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Dr. Spencer Kagan

From Lessons to Structures - A Paradigm Shift for 21st Century Education

Dr. Spencer Kagan

To cite this article: Kagan, S. From Lessons to Structures – A Paradigm Shift for 21st Century Education. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Spring 2004. www.KaganOnline.com

"You do not get out of a problem by using the same consciousness that got you into it."
— Albert Einstein

Education has attempted to solve problems of the 21st Century by using 20th Century concepts. And it just won't work. We have attempted to meet the needs of today's students and today's society using a lesson-based approach to curriculum and instruction that simply cannot meet the challenge. The result has been a frantic replacement cycle in which teachers, schools, and districts repeatedly adopt one type of lesson only to abandon that approach in favor of the next promising innovation that comes down the pipeline. Teachers become jaded as they are asked to set aside last year's new thing in favor of this year's new thing. Spending a year or two on character education, they are asked to move on to multiple intelligences, only to be asked to move on to brain-based or differentiated instruction. A year or two on each new innovation leaves good programs shelved in favor of the next in a string of promising innovations. It will never add up. We don't transform the nation's character with a year or two on character if we then move on. We don't prepare students for the independent workplace with a year or two on cooperative learning, moving on to next year's new thing. The problem: the lesson. As long as we continue to worship the lesson as the basic unit of instruction, we will be stuck in this continuing cycle of replacing one good innovation with another, or attempting to layer on one more dimension to already too complex lessons. As Einstein suggests, the solution is adopting a new consciousness. The educational community needs a whole new perspective. We need a paradigm shift.

The 21st Century Challenge
As we enter the new millennium, a number of factors are converging to make many teachers' jobs appear impossible.

We have federally-mandated higher academic standards. A carrot is dangled before schools to score higher, with a stick ready in case they don't. But just scoring higher on tests is a narrow view of education. We have expanded our notion of intelligence — we want to develop students many ways to be smart. Our workforce has become more global and interdependent — we want students to acquire teamwork and social skills. Technology is expanding at a dizzying rate — we attempt to teach students technology skills. The change rate is accelerating out of control — we move from memorizing facts that will be outdated to teaching thinking skills that will serve students well as they cope with the ever-expanding information base. Our social structure is changing too — the burden of teaching social skills, emotional skills, and good character increasingly falls upon teachers.

We face demands to deliver increasingly sophisticated curriculum while at the same time, we face increasingly difficult classroom situations. Our student population is becoming more diverse. In 1950 the population in the Untied States was 90% white; by 2050 it will be 50%. Today, we hear Spanish, Armenian, Korean, Filipino, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Russian, Farsi, Khmer, Arabic, Punjabi, Mandarin, Chiu Chow, Hebrew and Thai—and those are just the most widely spoken languages of the more than 80 identified in the Los Angeles Unified School District. There is increasing diversity as well in achievement levels; the achievement gap between the high and low achievers, between minority and low-income students vs. majority and high-income students, increases with each grade level.

We can meet all of these challenges — but not with a 20th Century concept of teaching. What is needed is a 21st Century approach. Before exploring the proposed paradigm shift, lets take a detour: Let's review in abridged form the history of the transition from 20th to 21st Century education. Following that, I will offer a new perceptual mindset and practical teaching tools that achieve higher standards, while meeting the myriad demands posed by the 21st Century shifts in society and student populations.

20th Century View
Curriculum vs. Instruction
Curriculum "What" Instruction "How"

• Math
• Language Arts
• Science
• Social Studies

• Teacher-Directed Lessons (Sage on the Stage)
• Chalk and Talk
• Seat Work
• Whole-Class Question -Answer
• Worksheets

Historically, The Task Was Simple. The task facing educators a century ago was relatively simple. The teacher needed to prepare students with accepted knowledge and skills. To do well, a student needed the same reading, writing, and arithmetic knowledge and skills as did his/her parents and their parents before them. And to provide that well-established knowledge and those skills, the teacher could rely on long-accepted instructional strategies — chalk and talk lecture, whole-class question-answer, drill and practice. The student lacked knowledge and skills; the job of the teacher was to stand and deliver. Over-simplified somewhat, let's call it the 20th Century view of education.

