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Articles by Dr. Vern Minor

Kagan Connections—AVID

Special Article

Kagan Connections—AVID

(Advancement Via Individual Determination)

Dr. Vern Minor
and Dr. Jackie Minor

To cite this article: Minor, V. and Minor, J. AVID: Advancement Via Individual Determination. Kagan Online Magazine, Issue #59. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. www.KaganOnline.com


The impetus for much of the work related to school reform over the past half century can be traced back to a famous research study conducted by James Coleman, a sociologist from Johns Hopkins University. Congress mandated the study as a part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “in view of the fundamental significance of educational opportunity to many important social issues” (Coleman, page 1). Nearly 650,000 students and teachers from more than 3,000 schools took part in this national study. The Coleman Report (1966) reached a remarkable conclusion.

Taking all these results together, one implication stands out above all: That schools bring little influence to bear on a child’s achievement that is independent of his background and general social context; and that this very lack of an independent effect means that the inequalities imposed on children by their home, neighborhood, and peer environment are carried along to become the inequalities with which they confront adult life at the end of school. (Hanushek, page 3).

This deduction sparked a wave of controversy among academic researchers. Educators took exception to the notion that “schools don’t matter.” While no one argued that family background affects achievement, educators knew that it was not the sole determining factor. Researchers gave birth to the Effective Schools Movement as they worked to identify schools that were successful in educating all students, regardless of their family or socioeconomic backgrounds. The end result was that “educational researchers… developed a body of research that supported the premise that all children can learn” (Lezotte, page 1). From this body of research emerged seven Correlates of Effective Schools (Lezotte and Jacoby, page 14). See box.

Correlates of Effective Schools

  1. Strong instructional leadership
  2. A clear and focused mission
  3. A climate of high expectations for success of all students
  4. A safe, orderly environment
  5. The opportunity to learn and adequate time spent on academic tasks
  6. Frequent monitoring of student progress
  7. Positive home-school relations

While all of these variables are critical to student success, one correlate radically impacted instruction—creating a climate of high expectations for the success of all students. “All students can learn” became and continues to serve as a mantra for many educators across the country. Countless reform efforts over the past four decades have embraced this premise. Among them is the program called Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID).

AVID has its roots in the early work of Mary Catherine Swanson, at the time a high school English teacher from Clairemont High School in San Diego, CA. Swanson witnessed firsthand the low expectations teachers had for minority students who were integrated into her high school. She “believed that with individual determinism, hard work, and support, capable—but underachieving—students could succeed in rigorous curriculum and in college” (Drumright, Pengra-Anderson, & Potts, page vi). In short, Swanson believed all students can learn. Swanson’s initial work with 32 students at Clairemont High in 1980 eventually led to the creation of a nationwide program now known as AVID. A core guiding principle of AVID is the “belief that all students can successfully achieve when they are held to high expectations and properly supported” (Drumright et al., page ix).

This same belief—all students can successfully achieve—is also a fundamental principle of cooperative learning. Excellence (i.e., achieving at high levels) and equity (i.e., reducing achievement gaps among subgroups of students) are outcomes that are achieved in cooperative classrooms as revealed in hundreds of empirical studies. “The research consistently finds cooperative learning dramatically improves student achievement in all subject areas, at all grades, and, most importantly, for all groups of students” (Kagan, page 1).

Philosophically, AVID and cooperative learning are school improvement initiatives that fit exceedingly well together. In fact, AVID recognizes this high level of compatibility.

Collaborative teaching and learning lie at the very heart of AVID’s foundational elements… collaboration is a powerful methodological approach to teaching, strongly supported by learning theory as well as by two decades of research findings… The history of AVID’s success is largely based on an insistence that collaboration is essential to student learning. (AVID)

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how Kagan Structures can bolster AVID’s efforts. AVID becomes stronger as cooperative learning concepts are embedded and Kagan Structures are integrated into the program. This article, while not all inclusive, will provide insights into how this can occur. Before delving into these connections, let’s take a brief moment to explore the strategies AVID advocates—WICOR.


AVID’s methods for engaging students are known by the acronym WICOR—Writing to Learn, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization, and Reading to Learn. Within each of these five areas, AVID has created activities to help students succeed. The intent of WICOR strategies is to make all students active in the learning process. “When students are passive recipients of information, there is very little cognitive wrestling and critical thinking, and therefore, very little long-term learning” (Drumright, et al., page xiii).

