Kagan Cooperative Learning

Several years ago the district I was teaching in at the time sent three other teachers and myself to a week long workshop.  I was dreading it.  I had just finished my Master’s degree and during that time I had quickly realized I don’t do well on the other side of the desk and here I was going to be sitting in a room six hours a day for five days.  I just knew I was going to be bored out of my mind.  I could not have been more wrong!

Kagan Cooperative Learning is the brain child of Dr. Spencer Kagan.  Unlike what many of us experienced in schools that was supposed to be cooperative learning and was in reality group work where one or two people did all of the work this is truly cooperative, everyone takes a turn, everyone participates.  I LOVE IT!

Walking into the large ballroom where the conference was being held we were met with music, food, a little shop, posters, just a fun atmosphere.  It was that first step through the door that began changing my mind.  We didn’t just get lectured to, we weren’t just given a list of pre-generated ideas, we weren’t bored to tears.  We were first put into teams just as students are put into teams for Kagan structures.  Now they didn’t team us the exact same way rather we were in teams of teachers with similar disciplines and grade levels the first day or two.  As each new structure or bit of information was introduced we tried it ourselves, there was a slide show of ways other teachers had used it, and then we were given time to brainstorm with our team other ways we might use it.  From the first day I couldn’t wait to get home to start planning and get school started so I could use the structures.  My team the first few days got along so well that we were rather disappointed when we had to switch teams, fortunately near the end of the conference we switched again and managed to meet up, which gave me a hint of something to watch for in my students LOL.

When we got back home my co-teacher and I began planning and looking at how we would use the structures in class.  While I was excited about the prospect of what might happen when utilizing these structures I was still nervous and wondering if it would work for my kids.  We teamed our kids and routinely did class building and team building activities but it was the first time we used a structure in class rather than the typical teacher ask a question and wait for kids to answer that convinced that this was the best thing I’d ever come across, and five years later I’m still convinced, every time I use a structure it just reaffirms for me this is a great program.

Let me share with you that first experience, well as much as I can remember as some details are lost from the excitement :).  We were reading The Outsiders with our eighth grade classes always a good book to get discussion from but in the traditional classroom style we had used previously there were still kids that were able to just sit back and let others do the talking.  We read a chapter and stopped to ask a question as we normally did, however this time we asked all the kids to first think. *Think time is one of my favorite parts of the Kagan structures as it requires me to stop and allow all kids enough time to think, we all know not every kid comes up with answers right away and yet often in our effort to keep class going and get everything covered we call on that first hand or two before all the kids have even had a chance to think.  I actually count slowly with my fingers to ten before giving further instructions with Think Time, and have found that when I do pose a question in the traditional style I allow more time between asking the question and calling on someone.  I also don’t allow my kids to raise their hands during think time, I don’t want slower thinkers/processors to become discouraged because others already know what they want to say* OK back to the scene: Kids are thinking and no I don’t remember the question I wish I did, finally we explain they will be doing a Round Robin, each student will answer the question they are allowed to pass once but when the others are done sharing they have to share something.  Students are also not allowed to just say “I agree with Robin.” they must give a reason why they agree.  We told them the person closest to the door would go first and they would share clockwise around the table.  Nervously I said “Go” and then we just grinned at each other as the kids started talking, 25% talking at once and almost everyone else engaged and listening.  The comments were insightful, kids felt safer knowing they only had to share with three others rather than with the whole class.  We grinned at each other, I know I for one quite literally began jumping for joy which did not distract the kids at all as they were quite used to my strangeness 🙂  Even better after the Round Robin we chose one student from each team to share something said in their group, it did not have to be their own idea just something heard.  one particularly quiet girl turned red but smiled when her teammate shared what she had said and others in the class reacted positively.  We began to use this follow-up each time we did a reading response RR.  Kids came out of their shells more and more, that quiet girl began raising her hand on those occasions where we did ask questions more traditionally.  It was just so exhilarating, I can’t stop smiling now remembering it and thinking about how it works in my room right now.  

If you ever have a chance to go to a Kagan training GO, GO, GO!!!  Find a way and go!  I attended another one day workshop and can’t wait to go back for more!

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