Kagan Online Magazine - Issue #56

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Spencer’s Thinkpad

An Interview with Dr. Spencer Kagan

Michael F. Shaughnessy

Dr. Spencer Kagan is interviewed by Education Views senior columnist. Spencer answers questions about himself, the Kagan program, and some specific Kagan Structures.

Featured Structure

Talking Chips


Talking Chips is a great structure to develop discussion skills. The structure is designed to encourage approximately equal participation from everyone. Any time you have a discussion topic, think Talking Chips.

Administrator Tips

It Ain’t Happening in Our Offices

Dr. Vern Minor

In education, the classroom is where the rubber meets the road. The classroom is where the real action happens. If administrators want to be true educational leaders, they must visit teachers' classrooms. Dr. Minor shares the rationale for classroom visits and outlines two approaches for administrators to make the most of their time visiting classrooms.

Teacher & Training Tips

Manage Your Teams Like a Pro

Dr. Spencer Kagan & Miguel Kagan

Kagan Structures involve team work and pair work. Students sit in teams and interact with classmates frequently. To make teamwork work, you need to manage your teams like a pro. This article will show you how.

Tech Tips

Integrating Technology with Kagan Structures

Dr. Michael Winters

When technology is integrated with good instruction, it becomes an even more powerful tool. Michael describes a training he conducted for administrators, marrying technology as an information delivery tool with a Kagan Structure as an interactive teaching tool to process and share that information. Glimpse the future.

Training Opportunities

2018 Winter Academies

Charlotte Armstrong

Kagan Winter Academies are coming up! Kagan will be in Dallas, January 12-15th and in Las Vegas, February 16-19th. Come join Kagan for engaging, career-defining 2-day workshops or 4-day institutes.

New Products

Silly Sports & Goofy Games Flip Chart

Team Kagan

Flip your way to classroom fun with this new flip chart. This handy desk reference includes 30 favorite energizers and brain breaks from the longtime bestselling book, Silly Sports & Goofy Games.

A+ Anecdotes

Letter to Dr. Kagan: My Daughter's Story

Jeff McAlpine

This is a heart-warming story of love, heroism, and triumph. Kagan is honored to be even a small part of this family’s success story.

Learning to Laugh

Smuggling, Passwords, and Kindergarten

What Participants Are Saying

Hear what teachers are saying about their recent Kagan workshops and their Kagan Trainers. Kagan's training team is top notch!


Kagan Structures Around the Globe

See pictures of Kagan Structures in action—from kindergarteners in Florida to parents in the Netherlands for Back-to-School Night. With Kagan Structures, interaction happens regardless of age, subject matter, or nationality.

Special Article 1

At Lehigh Senior High School, “It’s All About Engagement!”

Jackie Corey

Principal Jackie Corey shares what happened at her Title I high school when they went to school-wide Kagan implementation. Spoiler alert: Students improved academically as well as behaviorally. Lehigh experienced a 58% reduction in disciplinary referrals.

Special Article 2

Jackie Has ADHD

Amanda Keller

Can a student who is hyperactive with attention deficits—usually among teachers' biggest challenges—really be a tremendous asset to the entire class? This story suggests that with the right teaching tools, we can channel that energy into productive learning.

Special Article 3

Lesson Plans Must Include the 4 C's!
No Problem – Use Kagan Structures

Kris Osthoff

Is it realistic for teachers to cram the 4 C’s—Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, and Communication—into lessons? Wouldn't that just make lessons four times harder to plan? It's no problem when you use Kagan Structures that have all these ingredients already baked into the cake.

Special Article 4

Kagan on the Carpet:
Structures and Management Tips for Little Ones

Angela Pinkerton

Help! All these little people want to share. Their poor little arms are going fall off if they keep them raised all day. Angela has made it her mission to help primary teachers more fully engage their little ones. Start on the carpet with Angela's top three management tips and top three Kagan Structures.