“Collaboration, in fact, is engagement” (AVID, Collaborative Learning & Teaching). That is not necessarily true. In fact, it is possible to have activity taking place in the classroom with low levels of student engagement. Any time the directions of a collaborative activity are loosely structured, one of two concerns can surface: (1) students can hide; and (2) students can dominate and do the work for others. Both of these are detrimental to learning. In order to make certain all students are engaged, interaction among students must be structured tightly enough to eliminate these two problems. Students cannot be invited or encouraged to participate in an activity because, when given a choice, a significant number of students will choose to disengage.

The history of AVID’s success is largely based on an insistence that collaboration is essential to student learning.

Cooperative learning classrooms address these two issues. All Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures have four principles embedded in the directions which can be remembered with the acronym PIES: Positive Interdependence, Individual Accountability, Equal Participation, and Simultaneous Interaction. When PIES is present in the directions of an activity, no student can hide, and no student can do the work for others. In other words, interaction is structured so that all students are required to be active. Collaboration does not always equate to engagement; PIES ensures engagement.

When Kagan Structures are integrated into WICOR activities, support is greatly enhanced and levels of student engagement skyrocket. Let’s explore some examples in each of the WICOR areas to demonstrate how Kagan Structures make AVID’s instructional practices more powerful. All of the WICOR activities listed below have been taken from “AVID Elementary Foundations: A Schoolwide Implementation Resource.” Specific page numbers for each activity are identified. Please note that not every step of the WICOR activities has been listed for brevity’s sake. The intent is simply to show how WICOR strategies and Kagan Structures can be married together to create more sound pedagogy.


Writing to Learn: Word Banks (Page 34)

Current Directions
Students will evaluate and choose from words that are topic-related to complete a conversational or writing task using new vocabulary.

  • Identify key vocabulary that is needed for the lesson being studied.
  • Create a word bank for the terms that students should use in their written or oral responses.
  • Utilize these words in a fill-in-the-blank format to complete a cloze sentence assignment.

Revised Directions—Integration of Kagan
Learning new vocabulary certainly enhances students’ communication skills. However, before new terms can be used in conversation or writing, terms must be clearly understood. Most of the AVID instructional steps listed are completed in a solo manner. Quiz-Quiz-Trade is an exceptional way for students to learn new vocabulary. Question cards can contain definitions, visuals, or cloze sentences.

  • Students stand, carry their question card, and find a partner.
  • Partner A quizzes Partner B, coaching if necessary.
  • Partners switch roles.
  • Partners trade cards, find a new partner, and repeat.

Writing To Learn: Sentence Frames
(Pages 35-36)

Current Directions
Students will increase usage of academic language in both discussion and writing.

  • Set up a frame for students’ writing that fits the lesson.
  • Model the use of sentence frames.
  • Facilitate practice with partners or in small groups.

Revised Directions—Integration of Kagan
In order to scaffold support for students so they can develop their skills, Partner Check would be a strong structure to use here.

  • Partners, working independently, work on the same problem or task.
  • When done, students check with their partner.
  • Partners offer praise or coaching on the problem.
  • Students continue working independently, checking answers with their partner after each problem/task is completed.

Inquiry: Defining The Words Around Us (Pages 82–83)

Current Directions
Students will identify and create various questions at different levels of Costa’s Levels of Thinking.

  • Divide students into groups and provide students with supplies to create their visual representation of the definitions.
  • Each group should define their words and indicate which Level of Thinking the word implies.
  • Each group then creates a visual representation of their assigned words.
  • Have groups share their vocabulary posters.

Revised Directions—Integration of Kagan
Without the proper structure, the creation of the visual representation may be dominated by one or two students in the group. One structure that could be used to ensure all students equally participate in the creation of a visual would be Window Paning.

  • Teacher presents a key idea or fact (vocabulary terms in this case).
  • Teacher models filling in the first window pane.
  • Students fill in their first window pane with their own drawing.
  • Repeat for each idea or fact until all window panes are filled in.
  • On a blank Window Paning sheet students attempt to replicate their completed sheet from memory.

Additionally, sharing of the posters could also be controlled by one or two students if the current instructional steps are followed. Presentations can be jointly shared by all students. An exceptional structure which enables students to share their projects with others is Three Stray.

  • Student 1 moves one table clockwise.
  • Student 2 moves two tables clockwise.
  • Student 3 moves three tables clockwise.
  • Student 4 remains at the home table.
  • Students RoundRobin share their projects.

Inquiry: Card Sorts (Pages 95-96)

Current Directions
Students will use critical thinking skills to evaluate and arrange information into various categories.

  • Students will first get into groups of four for this activity.
  • Provide each group with one of the packets containing all the cards.
  • Have each group sort through the cards.

