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Dr. Spencer Kagan

Teach Less, Learn More

Dr. Spencer Kagan

To cite this article: Kagan, S. Teach Less, Learn More. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Fall 2006. www.KaganOnline.com

Singapore has been recognized world-wide for its educational excellence. This forward-looking, dynamic country has shaped its educational system to prepare students for the demands of 21st Century life, emphasizing industry, initiative, thinking skills, social-emotional development, citizenship, and character as well as excellence in traditional academic subjects.

Singapore Teachers' UnionFor the past decade, Kagan has been providing professional development to Singapore educators. The Singapore Teachers' Union provides a wide range of Kagan workshops each year and over 10,000 educators have been trained. The philosophy of education in Singapore aligns in many ways with the philosophy and methods of Kagan.

Recently, as part of its ongoing pursuit of excellence, the Ministry of Education in Singapore produced the most inspiring vision statement for education I have ever seen. It is inspiring both for what it advocates and for its approach to implementation. It is called Teach Less, Learn More. In very simple, but profound terms this mandate directs our attention to refocus on the three most important dimensions of education: why we teach, what we teach, and how we teach.

It is not my goal in this article to provide a detailed description of Teach Less, Learn More. That is available on their website: http://www.moe.gov.sg/bluesky/tllm.htm and http://www.moe.gov.sg/speeches/2005/sp20050922.htm. Rather, I want to share a bit about what I find so inspiring in the vision, and then explain how the philosophy of Teach Less, Learn More aligns with Kagan philosophy and can be implemented by using Kagan Structures.

The Vision

In the words of Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore's Mister of Education,

"The teacher is the heart of "Teach Less, Learn More" (TLLM). TLLM is not a call for "teacher to do less." It is a call to educators to teach better, to engage our students and prepare them for life, rather than to teach for tests and examinations. This is why TLLM really goes to the core of quality in education. It is about a richer interaction between teacher and student β€” about touching hearts and engaging minds."

In the United States in recent years there has been an increasing emphasis on boosting test scores. Too many teachers are teaching to the test. This has resulted in narrowing the curriculum; reducing time and resources for physical education, music, art and anything else not measured by standardized tests; limiting or eliminating in-depth explorations; buying breadth at the expense of depth; cramming; teaching isolated facts and skills out of a meaningful context; and memorizing isolated bits of information soon to be forgotten once the test has past. The Singapore vision, as Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam states, calls for us to focus beyond the standardized test:

"Our leaders have to be well-informed, confident and supportive of their teachers. They have to enthuse and energize their teachers, and give them the space to try out new approaches. They have to keep their focus on the desired outcomes in education. They must have the gumption to focus on things in education that are not measured in grades and awards."

The Singapore TLLM vision is a welcome beacon directing us toward what education needs to be β€” preparation for life. Preparation for life involves broadening rather than narrowing the curriculum, developing character, multiple intelligences including emotional intelligence, and employability skills, including thinking skills and teamwork skills. The emphasis in Teach Less, Learn More is where the emphasis in education must be if our students are to be successful in the 21st Century.

Teach Less, Learn More is a vision for 21st Century Education.

The TLLM vision, is embodied in three simple but extraordinarily powerful tables β€” one each for dimension, 1) Why We Teach, 2) What We Teach, and 3) How We teach. It asks that we remember,

Why We Teach

More... Less...
For the Learner To Rush through the Syllabus
To Excite Passion Out of Fear of Failure
For Understanding To Dispense Information Only
For the Test of Life For a Life of Tests

  • We should keep in mind that we do what we do in education for the learner, his needs, interests and aspirations, and not simply to cover the content.
  • We should encourage our students to learn because they are passionate about learning, and less because they are afraid of failure.
  • We should teach to help our students achieve understanding of essential concepts and ideas, and not only to dispense information.
  • We should teach more to prepare our students for the test of life and less for a life of tests.

What We Teach

More... Less...
The Whole Child The Subject
Values-centric Grades-centric
Process Product
Searching Questions Textbook Answers

  • We should focus more on teaching the whole child, in nurturing him holistically across different domains, and less on teaching our subjects per se.
  • We should teach our students the values, attitudes and mindsets that will serve him well in life, and not only how to score good grades in exams.
  • We should focus more on the process of learning, to build confidence and capacity in our students, and less on the product.
  • We should help the students to ask more searching questions, encourage curiosity and critical thinking, and not only to follow prescribed answers.

