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Kagan Cooperative Learning Chapter 1

Multiple Intelligences, Differentiated Instruction


Doesn’t frequent use of cooperative learning counter the need for differentiated instruction? If I have some students in my class several grade levels above others, how does it make sense to have them on the same team and doing the same work?

As we have moved toward full inclusion and away from tracking, we have moved to greater heterogeneity within our classrooms. This is one of the greatest challenges any teacher faces, and the response has been a great clamoring for differentiated instruction. How do I teach in the Zone of Proximal Development for all my students? Given vastly different achievement levels, how can I make my curriculum developmentally appropriate for every student?

It turns out that almost all Kagan Structures can be adjusted for differentiated instruction. See Chapter 6: Structures. For example, while we teach with Quiz-Quiz-Trade, the teacher may color-code the question cards and have students with a green card (low difficulty) trade only with others with green cards; students with orange cards (medium difficulty) trade with others with orange cards; and students with red cards (high difficulty) trade with others with red cards. Or to take another example, during RallyCoach some pairs might be working on one set of problems, and other pairs another set of problems. In fact with 15 pairs in the classroom, there can be as many as 15 levels of differentiation!


Doesn’t frequent use of cooperative learning counter multiple intelligences theory? Some students are interpersonal/social; others are not. Shouldn’t we teach students using their strengths? Shouldn’t we teach different students differently?


We believe strongly that we should teach students by matching our instruction to their strengths. Matching is one of the three visions of Multiple Intelligences theory.16 If matching were our only goal, and we had to teach just one way to match as many students as possible, we would gravitate to cooperative learning. Why? The preferred learning style of most students is to work cooperatively rather than competitively or individualistically.17 The cooperative structures do include an interpersonal, social component, but most engage and develop a range of intelligences. By using a variety of structures, we match students’ many ways to be smart.

But there is much more to MI theory than matching. The second vision in MI theory is Stretching. That is, we want to develop the non-dominant intelligences of each student. When we teach using any cooperative learning structure, we match the dominant intelligence of some students, but we also provide stretching for others. For example, if we use Draw It! (a structure in which students draw the curriculum concepts), we create a match for students who are strong in the visual/spatial intelligence; but at the same time we provide a stretch for students who are weak in the visual/spatial intelligence. By having all students work part of the time in cooperative teams, we ensure that those students weak in the interpersonal/social intelligence learn interpersonal/social skills. They become better prepared with employability, parenting, and relationship skills. They get a stretch, developing character virtues and aspects of their emotional intelligence.

The third vision of MI theory is Celebrating. By teaching using a wide range of structures that engage the full spectrum of intelligences, students come to appreciate their own unique pattern of intelligence and that of others. A student who has trouble with Logic Line-Ups might excel with Team Word Webbing. As students experience success by using their strengths, they get a boost in self-esteem and are better appreciated by teammates. By teaching with a wide range of structures, we allow students and their teammates to appreciate the unique gifts each person brings to the team.

When we teach using any cooperative learning structure, we match the dominant intelligence of some students, but develop a non-dominant intelligence for others.