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Dr. Spencer Kagan

Excellence & Equity

Cooperative instructional practices create an inclusive classroom climate in which self-esteem and positive race-relations blossom. That climate improves academic achievement for all students, especially for students who otherwise are likely to be excluded and alienated. Students who feel more accepted and included are more likely to participate, ask for and offer help to peers, and receive peer encouragement for achievement.

A more inclusive classroom and higher self-esteem predict more participation, which in turn boosts engagement and achievement. Students who feel more liked and accepted and who are more confident are more likely to participate, feeling less fear of failure.

Greater participation is built into the cooperative learning structures. When we analyze the difference between traditional and cooperative classroom instructional practices, we find an obvious explanation of the progressive achievement gap in traditional classrooms. When cooperative learning is not used, the most common strategy teachers use to produce active engagement among students is to ask a question and then have students raise their hands to be called upon to answer. But who raises their hands and who does not? When we use traditional instructional strategies shy, insecure, unmotivated, alienated, and low achieving students often hide — they simply do not raise their hands. With regard to producing active participation, the traditional structure is extremely biased in favor of the high achievers. We end up with a subgroup of students who often or always participate, and another subgroup of students who seldom or never participate. In the traditional classroom, we call most on those students who least need the practice, and we call least on those who most need the practice! When cooperative learning structures are used, the teacher may ask the same question of students, but does not call on one to respond. Rather the teacher calls on all students to respond, having them engage in structures like RallyRobin or Timed Pair Share. In the same amount of time that a teacher in the traditional classroom can call on and respond to three or four students, each giving one response, the teacher using cooperative learning structures has every student in the class give several answers! Neuroplasticity predicts the learning result: To learn is to grow dendrite tracks. Neurons that fire together wire together. If we use neuron tracks, we grow them; if we don’t, learning does not occur. The results of brain research parallel the results of classroom participation: Use it or lose it! In traditional classrooms we stimulate and grow the brains of our higher achievers, but fail to stimulate and grow the brains of those most in need. With cooperative learning structures in place, we grow all brains.

This analysis partially explains the progressive school achievement gap as well as differential dropout between low achieving and minority students. Beginning in the early grades, low achieving and minority students are less likely to participate and to risk failure in front of the whole class in traditional classrooms that lack a supportive, inclusive class climate. Not receiving as much practice or reward, they become even lower achieving, more alienated, and even less likely to participate. So, as they progress through the grades, lower achieving students in traditional classrooms increasingly leave it to the high achieving students to raise their hands to be called on. With each successive grade, our lower achievers progressively drop out psychologically, participating less and less. Finally, psychological dropout converts to physical dropout. Dropout is refusal among low achieving students to continue playing a losing game.

Mills Hill Elementary School in England has posted extremely dramatic gains in excellence and equity by adopting Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures. As part of a leadership team cross-school survey of the impact of cooperative learning,14 teachers attributed the gains to the peer support in cooperative learning compared to the isolation and alienation created by traditional instructional strategies. Some teachers were choked up as they described the transformation resulting from cooperative learning:

“It was a real lump in your throat moment; they’d say, ‘before you just sat there and you didn’t know what was going on and you were frightened to ask, but now you can just ask your friends, or ask your team’. You just got an idea of how that child had been going through school and you just don’t realise; it was a very powerful moment.”

Students at Mills Hill explained the power of cooperative learning quite simply:

“Working with my team helped me do things I couldn’t on my own. We did this thing on our table called RallyRobin and you talk with your partner and take turns in sharing ideas.”