How We Teach

More... Less...
Engaged Learning Drill and Practice
Differentiated Teaching 'One-size-fits-all' Instruction
Guiding, Facilitating, Modeling Telling
Formative and Qualitative Assessing Summative and Quantitative Testing

  • We should encourage more active and engaged learning in our students, and depend less on drill and practice and rote learning.
  • We should do more guiding, facilitating and modeling, to motivate students to take ownership of their own learning, and do less telling and teacher talk.
  • We should recognize and cater better to our students' differing interests, readiness and modes of learning, through various differentiated pedagogies, and do less of 'one-size-fits-all instruction.
  • We should assess our students more qualitatively, through a wider variety of authentic means, over a period of time to help in their own learning and growth, and less quantitatively through one-off and summative examinations.
  • We should teach more to encourage a spirit of innovation and enterprise in our students, to nurture intellectual curiosity, passion, and courage to try new and untested routes, rather than to follow set formulae and standard answers.

The Implementation

Not only is the TLLM vision inspiring, Singapore has adopted an inspiring approach to implementation. The details are also available on the Ministry's website. The innovations include:

  • Bottom up initiative; top down support
  • Greater flexibility for both schools and for individual students to chart unique paths
  • Honoring and developing diversity of talents
  • Shifting of emphasis from content to character, from curriculum to initiative
  • Providing teachers more professional development time
  • Freeing 2 hours a week so teachers can create innovative, engaging lessons
  • Providing teachers more time for co-planning, reflection, sharing, and support
  • A call to explore new teaching practices and new curricula
  • Creating "white space" β€” Reducing the amount of curricula to make teaching more engaging and effective

How does TLLM Align with Kagan Philosophy and Structures?

For years, I have been fond of saying there is an inverse relation between teacher talk and student learning. Traditionally, we have defined good teaching as good talking β€” words out of a teacher's mouth. Those of us using Kagan Structures define good teaching as that which produces important learning; good teaching is associated with rich experiences. We teach not with words but with experiences. The teacher stops talking and lets students interact with each other and with the curriculum. If a teacher teaches with words, learning stops when the lesson is over. If a teacher has students learn from their experiences, they become life-long learners. This is particularly important at a time when the change rate is accelerating and much of what a student learns in school is outdated within five years after graduation.

If a student gets an A in a course, but does not want to learn more of that content, we have failed the student. If the student receives a C in the course, but leaves with a passion to learn more, we have succeeded with that student. If we do not instill a joy in learning, we have not created a life-long learner. We have created a student ill-prepared for the 21st Century change rate.

Β  "If talking were teaching,
we would all be smarter
than we could stand."

β€” Mark Twain

If a teacher wants to cover as much curriculum as possible, the teacher should stand in front of the class and talk fast, not pausing to have students interact. The teacher will cover more of the curriculum that way. The only problem is that the students won't. For students to acquire important content and skills, they must process, explore, think, and interact. For students to acquire a thirst for more knowledge in an area, they must process, explore, think, and interact. Teachers must talk less if their students are to learn more.

Kagan Structures allow teachers to stop talking and ensure that students are deeply engaged with the curriculum. When we teach less in this way, students do in fact learn more as documented in the empirical studies showing dramatic achievement gains when Kagan Structures are used: http://www.kaganonline.com/Research.

Mix-Pair-ShareLet me outline some of the reasons why, when teachers teach less, allowing students to interact via Kagan Structures, students learn more:

At the beginning of a lesson we obtain more buy-in and engagement if students are "set." We create a set by linking the lesson content to prior knowledge, promoting personal relevance, and creating excitement about the topic. We could attempt to reach the goals of a good set by telling the student how the content is important and how it relates to prior knowledge, but we will obtain far greater buy-in and engagement if we stop talking and allow the students to tell each other β€” in pairs or small groups β€” what they want to learn, and what they already know about the topic. If we teach less, they learn more.

