Complex Instruction - Raising Achievement Through Group Worthy Tasks

Stage: 2, 3, 4 and 5

Many NRICH tasks have been designed with group work in mind. Here we have gathered together a collection of short articles that outline the merits of collaborative work, together with examples of teachers' classroom practice.


How Complex Instruction led to High and Equitable Achievement: The Case of Railside School
by Jo Boaler

This paper introduces the work of a group of equity-oriented teachers in an inner city school in California, who brought about amazing progress in mathematics. The teachers used an approach called 'Complex Instruction', to bring about high achievements and great enjoyment of mathematics among students.

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Here is a video clip of Jo Boaler talking about Complex Instruction.

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An example of Railside School students working on a group-worthy task
A short article by Jo Boaler

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Complex Instruction in England - the journey, the new schools, and initial results
by Jo Boaler, Lori Altendorff & Geoff Kent

The schools in the UK that have moved to a 'Complex Instruction' approach are in the early stages of moving to a new way of working. Our observations of the classroom environments, and interviews with students and teachers, tell us that the changes the teachers are making have been extremely positive for the students.


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Here are two video clips of classes in the UK working on a group-worthy task.
For details of the problem used in these clips, see Counting Cogs.

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Promoting student collaboration in a detracked, heterogeneous secondary mathematics classroom
by Megan Staples

This study offers an analysis of one teacher's role in creating a classroom system that supports collaborative interaction among students as they work in mixed ability (detracked) groups on open-ended, non-routine tasks. The analysis focuses on how the teacher creates some structure to support student collaboration, but not overly constrain interactions, as students need autonomy to productively work on non-routine problem solving tasks. The analysis emphasises the classroom as a system with interrelated components that provide a set of constraints and affordances for student interaction.

If you are more interested in the findings than in the research methodology, you may want to read the introductory section and then skip to the Results which begin at the bottom of page 15.

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Chapter 1 of "The Elephant in the Classroom: Helping Children Learn & Love Maths"
by Jo Boaler, published by Souvenir Press, 2009.

front cover


The book can be purchased here







It is also published in the USA by Penguin, under the title:
"What's Math Got To Do With It? Helping Children Learn to Love Their Least Favorite Subject - and Why It's Important for America."

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The problems published in May 2010 are particularly suited to group work. The Teachers' Notes suggest how they can be used in the classroom, and of course, a similar approach can be used with many other NRICH tasks.