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Dr. Spencer Kagan

Going With - A Common Denominator of Successful Educational Programs

Dr. Spencer Kagan

To cite this article: Kagan, S. Going With – A Common Denominator of Successful Educational Programs. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine,Fall 2004. www.KaganOnline.com

At Kagan, we offer resources and trainings in very different approaches to improving education:

• Cooperative Learning
• Multiple Intelligences
• Differentiated Instruction
• Brain-Based Learning
• Win-Win Discipline

While these approaches to improving education in some respects are quite different, in one aspect they share a common philosophy: They go with rather than against student needs.

Cooperative Learning. Administrators and teachers who implement Kagan Cooperative Learning often comment that the incidence of discipline referrals dramatically decreases. This is no mystery. In the traditional classroom, the teacher exerts a great deal of energy attempting to get students to sit still and not talk. But socializing and moving are what students most want to do. Students who are strongest in those needs become discipline problems. That is, they talk and move even if the teacher tells them not to.

With cooperative learning, we encourage students to talk and interact, and we include a range of structures that involve movement. To have their needs met, students do not have to become discipline problems. We are going with rather than against their needs.

Cooperative learning goes with student needs in other ways. Students have a strong need for a sense of belonging. They need to feel part of a group, to be supported by their peers, to be included. Teams in cooperative learning meet that need. Through teambuilding, classbuilding, and regular day-to-day cooperative interactions, students develop a strong sense of belonging to their team and to their class.

Another strong student need is the need to be successful. The peer tutoring, encouragement, praise, and frequent feedback in cooperative structures make students more successful. Cooperative learning has an unequaled proven success-rate in increasing student academic success. Students in cooperative learning feel successful, meeting one of their most basic needs.

Perhaps the most important need of all among students is the need to feel of worth. We all need to feel of value — that we contribute, that we make a difference. By allowing students to help each other, make unique contributions to the team and class efforts, cooperative learning meets that need as well.

Multiple Intelligences. I remember back to a moment in Junior High (that's what it was called in those days). David sat in the row next to me (we all sat in neat rows of bolted down desk chairs, each desk connected to the back of the seat of the student in front, each desk with it's ink well). David was a friend and a talented artist. While the teacher lectured I enjoyed watching David sketch or doodle. One day as the teacher talked, David took notes by drawing doodles and pictures. The teacher walked by and David was too slow to hide his forbidden doodling. She sternly commanded, "Stop doodling!" Today we encourage students to "doodle" their notes, to create mind maps. We now know that doodling is the visual/spatial intelligence's unique symbol system — a symbol system more basic and memorable than words. Multiple Intelligences theory has us go with rather than against students who are strong in the visual/spatial intelligence. It has us go with students who need to symbolize their thoughts via movement, or in a private journal.

 
 

Going With: A Comic is Born

I was a disruptive student, as I said before. I upset every class because I was always thinking funny. So Dr. Jacobs and I made a deal: He would give me five minutes at the beginning of the class to tell my jokes, to joke around, to do anything I wanted for exactly five minutes, then I had to shut my mouth for the rest of the period.

He would get up there as soon as the bell rang and everyone was in their seats. He would say, "Ladies and gentlemen, Physics 101 is proud to present the comedy styling and antics of David Brenner." And then I would do five minutes. He'd sometimes cut me off right in the middle of a joke! But I could use those five minutes however I wanted. I could make fun of him or do anything I wanted to do.

He knew how to harness that energy. He would have spent a lot more than five minutes getting me under control. All my other teachers tried for years with a lot less success.

— David Brenner

Editor's Note: David Brenner is a world famous comedian, speaker, and author. His most recent book: I Think There's a Terrorist in My Soup.

 
 

We are writing into our lesson plans ways for students to learn and to express themselves through the bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, musical/rhythmic, and naturalist intelligences, not just the traditional verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical symbol systems. We are going with the needs of students to learn and to express themselves in many ways. Multiple Intelligences case studies are replete with extraordinary gains made by students when our instructions matches — goes with — the way a student is smart.

