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Dr. Spencer Kagan

An Interview with Spencer

Dr. Spencer Kagan

To cite this article: Kagan, S. An Interview with Spencer. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Spring 2002. www.KaganOnline.com

The Independent Day School in Tampa Florida led by Joyce Swarzman, is a model Kagan school. For the past several years, Dr. Spencer Kagan has been working with the IDS staff. Each year, they open up the school to educators to see Kagan Structures in action. Mary Toothman interviewed Dr. Kagan regarding Kagan Structures, and his work with IDS.

Below are excerpts from the interview.


Q: Why Kagan?

A: Kagan Structures are a revolutionary approach to delivering the most important educational innovations. They are based on the concept of an "embedded curriculum." Almost all other approaches to educational innovation attempts to change what is learned by changing what is taught. That is, if the teacher wants students to learn higher-level thinking skills, the teacher takes time from regular academic curriculum and presents a lesson on higher-level thinking. If the teacher wants students to acquire character virtues, the teacher teaches lessons on honesty, responsibility, or citizenship. If the teacher wants the students to learn cooperative skills the teacher teaches a lesson on those skills.

Kagan Structures are different. Using the Kagan Structures, teachers do not take time away from regular academic content to teach lessons on character, cooperation, higher-level thinking, multiple intelligences, emotional intelligence, or any of the other many educational innovations. Kagan Structures do not attempt to deliver educational innovations through what is taught. Rather they transform what is learned by changing how teachers teach. There is a curriculum embedded in instruction.

For example, through the use of Kagan cooperative structures, while learning regular academic content, students learn to become more cooperative. Through the use of Kagan character structures students learn the value of honesty and respect. The Kagan structures pull from the student higher-level thinking while they are learning traditional academic content. The advantage: No time is taken from regular content and students perform better on traditional content while acquiring the additional embedded curriculum. And it works better. If the teacher teaches a lesson on honesty or on higher-level thinking in the fall, the students are unlikely to be more honest or be better thinkers by the end of the school year. If the teacher uses Kagan Structures all year, the students are acquiring honesty and higher-level thinking all school year!

Q: Why Kagan again? (Do teachers benefit from repeat Kagan training? How and/or Why?)

A: We have been developing Kagan Structures for over twenty years. There are now almost 200 structures. Some are designed to improve reading, math, and the other content areas. There are Kagan Structures for a wide range of outcomes:

• Higher-Level Thinking
• Cooperative Learning
• Character Development
• Communication Skills
• Mastery of Academic Content
• Teambuilding and Classbuilding
• Brain-Based Learning
• Multiple Intelligences
• Emotional Intelligence


Many schools find it useful for teachers to master one set of these structures at a time so neither the teachers nor the students get overwhelmed. While each structure is relatively easy to learn, it would be overwhelming to try to learn them all at once. But the more structures a teachers learns and uses, the richer the curriculum acquired by students.

Q: Why is it important to have this type of training?

A: It turns out that the embedded curriculum delivered by Kagan Structures is actually more important than the traditional academic content. For example, will a student be more empowered by learning one more history fact, or by learning higher-level thinking skills? Will a student be better prepared for life by memorizing a science fact or by learning how to work cooperatively with others? The miracle of the Kagan Structures, though, is that when the structures are used students achieve better on traditional academic content AND learn the embedded curriculum — a life skills — curriculum.

Q: Why is it helpful to have schools such as IDS serve as models?

A: IDS, under Joyce Swarzman's leadership, has become a model school for Kagan Structures. Teachers from around the United States and even other countries have visited IDS to see Kagan Structures in action. The power of the structures is not best conveyed by words or pictures, but by seeing the reactions of students. By visiting IDS teachers see the simplicity of using Kagan Structures and the tremendous engagement and learning they produce. Because so many of the IDS teachers have become experts in the Kagan Structures, visitors become inspired and have an opportunity to ask questions of expert practitioners.

Q: One last question: Do you ever get tired of doing the seminars?

A: Laurie and I train tens of thousands of teachers a year, visiting many countries each year to share our methods. "Yes, for sure we get tired. But do we ever get tired of doing the seminars? No. It is the teachers and students that keep us going. When we see the positive reaction of teachers and their students, we are buoyed up. We know we have great methods to share and love to make a positive difference in the lives of teachers and students. As students become better at thinking and caring and learning, they go out into the world better prepared to make good decisions and to create a better world. They are our future.

Thanks Spencer!

Thank you Mary!