The World Changed. As a result of economic and social transformations, the 20th Century view of education became a thing of the past. With an accelerating change rate, we shifted first from an agricultural to an industrial then from an industrial to an information-based economy. With these changes a teacher could no longer predict with confidence the kinds of knowledge and skills her/his students would be working with over the course of their lifetime. And demographics shifted. People began moving to where the jobs were. As a result stable, traditional community support systems broke down. Grandparents became a phone call, not a living presence in the home. Transmission of traditional values could no longer be assumed. Both parents needed to work so children were not acquiring character virtues and social skills at home. But having two parents is no longer assured. Today a third of all children born in the United States are born out of wedlock. The struggling single parent becomes more and more common. Parents have less contact with their children; help with homework or teaching the difference between right and wrong can no longer be assumed. Teachers face unmotivated, under-socialized, unruly students. Where once sat John Boy Walton, Bart Simpson now sits!

21st Century Challenges

Academic Challenges
• A Nation At Risk (U.S. vs. world achievement)
• The Standards and Testing Movement
• The Achievement Gap
• No Child Left Behind

Economic Challenges
• Shift from agriculture to industry to information
• Shift from independence to interdependence

Social Challenges
• Breakdown of Family
• School Violence
• Lack of Community
• Aging Population

With these changes, educators today face a radically different set of challenges. Today we have to prepare students to work and live in a world we can only dimly imagine. Most students entering kindergarten today will work in a job category not yet created. Providing students with facts and information is of little value when the information-doubling rate is measured in months rather than centuries. As we entered the 21st Century, educators responded to the challenge by calling for thinking skills rather than rote memorization, process over content, and various ways to fill the socialization void, including the development of social skills, character virtues, emotional intelligence, and leadership skills. New understandings of individual differences and greater heterogeneity among students led to the cry for teachers to use brain-based instructional strategies to teach to the multiple intelligences, respond to the various learning styles, and to differentiate curriculum and instruction. Interdependence in the workplace led employers to demand schools prepare students with social and teamwork skills helping to fuel the cooperative learning movement. Diversity skills and the ability to work well with others from differing backgrounds is an essential component of education for success in the 21st Century.

21st Century View
Curriculum vs. Instruction
Curriculum "What" Instruction "How"

Grammar
• Writing Process
• History Facts
• Historical Perspective
• Math Facts
• Math Process
• Science Facts
• Science Process
• Character Development
• Emotional Intelligence
• Employability Skills
• Leadership Skills
• Multiple Intelligences
• Social Skills
• Teamwork Skills
• Thinking Skills
• Diversity Skills

• Elements of Effective Instruction
• Teacher-Directed Lessons
• Cooperative Learning
• Multiple Intelligences
• Learning Styles
• Brain-Based Instruction
• Differentiated Instruction

Lessons Make the Task Impossible. As more and more demands were layered onto the teacher, given the traditional reliance on the lesson as the unit of instruction, the job of the teacher became more and more impossible. How can the teacher design and teach lessons on traditional math, language, social studies, and science, then create lessons on process skills in each of those academic content areas, and then, on top of that, design and deliver additional lessons to engage and develop the students' multiple intelligences, respond to their various learning styles, and teach brain-based, differentiated lessons to develop social skills, character virtues, emotional intelligence, leadership skills, teamwork skills, and higher-level thinking skills? There isn't time in the school day or school year to teach that many lessons, to deliver that complex and differentiated a curriculum using all of the instructional strategies that have been proposed to meet the needs of students for the 21st Century.

How can the teacher design and teach lessons on traditional math, language, social studies, and science, then create lessons on process skills in each of those academic content areas, and then, on top of that, design and deliver additional lessons to engage and develop the students' multiple intelligences, respond to their various learning styles, and teach brain-based, differentiated lessons to develop social skills, character virtues, emotional intelligence, leadership skills, teamwork skills, and higher level thinking skills?

