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Special Article

Every Child, Every Day at Waterway

Carrie Mott and Kristin Atkinson

To cite this article: Mott, C. and Atkinson, K Every Child, Every Day at Waterway. Kagan Online Magazine, Issue #59. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. www.KaganOnline.com

“Every child, every day at Waterway!”  Little did we know that such a small vision statement could hold so much power. What we envisioned five years ago, as we rebuilt our school, has now come to life through the implementation of Kagan Cooperative Learning structures. Although we developed this mission statement long before we implemented Kagan Structures, we realized in our school of nearly 700 students—each with specific needs and challenges—that our students needed several essential elements to be successful.

Improved Test Scores

For the 2014-15 academic year, our school was restructured from an intermediate school housing grades 4 and 5 students to a preK-5 school. Students and teachers were now brought together from 3 area schools into one. We received a group of second-graders that were, simply put, challenging—behaviorally and academically.

As second-graders, only 64% met their MAP reading goals and only 68% met their math goals. Moving into their third grade year, these students’ scores and behavior choices continued to cause teachers concern. They struggled to work independently on any academic tasks and had difficulty completing assignments. Only 68% of these third grade students met their MAP reading goals, but 79% managed to reach their math goals.

These scores ranked Waterway fourth grade students #1 for reading among 27 schools in the district and #2 in the district for math. Teachers had made significant progress and students made astounding academic growth with the use of Kagan Cooperative Learning structures!

However, Waterway Elementary started the 2016-2017 school year with a new focus on utilizing Kagan Cooperative Learning structures within the classroom. Students began to participate more due to teambuilding and P.I.E.S. They gradually developed more self-confidence in their abilities. The academic results for this difficult group of students were inspiring. At the end of their fourth grade year, the percentage of students meeting reading goals soared to 80%, whereas 72% of these students met their MAP math goals. These scores ranked Waterway fourth grade students #1 for reading among 27 schools in the district and #2 in the district for math. Teachers had made significant progress, and students made astounding academic growth with the use of Kagan Cooperative Learning structures!

“For many of our students, studying at home for quizzes and tests is an independent process with so many of our students having other obligations and priorities once they are at home. Using structures such as Quiz-Quiz-Trade and RallyCoach to review content prior to a test has increased student achievement in all of my students this year.”
—Sara Morotto, Second Grade Teacher

“In fourth grade, we had a lot more fun learning. Using structures made us want to learn more and want to do it more often. In the past, we were just sitting there listening to the teacher which wasn’t as much fun.”
—Olivia Meyers, Student

Improved Behavior

Through all of the changes in our Title I school now housing students from child development through fifth grade, we knew that there must be an initiative that could help our building and students grow together into one powerful group rather than the isolated parts from which we all came. As can be expected, our students all now working with all different ages and backgrounds, student behavior at times was not what we envisioned for our school. During the 2015-2016 school year, one of our most challenging student groups was in third grade. They were defensive, resentful, and disrespectful. Overall, the only future they saw for themselves did not include a graduation robe with a tasseled hat. Their future was in the here and now and this group of third graders consumed themselves with social media, rumors, social standings, and belongings. This group of students desperately needed the addition of an initiative to help them bond and realize that they were a very important part of Waterway.

Overall, there was a 29% decrease in referrals with simply one year of implementation.

As this group of students left third grade and were promoted down the hallway to our fourth grade group of teachers, they had heard all of the rumors and worries about this group of students. However, this is also the year that our initiative with Kagan Structures began. As teachers were trained and began to model for other teachers, it was as though a wildfire had swept through our building. This movement incorporating all elements of P.I.E.S. was exciting for teachers and students alike. As the fourth grade teachers embraced this new method of engagement, the students began to thrive in their new surroundings. Suddenly, there was an increased focus on teambuilding and a concentration on getting to know your classmates like never before. It was not merely a suggestive feeling in the air, but rather a mandate. As a leadership team, we began to see a shift in these students both socially and academically. It was as though a switch had been flipped and repeat offenders were wanting to stay in class. They were wanting to stay in class not only because they might miss something engaging and fun, but also because they knew they were part of a group that needed their input. Finally they were becoming a team. The School Referrals chart illustrates the discipline referrals for this group of students prior to and after implementing Kagan to help better show the growth in this group of students. Overall, there was a 29% decrease in referrals with simply one year of implementation.

As the fourth grade teachers embraced this new method of engagement, the students began to thrive in their new surroundings.

“Kagan has made a large impact on not only improving student learning and understanding, but developing social skills and habits. Body language, tone of voice, eye contact, and positive communication greatly affect how my students interact in the classroom setting. Kagan Structures help students develop their thinking, communicating, and collaborating skills in a controlled way. I implement Kagan Structures into every lesson plan I create in order to make learning cooperative. I fully support these engagement structures, and I know they help children in many, many ways!”
—Heather Smith, Fourth Grade Teacher

“Before we started using Kagan, classwork was just easy. I just listened to the teacher and did my work. But, now that we use structures, it’s more challenging. It’s helping everyone learn so much more and it is helping others too.  I know with me it made me learn so much more. Before there were only a few of us in GT (Gifted and Talented) and now there are so many. Kids have to do their work and they have to be a part of the learning. It really has helped make kids smarter.”
—Primere Lewis, Student

Improved Community

With the realization of the many benefits of Kagan Cooperative Learning, the Waterway leadership team wanted to expand upon our initial implementation for the 2017-2018 school year.  We understood how essential teambuilding and classbuilding activities were for students to truly feel safe to collaborate, freely share ideas, and take on responsibilities in their learning teams. To ensure that all teachers were providing these opportunities, Kagan calendars were created that specified activities to be completed during each week for the recommended number of times for optimal results. In addition, packets were made with all the essential materials needed for students to complete each activity listed on the calendar. The provision of these materials was greatly appreciated by teachers who now felt prepared to devote time and resources to building community with these activities. Laughter and joy was heard down the halls with the participation in Silly Sports & Goofy Games for classbuilding. Because teachers and students were engaging in the same suggested activities, both adults and children enjoyed talking about the shared experiences from their classrooms. To continue to improve with our implementation of Kagan Cooperative Learning structures, we had a Kagan coach come to work with our teachers 6 times during the year. Teachers were eager to work together to learn effective techniques to plan and teach engaging lessons.

“Kagan has taken cooperative learning to another level! My students cooperate effectively because of Kagan’s amazing structures. The structures have helped my students acquire social and communication skills needed in the real world. Implementing these structures has taught my students how to successfully take turns and to listen to the views of others. Everyone is a team player and a leader when you use Kagan. The increase in self-esteem and empathy for others is all made possible when you decide to add a Kagan Structure to your lesson. The long-term benefits of Kagan are out of this world!”
—Latasha Mose, Fourth Grade Teacher

Waterway Elementary has experienced two years of great success with the implementation of Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures, but we are not stopping there! For the current school year, the leadership team has invited our Kagan coach back to help our teachers with lesson planning and utilizing structures most effectively to yield desired results. With these half-day planning sessions at the end of September, we are confident that our students will continue to soar academically and behaviorally—“Every child, every day at Waterway!”