Kagan Online Magazine - Issue #56

Bookmark and Share
Letter from the editor
FREE Subscription


Spencer’s Thinkpad

Kagan Structures Enhance Student Motivation

Dr. Spencer Kagan

Research has established that cooperative learning increases student achievement. But why? In this article, Dr. Kagan offers an overlooked explanation: students are more motivated. Dr. Kagan reviews seven powerful motivational forces that are released when students engage in Kagan Structures.

Featured Structure

Teammates Consult


None of us is as smart as all of us. That’s the basic idea behind Teammates Consult. Before students set off to work independently, they consult with teammates to collect ideas or get instruction. Students get the benefit of many brains, but there is high individual accountability because everyone is ultimately responsible for their own work.

Administrator Tips

You’re Not the Boss of Me

Dr. Vern Minor

Within organizations, someone is in charge. Administrators fill those roles within schools and districts. An administrator may act as boss or as leader. There is a very stark difference between these two roles. Vern enumerates the differences between being a boss and a leader and encourages administrators to become educational leaders, not bosses.

Teacher & Training Tips

Changing Base Teams

Dr. Rick DuVall

It’s time to change base teams, but students don’t want to. They’ve formed strong bonds with their teammates and don’t want to be split up. Rick shares the rationale for changing base teams as well as a parting activity that creates closure and gets students ready to form strong bonds with new teammates.

Training Opportunities

2019 USA Tour

Charlotte Armstrong

Come join Kagan for a one-day workshop at a site near you. For the first time ever, Kagan is offering three additional workshop options on the USA Tour: Kagan Structures for Little Ones, English Language Learners, and Transform Your High-Risk Classroom.

New Products

Quiz-Quiz-Trade Books

Miguel Kagan & Rachel Lynette

Students love to play Quiz-Quiz-Trade. It transforms essential curriculum into a fun and interactive game. Kagan proudly offers 5 new Quiz-Quiz-Trade books, each loaded with ready-to-use quizzing cards for your entire class. Check out these 5 new books for math, language arts, French, and Spanish.

A+ Anecdotes

Team Celebrations, Straight Outta Kagan,
and Happy Birthday

Learning to Laugh

Silly Weather Jokes

What Participants Are Saying

Hear directly from participants about their experiences with Kagan trainers at recent Kagan workshops. When we say participants say Kagan training is “life changing,” we’re not being hyperbolic.

Where in the World is Kagan

A Model School

Kate Atkins

Rosendale Research School is a school in the United Kingdom. They were recently certified as a Kagan Model School based on their extensive Kagan training and long-term commitment to successful Kagan implementation. Hear their journey (and podcast too).

Special Article 1

Every Child, Every Day at Waterway

Carrie Mott and Kristin Atkinson

When Waterway was restructured from an grades 4-5 intermediate school to a preK-5 school, the school had serious challenges to overcome. They sought a solution that would raise test scores, improve student behavior, and create a safe learning environment. They found Kagan. Like the flip of a light switch, test scores went up, referrals went down, and the whole atmosphere improved.

Special Article 2

English Language Learning Workshop Survey Results

Sweetwater County School District and Team Kagan

Kagan conducts surveys after every workshop. Teachers consistently rate the Kagan trainings as either the best they’ve ever had or at least high up there. But those are Kagan’s own surveys. What do teachers tell their district on their own independent survey? Read the article to find out!

Special Article 3

Cooperative Chaos
Teacher Turns to Cooperative Learning to
Emphasize Social Skill Development

Dr. Amanda Alvarez

In this study, the author investigates how cooperative learning structures impact social skill development and social network patterns among first graders. Ms. Alvarez finds that through the use of structures, students are more willing to work with more classmates and are better equipped with the social skills to work together successfully. This is in contrast to the chaos that often results from simply telling students to work together without providing the structure for how.

Special Article 4

Kagan Magic
How It Changed a Struggling Student’s Life!

Kathleen Moroze

“This student was engaged for the first time in his life!” That’s how one first-grade teacher describes the impact the “Kagan Magic” had on one of her struggling students. He improved his state test scores by 80 points, felt a sense of belonging, and was actually excited about going to school for the first time.

Special Article 5

Kagan Connections—AVID
(Advancement Via Individual Determination)

Dr. Vern Minor and Dr. Jackie Minor

AVID and Kagan Structures are aligned philosophically. They both strive for greater educational equity—to improve outcomes for traditionally disadvantaged students. In this article, the authors show how Kagan Structures can be infused into AVID activities to create even greater engagement, collaboration, and learning.

Letter from the Editor

The Power of Situations

How do we get our disengaged students to participate?

In the classroom, there are two types of students: Those who participate and those who don’t. Right? Well, perhaps that is an oversimplification, but teachers know the two different types well. Let’s call the first personality type the Engagers, and the second personality type the Disengagers.

The Engagers are high achieving. They pay attention in class. They do their homework. They get what’s going on. So naturally, when the teacher asks a question, the Engager confidently waves her hand in the air, thinking and maybe even vocalizing, “teacher, teacher, call on me.”

As teachers, we love our Engagers. They give us that warm, fuzzy feeling inside. We are reaching them. They are learning. We are making a difference. They validate the reason we became teachers.