We advocate using a range of simple structures to obtain a good set, including several rounds of Mix-Pair-Share, a Single RoundRobin for what they hope to learn, and a Continuous RoundRobin for all they already know about the topic.

Frequent Processing
Have you ever gone to a comedy club or watched a comic on TV, and laughed at each joke only to find later that you could not remember any of the jokes? The reason this happens is that the jokes were stored in working memory long enough for us to "get" the joke, but we did not process the joke. Timed Pair ShareWe did not tell it to some else, recall it, think about it. It is the same when the telephone operator provides a phone number. You remember it long enough to dial the number, but then can't remember it a few minutes later. Why? You did not process it; you did not think about it.

It is the same with a teacher who tries to teach just by talking. If we do not give our students frequent processing time, they will not recall our input. We are merely comics entertaining the students. An oration uninterrupted by processing goes in one ear and out the other. Enduring learning occurs when we stop talking and allow the student to talk, to process the information.

That is why we advocate using simple structures like RallyRobin, Timed Pair Share, and RoundRobin on a frequent basis, usually around every ten minutes. We teach less, but the students learn more.

Teambuilding and Classbuilding
Teambuilding and classbuilding is time off of academics. The paradox: Teachers who do more teambuilding and classbuilding have students with higher test scores. Why?

Similarity GroupsIt is not just that students are less likely to ask for help from or offer help to someone unless they like that student and feel safe with that student. Classbuilding and teambuilding alter brain chemistry, aligning it with how brains best learn. When faced with a stranger, the amygdala in the limbic system of the brain fires at an accelerated rate releasing a cascade of responses known as the fight or flight defense alarm reaction. Cortisol and ACTH are released, constricting cognition and narrowing perception. The brain in this state is far from the state of relaxed alertness, optimal for learning. When we do teambuilding and classbuilding, time off of teaching, we reduce the stress hormones in the brain and prepare the brain to take in and process new information.

That is why we advocate using simple structures like Team Interview, Three-Step Interview, Corners, and Similarity Groups for teambuilding and classbuilding, to create a safe context for learning. We teach less, but students learn more because we have created the conditions for learning.

Students Teaching Students
When students teach each other, they learn more for a number of reasons. First, as we teach we learn (all teachers know that from having learned the content more because they had to teach it). The increased status, confidence, and identity as a teacher/learner also lead to enhanced learning, in the moment but also in the future. Sage-N-ScribeStudents often can explain a concept to another student better than can the teacher because they use student-friendly language and examples; they negotiate meaning in ways the teacher cannot.

So, for a variety of reasons we advocate using simple structures like Team Pair Solo, Numbered Heads Together, Jigsaw, and Sage-N-Scribe to let students teach their fellow students. Yes, we end up teaching less, but the students learn more.

Authentic Assessment
We have been teaching for, say, ten minutes. We want to check to see if our students have grasped the concept we are trying to get across. Traditionally, at that point we ask a few questions of the class. For each question, say, ten students raise their hands. Each time we call on one. Each time the student gives the right answer. We say to ourselves, "Good, they are getting it." In fact we have created an illusion for ourselves. We never find out that some students with their hands up would have given us the wrong answer had we called on them, let alone the remaining students in the class who never raised their hands had no grasp at all of the concept.One Stray

There are a number of structures that are excellent to check for understanding that simultaneously allow for correction of misinformation, including RallyTable, Instant Star, Show Me, and One Stray. In all of these structures, all students respond β€” so we have the opportunity for authentic assessment. We hear from the average and low achieving students as well as the high achieving students so we do not create for ourselves an illusion that the class is performing better than it is. We don't call only on those who think they know. With these authentic assessment structures we talk less; students do a far greater percentage of the talking. We teach less, but students learn more.

Distributed practice leads to greater memory than massed practice. Three 15-minute practice sessions separated in time will lead to dramatically more retention than one 45-minute practice session, for a number of reasons. But how do we conduct the review? We could use the traditional approach, asking questions and students raising their hands to be called on to answer. With this way of structuring the interaction in the classroom, in five minutes we could call on and respond to only 2 or 3 students. Many of the low- and middle-achieving students tune out, allowing the high achievers to take over. We end up calling most on those who least need the practice.All Write RoundRobin

In contrast, we could use an all-students-respond structure for review. We give each student a slate or AnswerBoard, ask our question, have every student write their best answer, and then have all students hold up their AnswerBoards to respond.
In the same amount of time we had two or three students answer one question each we could have every student in the class answer several questions. No one tunes out and achievement is far greater β€” especially for the low and middle achievers.

