. Questions they could discuss with others teachers in the group.

Clarifying: Whenever a question about the adoption of teaching ideas presented in the material cropped up or parts of the material warranted clarity, possibly on account of reference to unfamiliar tools, techniques or terminology, teachers were encouraged to search online or seek help from others in the group.

Summarizing: After engaging with the learning material through the three processes outlined above, each group fielded a teacher to summarize the key takeaways the group had collectively arrived at to everyone one present.

a. Grouping in small numbers make teachers comfortable to open up, discuss and share freely in a non-judgemental and fear-free environment. This rarely happens in large groups or during formal interactions.
b. Teachers feel valued for having an equal say and having contributed meaningfully when the context is well-defined and focussed during the discussion phase in expert groups.
c. Each teacher gets engaged in absorbing the content and understanding its implications in teaching.
d. The discussions in the expert group facilitate better assimilation and internalization of the principles.
e. Since every teacher has to go back to the breakout/jigsaw groups to make an informal presentation about the learning insights garnered during the discussion in the expert groups, he/she is completely invested in the learning process.
f. Collaborative learning fosters a conducive learning environment for teachers to share insights on the learning modules based on their own real classroom experiences thus creating a culture of sharing best practices through peer learning.
g. The Jigsaw Strategy was preferred over the Reciprocal Teaching collaborative strategy chiefly because the variation of the Reciprocal Teaching strategy used in the training was poorly executed. A better and more effective variation of the Reciprocal Teaching strategy where roles are assigned to model each cognitive process and keep changing for different chunks of the learning material would have yielded better results in making every group member accountable and engaged through active participation as evidenced in the Jigsaw Strategy.

The following glitches were experienced while using the two collaborative learning strategies:
a) The discussions in groups may not be well regulated or moderated. This can lead to digression from the topic.
b) These strategies do not bode well with a significant percentage of teachers who process information better and consequently internalize ideas by going over the learning content in a self-paced manner.
c) Strong opinions articulated and confrontationist attitude exhibited by dominant members during discussions can affect the group dynamics and become an obstacle in free exchange of perspectives and interpretations.
d) Prolonged discussions in expert groups using Jigsaw Strategy leaves less time for presentation in breakout groups.
e) Asking teachers to carry out all the four processes in the Reciprocal Teaching strategy individually through the use of the graphic organizer did not prove very effective. Individual accountability was found missing among those teachers who took a back seat by relinquishing their contribution to the articulate ones in the group.


  1. The benefits of using collaborative learning strategies are far too many to be ignored. The simple strategies when planned and implemented properly serve well to make the training sessions interactive, engaging, and act as a stimulus for learning.
  2. Learning through collaboration not only relieves monotony of plodding through new learning material alone and struggling to see the immediate application in localized context but offers space to air and clear misconceptions, clarify and broaden one’s understanding by being receptive to multiple perspectives and interpretations.
  3. Learning is made joyful through the opportunity to have an immersive learning experience through stimulating interactions among teachers, thus motivating them to experiment with the pedagogical ideas in actual classroom scenario rather than just retaining the theoretical knowledge in their teaching repertoire.
  4. Goal directed task management enables meaningful interactions and ensures both individual as well as group accountability towards learning.
  5. Limitations of using cooperative learning strategies can be overcome with clear cut instructions on the code of conduct and time management that would regulate the sessions and realize the intended objectives.
  6. Assessment is a key factor to check for learning gaps and plug them immediately. So, immediate feedback in the form of a quiz needs to be integrated into every training session to complete the learning cycle.
  7. Having had a firsthand experience of how joyful and effective collaborative learning strategies are in promoting good learning, teachers have the added advantage of knowing the nitty gritty of these powerful strategies in order to use them in the classroom for an invigorating learning experience for their students.

Note: The collaborative learning strategy was first used in Teacher Training in January 2022 at Delhi Public School, Coimbatore in the online mode. After seeing the positive impact, the effective use of the strategy has had on the quality of training, it has now become the mainstay of the in-house training programme and is being successfully used week after week with the added component of assessment in the form of multiple-choice quiz that teachers take at the end of the presentations in the breakout groups. The assessment makes the learning cycle complete and fosters a spirit of competition among the groups!

• A brief overview of the Jigsaw Strategy:
• A demonstration of Reciprocal Teaching in actual class setting:

The author is the Lead Teacher, Training at Delhi Public School Patna, Pune, Ludhiana and Coimbatore functioning under the aegis of the Takshila Educational Society. She teaches English and Life Skills at senior and senior secondary levels at Delhi Public School Coimbatore and can be reached at

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