Kagan Cooperative Learning Chapter 1

How Do I Get Started, Convince Others?


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Since I have been using Kagan Structures, my whole attitude toward teaching has changed. Students are achieving more and liking school more. I used to look forward to retirement, but now I look forward to teaching. Every teacher should know about and use these methods. How can I convince others to use cooperative learning?

 

After experiencing the power of Kagan Structures first-hand at our workshops, teachers regularly have a teaching epiphany. They immediately see the power of Kagan Structures. They ask, “Why didn’t we learn about this sooner?” or “How can I share Kagan in my school?” Structures make the teaching and learning experience much more fun—not just for students, but for teachers as well. Many teachers who are regularly using structures are appalled to walk by classrooms in which students are all quietly sitting in rows facing forward—some listening to the teacher, but many bored, tuned-out.

It is our experience that you cannot convince teachers of the power of cooperative learning structures by talking about the structures or your positive experiences with the structures. To become convinced, teachers need to experience the structures. It usually does not work to invite reluctant teachers in to see structures at work in your own classroom. The resistant teacher says, “But that would never work with my students.”

Thus we have advocated two ways of convincing teachers: 1) have them experience the structures in a workshop and have them derive the rationale from their own experience; and 2) do demonstration lessons in their own classroom, with their own students, working on their own regular academic content. When teachers see how engaged their own students can be, and how well they retain the content because they have processed the content using interactive structures, they become convinced.

The other thing that has been very helpful in melting resistance is to emphasize there is no need to change everything. Ask the resistant teacher to simply try an occasional RallyRobin. Let the teacher and his/her students become comfortable with one new, simple structure. Work within the comfort level of the teacher so resistance melts. It is when we ask more of a teacher than they are comfortable doing that we meet resistance. After all, how difficult is it to stop talking, ask students to find a partner, and have students take turns talking?

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I have seen the evidence, and I’m committed to trying cooperative learning structures. How do I get started?
 

Actually, you have gotten started! You are reading this book. In this book you will find a world of resources—the theory and the practical strategies to get you started using Kagan Structures. We recommend you start with very simple structures like RoundRobin, RallyRobin, and Timed Pair Share. Take an easy structure and use it one time. Ask yourself afterwards how it went, and how you could make it go even better. Use that same structure again. Gradually you and your students will become more comfortable with the structure, until it becomes just part of the way you teach. When you are really comfortable with one structure, begin using a second structure. Always stay within your comfort zone and that of your students.

To minimize resistance among your students, when you introduce any new structure, begin with very easy, fun content. For example, if the structure is a RoundRobin, have students do a RoundRobin describing fun things to do after school. If you are a high school math teacher, don’t make the first RoundRobin naming prime numbers! If students think they might not succeed, they will avoid failure by putting down the task. “This is stupid” is code for, “I am afraid to fail in front of my peers.” It is much less threatening for students to say, “This is a stupid task” than to say, “I am afraid.” Make sure the students know they will be successful, and resistance melts.

"Kagan Structures need to be taught to every teacher! It makes the classroom a safe place for all students to be able to learn in a fun way."—Linda Almarales, Reading Coach K–3

We recommend you take a Kagan workshop. This may sound like a sales pitch. It is. As much as we have tried to convey the power of structures through writing this book, we know there is no substitute for experiencing the structures and being guided by an expert trainer. It is very difficult to offer to our students what we have not experienced. The structures feel very different from the inside than they look like from the outside, and to really understand what we are offering our students when we use structures, we need to experience them ourselves. The Kagan workshops provide tips and guidance that go beyond anything that can be conveyed in writing.

Get support. Find at least one other teacher who is using the structures so you can share and problem solve together. Make use of the Kagan online discussion board. If you have a question about how to use a structure, want suggestions for content for your class, or if you simply want to share, post your question or idea on Kagan’s discussion board.25 You will receive responses within a day or two. We are here to help you get answers to your questions and to support your work in cooperative learning.