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Spencer’s Thinkpad

The Power of Pair Work
Three Types of Pair Structures to Elevate Student Learning

Dr. Spencer Kagan

Pair work is the simplest form of cooperative learning. It offers big advantages over having students work exclusively alone. It even offers some benefits over team work. Dr. Kagan shares the difference between three different types of pair structures. He describes a number of pair structures you can use to boost students' interpersonal skills and learning.

Featured Structure

Jot Thoughts

Team Kagan

Jot Thoughts is a team-based brainstorming structure. It's a great way to have student develop creativity and teamwork skill. It is one of those go-to structures you can use with just about any subject and with students at every grade level. Get the steps, tips, and ideas to use Jot Thoughts with your students!

Administrator Tips

We’re Here to Support You!

Dr. Vern Minor, Director of Educational Leadership

If you are charged with leading the student engagement or Kagan initiative at your school or district, don't go it alone. Kagan has many free and also fee-based services to support you as you chart the path forward for your organization. Take advantage of Kagan's vast knowledge and experience! We're here to support you.

Teacher & Training Tips

How Can Kagan Be Used during Assessment Season?

Rachel Treaster

When assessment season rolls around, don’t forget Classbuilding and Teambuilding! These key Kagan concepts help put students in a happy and relaxed frame of mind, which actually increases test performance. They also work great to wind down after a stressful session of high-stakes tests.

Training Opportunities

Kagan’s 37th Annual Summer Academy!

Nicki Giles

Can you believe that summer is almost here? Kagan is returning to Orlando, Florida for its 37th Annual Summer Academy. If you can’t make it to Florida, don’t despair, there are 8 other venues around the U.S. to choose from.

New Products

54 Kagan Structures

This book is the newest installment of the best-selling Kagan Structures book series. It includes 54 more Kagan Structures to create even more student engagement.

A+ Anecdotes

Hurricane Recovery Help for Teachers

Learning to Laugh

Teamwork Memes

What Participants Are Saying

Read recent reviews of Kagan workshops and trainers.

students around a table

Special Article 1

Reducing At-Risk Students with Kagan

Athenian Academy of Technology and the Arts

Athenian Academy of Technology and the Arts dramatically reduced ALL four “At Risk” factors for students dropping out of high school. See how Athenian reduced absences, suspensions, and core course failures. At the same time these at-risk factors were making a sharp decline, Athenian made huge improvements in students learning as reflected by the test score data shown.

teacher talking to a student

Special Article 2

Teacher of the Year

Brittany Andrews

Why was Ms. Andrews selected the Teacher of the Year for Sweetwater County School District #1 in Rock Springs, Wyoming? Brittany feels her use of Kagan Cooperative Learning and co-teaching were what set her apart. Learn about her successes over the years using Kagan with her students. Hear her inspirational philosophy about teaching and making an impact on the life of every student that enters her classroom.

Kagan coach talking to teacher

Special Article 3

Top 10 Things to Know about Kagan Coaching

Team Kagan

Whether you have a Kagan Coach coming to observe your class, or you just want to learn more about Kagan’s Coaching model, this article has the top 10 most helpful things to know.

students performing a Kagan structure

Special Article 4

Kagan in the Foreign Language Classroom
Using Kagan Strategies to Promote Language Acquisition

Jessica Hertz

This article focuses on the author’s use of two Kagan Structures—Quiz-Quiz-Trade and Fan-N-Pick—in her Spanish classroom. Read how one teacher uses Kagan to increase comprehensible input and foreign language acquisition in her classroom.

Kagan workshop

Special Article 5

CCSD Hosts Kagan Workshop

Jessica Jones Paine

When Calloway County School District in Kentucky wanted to focus their professional development on student engagement, they turned to Kagan to train their elementary, middle, and high school teachers. Hear what Calloway teachers and administrators had to say about their training.

Letter from the Editor

The Right Way to Pivot

About 20 years ago, a few of my colleagues at Kagan tried to get me into golf. They kept telling me how much fun it was and that I would love it. Golf? Really? I had some negative stereotypes about golf and I was resistant at first. But I finally relented. We made a plan to go to the local municipal driving range during our lunch break.

How did it go? I wish I could say I was a natural and it was really easy. But that would be a lie. I think I completely missed the ball the first few swings. Then, when I did hit the ball, it would go right or left or pop up in the air. Every few swings, I’d connect just right and that ball would go flying down the range. Yes! Watch out, Tiger Woods.

I fell in love that day. I loved hitting a “good” shot. But what I enjoyed the most was the challenge. It was like a puzzle to figure out and I love trying to figure things out.