The response of school administrators has been frantic. It is the uncommon administrator who has resisted the temptation to latch on to each new educational innovation in turn as it is offered with the promise to meet the myriad demands of 21st Century education. When elements of effective instruction proved not to be panacea, schools shifted from one program to the next, including cooperative learning, character education, multiple intelligences, emotional intelligence, learning styles, brain-based learning, and differentiated instruction. As Michael Fullan has indicated, it takes a minimum of three years to achieve full implementation of one of these programs. The mathematics of that three-year formula will never add up, it is impossible: What is three years multiplied by each of the seven instructional programs mentioned? Over twenty years! In those twenty years, how many new programs will have come down the educational pipeline? And that is not counting all the curriculum programs teachers are now required to master, and those remaining to be developed!

Problems with the
Lesson-Based Approach
Curriculum "What" Instruction "How"

Traditional Curriculum
• Math
• Language Arts
• Science
• Social Studies

"Layered On" Curriculum
• Thinking Skills
• Teamwork Skills
• Social Skills
• Character Education
• Emotional Intelligence
• Multiple Intelligences
• Leadership Skills
• Diversity Skills

and what next?

The Lesson-Based Approach
• Brain-Based Learning Lessons
• Elements of Effective Instruction
• Character Education Lessons
• Cooperative Learning Lessons
• Employability Skills Lessons
• Emotional Intelligence Lessons
• Leadership Skills Lessons
• Multiple Intelligences Lessons
• Social Skills Lessons
• Teamwork Skills Lessons
• Thinking Skills Lessons
• Differentiated Instruction

3-5 Years Each. It's Impossible!

Lessons Feed the Replacement Cycle. What has resulted in most schools and districts is a rapid replacement cycle of educational innovation. The school or district adopts a new program, say character education, trains the teachers in the program, teachers adopt and create all new lessons, and after a year or two the school or district switches to yet another program. This frantic adopting and then dropping of one program (and their correlative lessons) after another will never add up. We go into a classroom where the school has moved to the next program and ask, what happened to the character lessons? The teacher responds, "We were into character last year, this year we have moved on to multiple intelligences." Students do not acquire all the character virtues they will need for a lifetime in a year or two. They do not fully develop all their intelligences in a few years and then move on. Can they really develop all the social skills and teamwork skills they will need for the interdependent 21st Century workplace if the school or district tries cooperative learning for a few years and then moves on? It just won't add up for students. And it does not add up for teachers either: After a few years of the replacement cycle, teachers become jaded. "How much time and effort do I want to invest in this new program," asks the weary teacher, "if I know this too will pass? Do I really want to redesign all my hard-won lessons knowing that in a few years, when next year's new thing comes along, I will have to throw out these lessons and redesign new ones?"

One thing is clear from this brief review of the recent history of educational change: A Lesson-based approach to innovation will not solve our problems. There is just not enough time in the day or school year to pack in all the lessons we need to address all our academic, social, emotional, and cognitive objectives. We need to shift our paradigm.

The Structures Solution
How can we deliver an ever-increasing academic and non-academic curriculum load and at the same time respond to the press to use more complex and demanding instructional strategies?
The answer: Structures.

What are Structures? Simply put, structures are instructional strategies. They describe how students are to interact with the teacher, with the content, and with each other. Let's compare two structures to illustrate what a structure is, and to demonstrate how structures deliver an embedded curriculum. It is structures' inherent ability to deliver an embedded curriculum that distinguishes structures from lessons and allows teachers to simultaneously meet the 21st Century demands.

 
 

Structure 1: Whole-Class Question-Answer
The teacher asks a question, students raise their hands, and then the teacher calls on one to answer.

Structure 2: RallyRobin
The teacher asks a question, students turn to their partners, and pairs take turns generating responses to the answer.