Differentiated Instruction. Differentiated Instruction is the latest in moves to align education with individual needs — to go with the unique needs of each student. Differentiated Instruction is based on a simple premise: Students differ in their readiness, interests, and learning needs. Each classroom has advanced learners and struggling learners; analytic style and global style learners; motivated and unmotivated learners. Classrooms have within them some students strong and some students weak in each of the multiple intelligences; some students with a cooperative and some students with a competitive social orientation. Classrooms have students who come from deprived environments and others who come from enriched environments. Given this diversity —that each student has unique needs, styles, and abilities—any one reward system, lesson, approach to curriculum, instruction, management or discipline will be a great fit for some students and a poor fit for others. Differentiated Instruction would have us break the one-size-fits-all mold that has stifled education for so long. How do we differentiate? We look at the unique needs of each student and go with rather than against those needs. Differentiated Instruction can take as many forms as there are students, calling for us to adjust our curriculum, our instruction, our management, our discipline, our schedules, and the very look and feel of our classrooms to provide choices to respond to the unique needs of different students. One student may work well alone; another works best with a partner; another in teams. One student likes to gather information by reading, another by interviewing, a third by web searches. By including choice in our approach to instruction we can better respond to students' unique styles and needs — we go with rather than against their needs.

Brain-Based. The pet phrase for those of us who write about and train teachers in brain-based learning is to "teach the way the brain best learns." We now know that memorizing factual information out of the context of a meaningful experience goes against the way the brain naturally processes and retains information. Brain-based or brain-friendly instruction is merely the attempt to go with rather than against the student's natural way of processing, retaining, and recalling information. We provide safety, nourish the brain, link content to emotion, encourage social interaction over content, balance novelty with routine, provide details within a big picture, and provide multimodal input because that is how the brain best learns. Students like class more and learn more when we align their experiences with their needs — when we go with who they are rather than trying to get them to mold to traditional brain-unfriendly approaches. If we lecture too long, we go against the brain's need for frequent processing; if we require boring worksheets, we are swimming against the current, fighting student's basic needs for novelty, meaning, and interaction. When we go with the way the brain naturally processes information, students are more successful with less effort, they enjoy class more and teaching is more fun.

Win-Win Discipline. How does Win-Win Discipline fit into this scenario of going with rather than against student needs? The basic premise of Win-Win Discipline is that disruptions are merely attempts by students to meet the needs associated with their positions. Win-Win identifies seven student positions:

• Attention Seeking
• Avoiding Failure
• Angry
• Control Seeking
• Energetic
• Bored
• Uninformed

Each student position is associated with basic needs.

The job of the Win-Win teacher is to accept and validate, go with, those needs and then to show students how they can meet their needs in non-disruptive ways. We all get angry at times; we all have excess energy at times; we all need attention. The question is whether we have learned responsible rather than disruptive ways to meet those needs. Every disruption is an indicator that a student needs to learn a more responsible way to meet her/his needs. Disruptions for the win-win teacher are learning opportunities. The class clown needs to learn to obtain attention in positive ways; the energizer bunny needs to learn to channel his/her energy productively; the bored student needs to learn to restructure learning tasks to make them challenging, and so on. By going with student needs the Win-Win teacher creates a win for the student (the student learns skills for a lifetime) and a win for the teacher and class (they are freed from disruptions).

It might be noted that Win-Win is differentiated discipline: It rejects the one-response-fits-all discipline approaches (put a mark on the board by the student's name) that fail to relate to and go with the unique needs of individual students. By recognizing the position from which a disruptions springs and formulating a discipline response accordingly — a differentiated response — we go with student needs and provide the appropriate learning experience to allow the student to learn meet her/his needs responsibly.

In Sum. A common denominator in successful educational programs is relating to the needs of each student rather than expecting each student to conform to some predetermined ideal. Some call this approach student centered. Some call it differentiated. There is another word that I feel best captures this philosophy of going with student needs. The word: Respect. When we respect our students, they are more successful academically, and, perhaps more importantly, we model a social orientation that is our best hope for creating a more peaceful and harmonious world.