I bought myself a set of clubs at Costco and I took a handful of lessons to get started. But after that, my game was pretty much self-taught. That was a big part of the joy (and frustration) in the game for me, to tinker with different swing throughs and techniques and ideas.

Fast forward to the Christmas before last. My dad (many of you know him as Dr. Kagan) gifted me coaching sessions with a local pro. I had changed the way I was holding the club which produced mixed results, so I wanted to get the input of a professional. He had me hit some balls while he recorded my swing on his iPad. After just a few swings, he says, “I see the problem.”

He had me come over to his iPad and showed me the recording. “Your problem is you are not making a good pivot.” I was taken aback. I’d toiled away at this grip change and he was able to spot the problem that quickly?! To make things more confusing for me, it had nothing to do with my grip that I went in to have checked. It was my pivot. He said I was not getting enough rotational move on my backswing. But I thought I had a great turn!

He showed me a move that involved turning, rather than swaying, my hips. Under his direction, I tried it a few times. I thought, “That can’t be right! That feels totally wrong!”

“Like this?”, I asked incredulously as I made the turn. “Exactly like that!”

Even though it felt wrong, I committed to practicing what he taught me after the lesson. When I did his pivot move, I felt like a child learning to walk again. So awkward. But the more I practiced it, the more natural it felt. It didn’t happen overnight, but eventually the new movement pattern overtook the old. As we would say in the Brain-Friendly Teaching workshop, I wired new neural pathways. And the results—it made a big difference!

So when Christmas came around again and my wife asked what to tell my dad if he asked what I wanted, I exclaimed, “That’s easy, more coaching!”

I’m excited (and nervous) to see what changes my coach has in store for me.

What does this have to do with Kagan, other than my friends at Kagan getting me into golf?

As I reflect on this learning experience, actually quite a lot!

First and foremost, I thought of our own coaching program on Kagan Structures. Kagan Coaches are experienced and trained professionals. They have a trained eye. They have used Kagan Structures in their own classrooms as teachers, they have used them with adult learners in workshops, and they have coached hundreds, if not thousands, of teachers using Kagan Structures. Like my golf coach, they know what to look for, what works, and common faults. They know how to produce results. A small little tweak here or there can make a very big difference! Now, the stakes are much bigger for teachers than for me as a recreational golfer. If I improve, I score better, have more fun, and get greater personal satisfaction. But when a teacher improves, they have an enormous impact on the life and learning of many, many students!

I had a pre-conceived notion about my swing and my faults. My coach knew better. Admittedly, he was right! Teachers new to Kagan may sometimes think they understand how to use a structure, but when they go to use it in their own classrooms, they are forgetting a step, or a management tip, or a simple principle. The coach is there to observe and make corrections.

Another connection is how challenging new things can be. I came to golf later in life. Most teachers come to Kagan Trainings as adult learners. When I first tried golf, I completely stunk at it. But I stuck with it. I got very proficient over time. The same is true with Kagan. It will feel totally different at first, but stick with it and you will succeed! Think of the growth mindset. We are not either good or bad at things. With effort, we can all improve.

Change can be equally challenging. For me with golf, I ingrained a particular motor pattern. As soon as I tried to change my grip or hip rotation, it felt totally different or wrong. Teaching with Kagan is totally different. Instead of being the “sage on the stage,” Kagan restructures the classroom so students work cooperatively and are highly interactive. Trust me, I know it is challenging to make changes at first. But with practice doing the new thing, eventually it comes to feel natural. Doing it the old way now feels weird. It’s worth the transition (re-wiring) process!

Looking back, I realize I could have improved a lot quicker had I had the input of a pro earlier and more frequently. There would be a whole lot less unlearning and relearning. Our team of trainers and coaches is here for you!

The other connection between my golf experience and Kagan is both are a journey. I’d love to say that the new “pivot” move my coach taught me was all there was to learn and now my game is now forever fixed. It’s not, and frankly, it never will be. I have embraced the idea that this is a game for life and that there will always be more to learn and to improve. The same is true with teaching and with Kagan Structures—there is always more we can learn and improve. In fact, as I write this, we are in the midst of updating and improving our Kagan Cooperative Learning book, workshop, and updating steps of some Kagan Structures. It would be a whole lot less work to keep things the same. But we have committed to continuous improvement. We know that fine-tuning our teaching tools empowers teachers to more easily produce greater student engagement and learning. It's worth the effort!

Thanks for taking this little trip down memory lane with me. Don’t forget to pivot—the right way!

Miguel Kagan

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