 
 

Imagine two teachers. They are each delivering the same academic curriculum and have the same ability students. All school year one teacher attempts to get active engagement and check for understanding using Whole-Class Question-Answer. The other uses RallyRobin. There are a number of reasons why the teacher who uses RallyRobin goes much further to meet the demands of 21st Century education than does the teacher who uses traditional Whole-Class Question-Answer:

1. Using RallyRobin and walking around as students respond, the teacher has a more authentic assessment of the class. The teacher hears from a representative sample of the class, not just the high achievers. Authentic assessment leads the teacher to monitor and adjust the lesson and to differentiate instruction if students are not achieving well.
2.
RallyRobin teaches students to take turns and cooperate so students acquire basic social skills
3.
RallyRobin has students produce multiple answers to a question rather than seek the one correct answer the teacher was thinking of, a component of any good higher-level thinking skills curriculum.
4.
RallyRobin creates greater engagement among students because all students participate, rather than a few high achievers or attention seekers. In the same amount of time two or three students have been called on to share an answer each, every student in the class has shared several answers so engagement and retention are far greater.

In short, while delivering the same academic curriculum, interactive structures in the class deliver a far richer embedded curriculum than does the traditional approach. There is a curriculum embedded in the instructional strategies we use. As I have detailed elsewhere (see footnote) every structure delivers an embedded curriculum, and wise use of a range of structures goes a long ways toward developing the character virtues, engaging and developing the multiple intelligences, character virtues, and skills for teamwork, social skills, and leadership.

Sample Structures and their Embedded Curriculum
Structure Embedded Curriculum
Rally Interview Listening, Understanding, Oral Presentation Skills, Taking Turns
Three-Step Interview Listening, Taking the Role of the Other, Summarizing, Paraphrasing, Oral Presentation Skills, Taking Turns
Numbered Heads Together Coaching, Helping, Caring, Checking for Understanding, Teamwork Skills, Leadership Skills
Team Statements Synthesizing Diverse Points of View, Evaluation, Consensus Seeking, Prioritizing, Decision Making, Teamwork Skills
Logic Line-Ups Deductive Reasoning, Leadership Skills, Evaluation, Helping Skills
Pairs Compare Compare-Contrast, Analysis, Synthesis, Evaluation, Turn Taking, Listening
Find My Rule Inductive Reasoning, Hypothesis Generation and Testing, Evaluation, Application, Listening, Understanding the Ideas of Others
Structures Deliver
Traditional Curriculum

• Math
• Language Arts
• Science
• Social Studies

Structures achieve higher academic standards.
Structures make the impossible possible: With no time off traditional curriculum, structures deliver an embedded curriculum.
Embedded Curriculum

• Character Development
• Emotional Intelligence
• Employability Skills
• Leadership Skills
• Multiple Intelligences
• Social Skills
• Teamwork Skills
• Thinking Skills
• Diversity Skills

Support for the Paradigm Shift. The paradigm shift, the shift from lesson-based to structure-based approaches to meet the needs of 21st Century education, is supported by analyzing the embedded curriculum delivered through structures. It turns out, structures deliver thinking skills, character virtues, social skills, leadership skills, and teamwork skills — the very skills students need if they are to be successful in the fast-changing, interdependent world of the future. After all, as the information change rate accelerates, learning one more fact assumes ever less importance compared to the ability to categorize, analyze, synthesize, compare-contrast, and summarize information. As 75% of all new jobs require part-time as part of a workplace team, what is more important, mastery of an additional history fact or acquisition of teamwork skills?

The miracle of structures is that they foster in students exactly the skills needed for success as we live in an interdependent, racially-diverse, fast-changing, information-based world without the traditional home and community support systems. Instead of layering on separate lessons to meet those needs, structures allow teachers to focus on academic lessons and at the same time deliver an additional embedded curriculum tailored to 21st Century Education's most pressing problems.