We advocate all-students-respond structures for review. There are many possibilities. Among my favorites are Pairs Compare, AllWrite RoundRobin, Trade-a-Problem, and Stir-the-Class. When students make up the problems, as with Trade-a-Problem, there is a whole additional level of thinking involved rather than when the teacher does all the question generation. Once again, when we teach less, students learn more.

Give One, Get OneClosure
Contrast two teachers. At the end of a lesson one teacher summarizes for students the most important points in the lesson and tells students those are the points he hopes they will remember. The other teacher lists the important points on the board, then asks students to pair up and RallyTable write and discuss the most important points of the lesson. During RallyTable the students write a point, then take turns sharing what they recall. Later the students take a test. Which students do better?

Listening is passive; talking and writing are active. The brain is far more engaged while talking and writing than while just listening. We remember dramatically more of what we say and write than what we hear. Further, as students recall the points of the lesson, they engage in thinking skills (recall and evaluation) which are not engaged or developed when the teacher does the talking.

Thus we advocate active rather than passive closure for lessons. Among the many excellent closure structures are RallyTable; Dueling Flipcharts; Mix-Music-Meet; and Give One, Get One. With fewer words out of the teacher's mouth, with less teaching, there is more learning.

Structures for Teach Less, Learn More

Function Selected Structures
Set Mix-Pair-Share
Single RoundRobin
Continuous RoundRobin
Processing RallyRobin
Timed Pair Share
Teambuilding Team Interview
Three-Step Interview
Classbuilding Corners
Similarity Groups
Peer Tutoring Team Pair Solo
Numbered Heads Together
Authentic Assessment RallyTable
Instant Star
Show Me
One Stray
Review Pairs Compare
AllWrite RoundRobin
Closure RallyTable
Dueling Flipcharts
Give One, Get One


The Embedded Curriculum
Each structure we use delivers not only academic content but also a rich embedded curriculum. The structures engage and develop multiple intelligences, EQ, character virtues, social skills and thinking skills. I have detailed in a prior article how structures deliver a rich embedded curriculum: The Embedded Curriculum, Kagan Online Magazine, Spring 2002

Three-Step InterviewTo take one example, let's look at Three-Step Interview. Students in the class are seated in teams of four. In each team, two pairs are formed, and the students then go through three steps: 1) In each pair A interviews B; 2) B then interviews A; 3) Each student in the team shares with her/his teammates what they learned from their partner. Depending on the curriculum the interview varies. Students may learn more about current events, science topics, historical characters, or any other academic content. But they learn much more; they acquire an embedded curriculum:

Social Skills: Listening, Checking for Understanding, Teamwork Skills
EQ: Self Knowledge, Understanding Others, Impulse Control, Relationship Skills
Character Virtues: Patience, Responsibility, Kindness, Cooperation, Respect
Thinking Skills: Perspective Taking, Summarizing, Analyzing, Evaluating, Prioritizing
Multiple Intelligences: Verbal/Linguistic, Interpersonal/Social

With each of the over 200 structures we train, there is a different, rich embedded curriculum. As teachers use a range of structures, they prepare students with the life and workplace skills that will in fact do as Teach Less, Learn More calls for us to do: prepare them for life.

Teach Less, Learn More
This inspiring vision provided by TLLM refocuses us on the essential questions every educator must repeatedly ask: why we teach, what we teach, and how we teach. It provides a beacon, directing us to prepare students for their lives in the 21st Century by teaching essential skills, not simply the ability to score well on a test. It assures us that the way to accomplish this goal is to lecture at students less and to engage students more. This vision aligns with the Kagan philosophy and methods. Kagan provides structures for engagement. The Kagan Structures are simple ways to structure the interaction in the classroom so students have meaningful learnings based in their own experiences, not only on words from the teacher. When we teach with experiences rather than words, we talk less, but students learn far more. We realize the vision of Teach Less, Learn More.