Revised Directions—Integration of Kagan
This thinking skill may prove difficult for some students. Without more structure, those who are less skilled will allow higher skilled students to take over the activity, compromising individual accountability. One way to prevent this from occurring would be to use RoundTable Consensus.

  • Teacher provides or students generate question cards.
  • One student answers.
  • The student checks for consensus.
  • The teammates show agreement or lack of agreement with thumbs up or palms down.
  • If there is agreement, the students celebrate and the next student responds. If not, teammates discuss the response until there is agreement. If no agreement is reached, the cards are set aside to be discussed later.
  • Play continues with the next student.

Collaboration: Ball Toss (Pages 149–150)

Current Directions
Students will build their relational capacity by sharing personal information in a fun way.

  • With this whole group activity have a student volunteer to hold the ball and toss it to another student.
  • The students who catches the ball announces the number that is closest to their thumb on their right hand.
  • Then read the related question and answer.
  • When the student has answered, repeat the previous steps.

Revised Directions—Integration of Kagan
Relationship building is a core concept in cooperative classrooms. In Kagan Cooperative Learning teachers learn three methods to build relationships at both the class and team levels—Classbuilding, Teambuilding, and Silly Sports & Goofy Games. Beach Ball Toss is a fun activity; however, only one student at a time is engaged, and there is no assurance all students will participate equally. This same activity can be done at the team level in a more effective way by using Turn Toss.

  • Teacher states the rules for tossing the ball.
  • A student tosses the ball to a teammate.
  • The teammate catches and answers the question.
  • The teammate then tosses the ball to another teammate.
  • Teammates continue until the teacher stops the structure.

Collaboration: 3 Stretches And 1 Truth (Pages 163–164)

Current Directions
Students will further develop their ability to think creatively and speak in front of a group.

  • Ask each student to compose a list of interesting information about themselves.
  • Select four students to come to the front of the room.
  • Read one of the pieces of information and give each student one or two minutes to tell the story related to that information.
  • Have all of the other students in the class identify who they think was telling the truth.
  • Repeat these steps with a new group of four students.

Revised Directions—Integration of Kagan
Providing every student with the opportunity to go to the front of the room and participate would take an entire class period. A very similar relationship building activity can be conducted in a more efficient fashion using the structure Find-the-Fiction. Incidentally, this structure can also be used with academic content.

  • Teammates each write three statements—two true and one false.
  • One student stands and reads his statements to his teammates.
  • Without consulting teammates, each student writes down his best guess as to which statement is false.
  • Teammates RoundRobin and defend their guess.
  • Teammates announce their guess(es).
  • The standing student announces the false statement.
  • Students celebrate.
  • The next student stands to share.

Organization: Agenda/Planner (Pages 240–243)

Current Directions
Support all students by assigning planner buddies within the classroom.

Revised Directions—Integration of Kagan
No Kagan Structure is necessary to bolster this activity. Rather, two standing management tools that exist in cooperative classrooms—C3B4ME and Team Questions—will suffice. Students check with their teammates before asking the teacher (i.e., C3B4ME) to make sure their planners are aligned. If disagreements cannot be resolved, students show a Team Question (i.e., all four students raise their hands). Four hands up “…is a signal to us (the teacher) that the team has exhausted its resources and that they need to consult with us” (Kagan & Kagan, page 8.5). Using these two simple tools not only ensures accuracy in planners but allows teachers to conduct a formative assessment in the classroom. It should be noted that these management tools can be utilized in many areas besides planners.

Organization: Organizing Thoughts Through Note-Taking (Pages 285–286)

Current Directions
Students will independently move toward organizing their thoughts and framing their thinking in two or three-column notes.

  • Choose a text that students will utilize for this activity.
  • Combine students into collaborative teams.
  • Read the text as a group.
  • In groups students brainstorm ways to organize notes.
  • Students evaluate and record notes on chart paper.

Revised Directions—Integration of Kagan
The lack of structure in these directions providess an opportunity for some students to take control of the activity, reducing the likelihood that all students will be accountable. An exceptional Kagan Structure that can be integrated into notetaking is Listen Right. This structure can easily be adapted to fit two- or three-column notetaking. Additionally, the chunking built into the structure provides support for students as they learn to take notes.

  • Teacher gives information in small chunks. Students, with pencils down, listen carefully for key words, phrases, or ideas.
  • Teacher stops and students write or draw key points.
  • Students share with a partner, checking for accuracy and making corrections.
  • Teacher announces key points.
  • Students celebrate or make corrections.
  • Students put pencils down and the process is repeated.