Which Curriculum
Is More Important?
Academic Curriculum Embedded Curriculum

• Spelling
• History Facts
• Parts of Speech
• Periodic Table
• Math Facts
• Geography Facts

• Character Development
• Emotional Intelligence
• Employability Skills
• Leadership Skills
• Multiple Intelligences
• Social Skills
• Teamwork Skills
• Thinking Skills
• Diversity Skills

Structures within Lessons. Although structures are our best hope of meeting the needs of today's students, informed lesson design remains essential. Teachers need to know how to teach new math concepts first at the concrete, then at the connecting, and only later at the symbolic level. Teachers need to know the stages of the writing process and how to teach science concepts through inquiry lessons. Those lessons, however, will either meet or fail to meet the demands of 21st Century education depending on if they are taught with structures or not. At each stage of the writing process, process math, or inquiry science, the use of structures produces greater engagement, learning, and a host of additional learnings.

We are calling not for structures instead of lessons, but structures within lessons. For example, the teacher who knows and uses the Elements of Effective Instruction (Set, Input, Guided Practice, Independent Practice, Closure) will give better lessons than the teacher who does not. But, the teacher who delivers that lesson design through structures, will better meet the needs of today's students than the teacher who attempts to plow through that design using direct instruction, whole-class question-answer, and worksheet work. The teacher skilled with structures creates a better set using structures like RallyRobin, Timed Pair Share, and Team Interview. The teacher creates better input by sometimes using RallyRead or Jigsaw than the one who always uses Teacher Talk. The teacher creates better guided practice by using Boss Secretary, RallyCoach, or Pairs Check than the teacher who relies on boring solo worksheet work. Closure using Dueling Flip Charts or a Team Statement is far more meaningful than a teacher telling students what they have learned. The great thing: The lesson enriched by structures does a better job of promoting academic skills, but with no extra time delivers an rich additional curriculum tailored exactly to 21st Century needs.

Advantages of Structures. Making the paradigm shift to structures has many advantages. Not only are structures easy for teachers to learn and use, they have more powerful enduring positive outcomes for students. A lesson-based approach to delivering curriculum creates a transference gap. Students learn about a skill, but don't necessarily acquire that skill. If I teach a lesson on leadership skills or caring or inductive reasoning in the fall, are students better leaders, more caring, or better at inductive reasoning in June? In contrast, if students practice leadership skills, caring, and inductive reasoning all school year, those skills become part of who they are. With structures skills are acquired in a natural context and practice is distributed. Structures are not one more thing to teach; they are a better way to teach anything, so they do not represent a competing curriculum that gets dropped when we fall behind in the traditional curriculum or in the face of test preparation. Structures deliver a rich embedded curriculum all school year. And perhaps best of all, they are part of any lesson so they break the invidious replacement cycle.

7 Advantages of Structures
Structures...

1. Sidestep the Transference Gap
2. Distribute Practice
3. Reduce Preparation Time
4. Are Not a Competing Curriculum
5. Are Not Dropped for Test Preparation
6. Deliver a Rich, Embedded Curriculum
7. Break the Replacement Cycle

The Choice Ahead. As educators we face a choice. We can continue to develop and pile onto the backs of struggling teachers more and more curriculum and more and more complex instructional strategies, demanding they teach more and more types of lessons. Or we can shift our thinking and offer teachers and their students structures. Students say they are more fun; they learn more; and they learn a richer range of curriculum. Teachers find it a relief not to have to plan an ever-increasing range of lessons and not to have to deliver those lessons with an ever-increasing range of types of lessons. Structures are more effective for both students and teachers. Yes, of course, we will always have lessons. But our lessons can focus on traditional academic content, and because we deliver the lessons with structures, a rich 21st Century curriculum gets delivered, without special lesson preparation and without valuable time stolen from curriculum. The choice seems, thankfully, to be an easy one.



 
 

* Footnote: Kagan, S. The Embedded Curriculum. San Clemente, CA. Kagan Online Magazine. April 2002. http://www.KaganOnline.com/Newsletter.