Special Article 5

Highest Evaluation Possible

Rickey Millwood

Surprise! Today is your unannounced classroom evaluation. While that may strike fear into the hearts of some teachers, Rickey didn't sweat it. He kept his cool. You, too, can get the highest evaluations possible from even the toughest evaluator by heeding Rickey's advice: Always keep your students actively engaged.

Letter from the Editor

Creating Better Humans, Building a Better World

What if I told you that making small changes in the way you teach can create better humans and build a better world? Would you believe me? Would you commit to changing your instruction?

Many teachers are making the change to create greater student engagement and improved learning outcomes. Creating better humans and a better world is an unintended, but inevitable result. Not a bad byproduct, huh?

And isn't this incidental secondary result reason enough? I say, "Yes." I'm sure many of you agree. Educators are idealists. We enter the teaching profession because we want to make a difference. We want to positively impact the lives of our students and build a better future for them. For many of us, we hope to not only positively impact the students we teach, but we also hope that the students we send into the world will act and interact in ways that makes the world a little better place for all of us.

And, to be sure, the world is a better place thanks to teachers. Aside from parents, who else is more involved in molding children into responsible and respectable human beings? Very few individuals or institutions do more than teachers and schools to form our students' character.

But even as well intentioned as we are, something's not working. We still deal with bullying, school violence, racism in and beyond school. I'm not saying there's a panacea, but I am suggesting we can make a small change to make a huge difference. The change: add a little cooperation to students' daily instruction. Cooperative instruction nurtures a more cooperative social orientation, and that way of seeing the world and being in the world makes it a more harmonious place.

In very general terms, there are three basic social orientations and three ways we can structure our classroom interaction: competitive, individualistic, and cooperative. Each produces a different world view and set of behaviors. If I adopt a competitive social orientation, my goal is to win. I want to be better than you. I want to come out on top, and by logical extension, I want you to lose. Life is a zero sum game. I want all the goodies and I want you to have none (or at least none of mine).

If I have an individualistic social orientation, I have a different world view. Life is all about me. I don't care so much if you win or lose; I just care about myself. You do you, and I'll do me.

Cooperative instruction nurtures a more cooperative social orientation, and that way of seeing the world and being in the world makes it a more harmonious place.

A cooperative social orientation is very different. If I have a cooperative social orientation, I'm looking for ways we can work together so we can both succeed. Of course I want to succeed. But importantly, I want you to succeed too. I feel that if we can team up, we can be wildly more successful than if either of us goes it alone. Your gain is my gain. We're in this together.

In school we have an imbalance. We are cultivating the competitive and individualistic social orientation to the detriment of the cooperative orientation. Daily instruction is structured competitively and individualistically which is producing an unintentional adverse impact on our students and society.

The traditional classroom structure is a competitive environment. Students compete for the attention and praise of the teacher. A teacher asks a question and some hands go up with excitement. Whether audibly or not, students are saying, "Call on me, call on me." One student is selected and others are disappointed because they lost the competition for the teacher's attention and their chance to shine. They lost their opportunity to show they are smarter and better than others. Grading is another example. Students get their tests back. They look at their test scores. How did I do? Did I do better than you? Am I smarter and better than my classmates? Take the innocuous spelling bee—one winner and a lot of losers. How about grading on a curve? A mandatory distribution of winners and losers. Honors, AP, IB, Cum Laude, award ceremonies—all competitions for a limited number of prizes or positions.

But schooling is not only competitive, it is also very individualistic. Take the traditional math class. After direct instruction on the new skill, students work out problems independently. "Do your own work." "Keep your eyes to yourself." "Don't talk with your neighbors." Maybe you've heard some of these common expressions in your own schooling. Maybe you've repeated them yourself as a teacher. Some kids can go through an entire school year without interacting with classmates a single time. They may not even know the name of the student sitting right in front of them. And based on the independent nature of learning in some classrooms, why would it even matter?