Reading to Learn: Prediction Strategies (Pages 308–309)

Current Directions
Students will use text features to make predictions about the content to deepen interest and

  • Invite students to preview the text features and make predictions.
  • Ask them to identify specific evidence in the text.

Revised Directions—Integration of Kagan
Making predictions from text clues is an important thinking skill in reading. However, the activity listed above does not include any method by which students would share their thinking. Asking students to think about predictions does not guarantee they are actually thinking; students must overtly demonstrate they are practicing the thinking skill. A simple structure to utilize here would be Timed Pair Share.

  • The teacher announces a topic (prediction), states how long each student will share, and provides think time.
  • In pairs Partner A shares; Partner B listens.
  • Partner B responds with a positive gambit.
  • Partners switch roles.

Reading to Learn: Marking The Text (Pages 315–316)

Current Directions
Students will mark the text in specific ways to identify information that is relevant.

  • Select a text and provide students with a copy to mark.
  • Utilizing projected text, the teacher models for students.
  • Ask students to work in partners in order to mark text together.

Revised Directions—Integration of Kagan
Lack of structure means all students are not individually accountable. Lower achieving students could copy what higher achieving students mark. A structure that could be integrated here is RallyCoach.

  • Partner A solves the first problem (i.e., makes the first mark in the text).
  • Partner B watches, listens, coaches if necessary, and praises.
  • Partner B solves the next problem.
  • Partner A watches, listens, coaches if necessary, and praises.
  • Partners repeat taking turns.

This is certainly not an all-inclusive list regarding how WICOR activities can be enriched. Other connections can be gleaned by reading Kagan Connections: Balanced Literacy (Minor) and Kagan Connections: Common Core State Standards (Minor). The point is this—embedding Kagan Structures in WICOR activities provides greater structure to the tasks. Establishing collaborative norms, signing student contracts, and assigning social roles are not needed to ensure all students are engaged. If PIES is embedded in the directions of an activity, the need for these types of solutions vanishes. All Kagan Structures integrate the PIES principles; as such, embedding them in WICOR activities structures interaction more tightly and ensures all students are fully engaged with the content and with each other.

Final Thoughts

“Collaboration is a key component of AVID’s instructional methodology. Collaboration… allows students to learn from, support, and appropriately challenge one another…” (Drumright, et al., page 146). That is a true statement—if PIES is in place. AVID and Kagan are philosophically compatible strategies. A marriage between them makes AVID more effective in accomplishing its mission—ensuring all students are successful and are held to high expectations.

If we hope to create a profession of highly qualified educators, we must embrace changes in instructional practices. Kagan has a long and proud history of helping schools across the country boost academic gains and narrow the achievement gap. It is our hope that we can establish a long-term relationship with your organization as you strive to improve the achievement of all children. If you would like to learn more about the information contained in this article, please feel free to contact either of the educators listed below.

Jackie Minor, Ed.D.
Dir. of District Implementation

Vern Minor, Ed.D.
Dir. of Educational Leadership


AVID. Collaborative Learning & Teaching. Retrieved November 2017 from www.avid.org/_documents/ AHE/Collaborative-Learning-Review-of-Literature.pdf.

Drumright, M., Pengra-Anderson, K. & Potts, T. (2016). AVID Elementary Foundations: A Schoolwide Implementation Resource. San Diego, CA: AVID Press.

Coleman, J. (1966). Equality of Educational Opportunity. Retrieved November 2017 from www. files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED012275.pdf.

Hanushek, E. (Spring 2016). What Matters for Student Achievement. Retrieved November 2017 from http://educationnext.org/what-matters-for-studentachievement/.

Kagan, S. (Summer 2010). Excellence & Equity. Kagan Online Magazine. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. www.KaganOnline.com

Kagan, S. & Kagan, M. (2015). Kagan Cooperative Learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing.

Lezotte, L. Revolutionary and Evolutionary: The Effective Schools Movement. Retrieved November 2017 from https://www.edutopia.org/.../edutopia.org-closingachievement- gap-lezotte-article.pdf.

Lezotte, L. & Jacoby, B. (1992). Sustainable School Reform: The District Context for School Improvement. Okemos, MI: Effective Schools Products.

Minor, V. (Spring 2017). Kagan Connections: Balanced Literacy. Kagan Online Magazine. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. www.KaganOnline.com

Minor, V. (Summer 2013). Kagan Connections: Common Core State Standards. Kagan Online Magazine. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. www. KaganOnline.com