The failure to create engagement among all students in the traditional classroom extends beyond Question-Answer time. During independent practice, students are on their own. With little to no support, they often find repeated worksheet work boring or difficult, and often tune out. In contrast, students in the cooperative learning classroom are placed in teams. The instructional strategies are designed so that students are on the same side as their teammate; there is a high degree of interaction; everyone is held individually accountable for participating. In engaging structures like Sage-N-Scribe and Pairs Compare, students take turns responding, receiving encouragement and praise, and tutoring if necessary. Students keep each other engaged. It is this greater engagement of all students that best explains the increased excellence and equity that we find. We need only observe the dramatic, intense engagement among all students to comprehend the remarkable outcomes of cooperative learning research. Structural conditions encourage full and equal participation for all students. Plus students have the support of their peers. Simply put, cooperative learning engages every student while traditional instruction engages a select few. Why would we consciously elect to engage just our elite students when we can just as easily engage every mind in the classroom?

Cooperative learning engages every student while traditional instruction engages a select few. Why would we consciously elect to engage just our elite students when we can just as easily engage every mind in the classroom?

The Instructional Solution

We have in our hands simple yet powerful tools proven to accelerate both excellence and equity. We have a research-proven, school-tested solution to educational recovery. To revolutionize educational outcomes we need only to invest in our teachers. We need only to train our teachers in proven instructional strategies and create ongoing support for their implementation. The need is clear. The data is in. We lack only the will. We have it in our power to create a schooling system aligned with our drive for excellence and our commitment to democratic principles. In the face of the evidence, why would we choose educational practices that engage only some learners? Why would we call on one student when in the same amount of time, we can call on all students? Why would we continue to tolerate practices that foster alienation and drop out for some of our pupils, if we can easily create fully inclusive classrooms that foster a realization of full potential of every student?

 

References

1. Kagan, S. & Kagan, M. Kagan Cooperative Learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing, 2009.

2. The National Commission on Excellence in Education. A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1983.

3. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Education at a Glance 2007: OCED Indicators. Paris, France: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2007. http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/4/55/39313286.pdf

4. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. National Assessment of Educational Progress. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 2003.

5. Ellis, A. K. & Fouts, J., T. Research on Educational Innovations. Princeton Junction, NJ: Eye on Education, 1993.

6. Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D. J. & Pollock, J. E. Classroom Instruction that Works. Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2001.

7. Slavin, R. E. How student learning teams can integrate the desegregated classroom. Integrated Education, 1977, 15, 56-58.

8. Aronson, E., Blaney, N., Stephan, C., Sikes, J., & Snapp, M. The Jigsaw Classroom. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1978.

9. Slavin, R. E., & Oickle, E. Effects of learning teams on student achievement and race relations: Treatment by race interactions. Sociology of Education, 1981, 54, 174-180.

10. Kagan, S. Zahn, G. L., Widaman, K., Schwarzwald, J. & Tyrrell, G. Classroom Structural Bias: Impact of Cooperative and Competitive Classroom Structures on Cooperative and Competitive Individuals and Groups. In R. Slavin, S. Sharan, S. Kagan, R. Hertz-Lazarowitz, C. Webb & R. Schmuck (Eds.) Learning to Cooperate, Cooperating to Learn. New York: Plenum, 1985.

11. Case Study 4: Berkeley Elementary School. In Kagan, S. & Kagan, M. Kagan Cooperative Learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing, 2009, p. 3.13. Data from Florida Department of Education, 2007, www.fldoe.org.

12. Kagan, S. & Kagan, M. Chapter 4: Why Does Cooperative Learning Work? In Kagan Cooperative Learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing, 2009.

13. Kagan, S. Zahn, G. L., Widaman, K., Schwarzwald, J. & Tyrrell, G. Classroom Structural Bias: Impact of Cooperative and Competitive Classroom Structures on Cooperative and Competitive Individuals and Groups. In R. Slavin, S. Sharan, S. Kagan, R. Hertz-Lazarowitz, C. Webb & R. Schmuck (Eds.) Learning to Cooperate, Cooperating to Learn. New York: Plenum, 1985.

14. Mills Hill Primary School, Chadderton, Oldham. National College for School Leadership Report, 2008. http://www.ncsl.org.uk/personalisinglearning-index/personalisinglearning-casestudies.htm#mills