Traditional schooling has a lot of competition, and a lot of independent work, but not much cooperation. That's the imbalance Kagan would like to help correct. In the Kagan classroom, the teacher uses cooperative instructional strategies. Students pair up to help each other master new content. Students work in teams to tutor, discuss, and learn. Positive interdependence is woven into every structure where students not only feel they are on the same side, but learning is structured so that they need to cooperate to succeed. We have students praise their partners. We celebrate the successes of classmates. Students get to know, like, and respect their teammates with Teambuilding. We build classroom community with the positive interactions of Classbuilding.

How we structure daily interactions has an impact—good or bad. Students in the competitive classroom come to see others as obstacles to their own success. To win in this world, I must beat you out. I must be smarter than you. I must be better than you. And if I can't win at their game, I will find a way to salvage my own ego and win in my own mind, in my own way. I will be cooler than you. I will be prettier than you. Or I will be better than you at a sport or game.

The individualistic classroom has an indelible impact on students' character, too. Students feel that they are in it alone. If I want to win in this world, it is up to me, and me alone, to sink or swim. Many feel isolated. An island in a sea of islands.

In the cooperative classroom, students see each other as unique individuals and resources. They interact with teammates and classmates on a regular basis and come to see each not as black or white, nerd or jock, smart or a dummy. They see each other as unique human beings. People with whom, despite our differences, we can work together to succeed. How can we work together? How can I help you succeed?

Think of the worst things that happen in school. Think of bullying. Think of school shootings. Which orientations are most likely to produce these ills? Which orientation is most likely to prevent them? Isn't bullying a direct relative of competition? I must assert my dominance over you. I win, you lose, loser. How often do we hear that the perpetrator felt isolated, alone, and is lashing out murderously? What if day after day, lesson after lesson, students worked together with classmates instead of in isolation? What if they forged cross-race, cross-sex, and cross-group friendships? Research tells us that's exactly what happens in the cooperative classroom. But we don't need research. We see students becoming kinder in their daily interactions. Now, I'm not suggesting cooperation will fix everything, but evidence suggests it sure goes a long way to making things better. We've shared in this very magazine many school success stories. When schools started implementing Kagan cooperative learning, they had a dramatic increase in positive behaviors and a sharp decline in negative behaviors.

Social orientation extends beyond the classroom walls. It extends beyond the school campus. It spills over into real life. The social orientation we develop in school manifests itself in our world view, our attitudes, and how we interact with others.

Take the everyday situation of two lanes on the freeway merging into one. Two drivers with a cooperative orientation play the the silent dance flawlessly. You speed up, I slow down. Everyone's safe and we go about our lives. Two drivers with a competitive orientation are the recipe for road rage: Oh no, you're not going to get in front of me. I'm going to speed up and not let you over. And if you do, I'm going to honk my horn, flash my lights, and maybe give you the finger. You are not better than me!

Maybe that's a silly example, but isn't it true? What about in the workplace? A competitive workplace can erode trust among co-workers, create back-biting and sabotage to get ahead. A cooperative environment promotes teamwork, helping, working together to achieve shared goals. Workplace surveys identify the skills employers value most. Communication skills, teamwork skills, leadership skills consistently top the list—all skills developed daily in the cooperative classroom.

Broaden it out to the societal level or even broader to a geopolitical scale. Competition in society creates racism and intolerance. "They" are doing this to "us." We can't stand for that. We need to build walls, not bridges. Cooperation is rooted in respect. Can we come up with a win-win solution? On the world stage, competition among countries becomes contentious. A very dangerous proposition in the age of nukes. A cooperative orientation is doves over hawks and diplomacy over war.

As an educational community, we have a choice. We can structure learning to be competitive, individualistic, or competitive. Each of these orientations is adaptive in different situations. However, education, as it is conducted in classrooms worldwide, is imbalanced. We have erred on the side of too much competition and independence. Stand with us to correct the balance. Let's infuse cooperation into our lessons. By choosing to incorporate cooperation and develop the cooperative social orientation we can create better humans and build a better world—together!

Miguel Kagan

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

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