On the opposite side of the personality spectrum, we have our Disengagers. Maybe they just don’t know the answer. Maybe they didn’t do the homework. Maybe they don’t have the language skills. Maybe they ate too many carbs at lunch. Or maybe they fear embarrassment or rejection. Whatever the case may be, when we ask a question, they lower their heads. They avert eye contact. They think: “Please don’t call on me. In fact, don’t even look at me. I’m not here. Yes, I’m invisible. Pick one of those hand-waving Engagers.”

As teachers, our Disengagers are, to put it mildly, challenging. Getting them to participate is like pulling teeth. Sometimes their lack of interest in what we’re teaching turns into disciplinary problems. The joy of teaching is supplanted with detentions, parent letters, and disciplinary plans. Our Disengagers make us look forward to early retirement.

Maybe we just need to resign ourselves to the idea that we can’t reach everyone. We can give everyone an equal opportunity to participate and learn, but can’t force them. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

That’s one way of looking at it. But not the only way! Seeing personality as some fixed, immutable character trait is a trap we can easily fall into. There is some truth to the notion that different people have different “types” of personality. But stereotypes are often black or white in a world of many shades of gray.

By changing the situations in the classroom, we can drastically impact student participation.

Another way to look at the participation patterns in our classroom is to look at the situational variables that exist based on the structure of our instruction. The default structure of teaching is the teacher doing most of the instruction. Students can tune in or tune out. To engage students, the traditional teacher asks questions. Engagers engage. Disengagers hide. The structure of learning engages one student at a time on a voluntary basis. This structure is not designed to maximize participation by all. In fact, it magnifies the difference between Engagers and Disengagers. By changing the situations in the classroom, we can drastically impact student participation. More on that in a minute.

First, let’s look at a few psychological studies that illuminate the power of situations. One of my personal favorites is the classic Good Samaritan study by Darley and Batson. They set up experimental conditions where seminary students, en route to deliver a talk on the value of helping, would encounter a distressed man slumped in the alleyway. They studied whether these students of religion—who had dedicated themselves to a life of helping and who were primed to have helping on the top of their minds—would stop and help this apparent victim.

The experimenters manipulated how much of a hurry the student was in. The high-hurry students were told, “Oh, you’re late. They were expecting you a few minutes ago, We’d better get moving…” The low-hurry group had much less urgency. The differences between students in these two different situations were striking!

As we might expect, the majority of seminarians (63%) in the low-hurry group stopped to help. In contrast, only 10% of the high-hurry group stopped to help the man. According to the research, there was no difference in the “religiousity” of the two groups, but only 1 in 10 helped when the situation was manipulated. Compared to the situation, personality variables were almost insignificant.

Another classic experiment emphasizing the power of situations is the Stanford Prison Experiment. Zimbardo, the researcher, wanted to see whether the brutality reported among prison guards was an aggressive personality type or had more to do with situational factors. The Stanford University psychology building basement was converted into a mock prison and participants were randomly assigned to the role of prisoner or prison guard. Within short order, the subjects conformed to the social roles assigned. Prisoners became more submissive and the guards became more aggressive and even became brutal and tormented prisoners.

In both these studies, situations overpowered perceived personality types.

So, let’s return to the classroom and revisit our Engagers and Disengagers. Are these fixed personality characteristics, or merely the results of one way to structure classroom interaction patterns? At Kagan, we know we can manipulate learning conditions for greater student participation. While we wouldn’t say we could eliminate personality variables entirely, we can definitely structure learning to produce greater interaction and participation by all students. We can engage our Disengagers. We do it all the time!

Take RoundRobin, for example. One of the simplest Kagan Structures. The teacher asks a question. Instead of allowing volunteer participation by one, the structure calls for participation by all. In teams of four, each teammate takes a turn responding. We change the “situation” from one student responds to EVERY student responds. The situation calls for everyone to respond, and, for the most part, everyone does.

Personality is not destiny. Opting out of learning by a subset of students is not a given. Situational factors can trump the effects of personality. In the same way these psychology studies can manipulate the situation to create different behaviors, we can manipulate the learning conditions to produce greater participation and learning by all. Maybe that’s the greatest advantage Kagan Structures have over traditional teaching—everyone participates. Everyone is engaged, regardless of perceived personality types. Disengagers become Engagers.

In the classroom, we can’t control the personality types of the students who enter our room. We can pray for a class full of Engagers, but we can also pray to win the Lottery. It’s not likely to happen. What we can control is the situations we create within our own rooms. How we teach is a choice. By choosing the right instructional strategies, we turn our Disengagers into Engagers. We turn disinterested students into interested students. We turn low-achieving students into high-achieving students. Do we do it magically? No. We do it methodically, by choosing teaching methods exquisitely designed to engage every student.

Miguel Kagan

Miguel Kagan, Editor
Kagan Online Magazine
Kagan Publishing & Professional Development

Subscription Info

Subscribe Me
You will receive an e-mail with hot links to the latest Kagan Online Magazine, as well as announcements about upcoming Kagan professional development events and new products.

Subscribe A Friend
Please include your friend's e-mail address when subscribing.

Unsubscribe Me
Remove yourself from Kagan's e-mail list.

Unlock Kagan's Vault
Free Articles