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Spencer's Thinkpad

Kagan Structures Decrease Disruptive Behavior

Dr. Spencer Kagan

To cite this article: Kagan, S. Kagan Structures Decrease Disruptive Behavior. Kagan Online Magazine, Issue #58. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. www.KaganOnline.com

As classroom teachers and whole schools implement Kagan Structures, they experience a remarkable decrease in disruptive behavior and discipline referrals. Years ago, when I first began teaching teachers how to use Kagan Structures, I frequently got a question from administrators and responded as follows:

Administrator: What is the new discipline program you are implementing?
My response: No. I don’t train teachers in discipline. I am simply teaching teachers cooperative learning structures.
Administrator: You must be training teachers in some new discipline program. Referrals for discipline have declined dramatically.

At that time I made note of these conversations, but I filed it away mentally as I was focused on developing and training cooperative learning structures. Over the years, individual teachers have documented decreases in disruptive behavior in their own classes following implementing Kagan Structures. Further, principals and others have documented decreases in school-wide discipline problems when Kagan Structures are put in place. Here, we present some of that data and offer five interrelated explanations why educators implementing Kagan Structures experience a sharp decline in discipline problems.

The Data: Structures Reduce Discipline Problems

Decreased Disruptive Behaviors

Disruptive behaviors decrease dramatically when Kagan Structures are introduced. In some schools the number of discipline referrals is cut in half or more within a year of implementing Kagan Structures school-wide.

Drop in Elementary School Discipline Referrals. The dramatic impact of Kagan Structures in reducing disciple referrals is illustrated by what happened at Mills Hill Primary School in the United Kingdom.1 When Kagan Structures were introduced, the average number of discipline referrals per class each term was cut about in half. For several years prior to the institution of Kagan Structures, beginning in 2002, the school had recorded the number of discipline referrals to the headmaster (equivalent to the principal in U.S. schools). The number of referrals prior to the introduction of Kagan Structures hovered between 25 and 30 per class each term. Headmaster Darran Lee indicated this was “a significant problem.” When Kagan Structures were introduced, the number of referrals dropped to about half pre-Kagan levels and maintained that much lower average for years. Darran Lee stated that within months, Kagan Structures were having “a significant impact in reducing the number of behavior incidents across school.” See graph, Kagan Structures Reduce Behavior Incidents at Mills Hill.

Drop in High School Discipline Referrals. Lehigh Senior High documented similar dramatic decreases in disruptive behavior following the implementation of Kagan Structures.2 At Lehigh, average student disciple referrals per class decreased 58% in one year following the implementation of Kagan Structures! See graph: Annual Student Discipline Referrals at Lehigh High School.

Progressive Decline of Discipline Problems. As Kagan Structures become part of the culture of the school, declines in disruptive behavior are progressive year after year.

At Sage Elementary School, following the institution of Kagan Structures in the 2009-2010 school year, discipline referrals dropped each year.3 See graph: Sage Elementary Referrals Per 100 Students.

Why Structures Reduce Discipline Problems—Five Explanations

Let’s examine five explanations of why implementing structures reduces incidences of disruptive behavior: 1) Engaged students are less disruptive; 2) Students develop social skills and a more positive social orientation; 3) Structures are management tools; 4) Structures are fun; and 5) The Basic Principles (PIES) embedded in Kagan Structures reduce disruptive behavior.

1. Engaged Students Are Less Disruptive

Jackie Corey, principal at Lehigh Senior High School, attributes the very dramatic decrease in discipline referrals at her school in part to the greater engagement of students when Kagan Structures are implemented. As Jackie puts it, engaged students “don’t have the opportunity to lose focus and get in trouble.”4

Marlene Kramer, Instructional Coach at Sage Elementary School, also attributes the steady decline in discipline referrals at Sage to greater student engagement:

Discipline referrals have decreased by nearly 33% over the past four years at Sage. The steady decline in discipline referrals over the four-year period can be largely attributed to the implementation of Kagan Cooperative Learning because students have become more engaged in the learning process with fewer opportunities to be off-task.5

Third grade teacher Karen Maddox agrees that her students are more actively engaged in learning and therefore less disruptive:

Kagan Cooperative Learning has greatly increased student engagement and achievement in my class and behavior issues have decreased.6

Educators note greater student engagement results in a consequent decrease in discipline referrals. For example,

Parkview teacher Pamela Estock demonstrated a Kagan strategy with her 1st grade students using part of a vocabulary lesson. With minimal prompting, students partnered and began eagerly exchanging definitions and contextual settings. Geisler's 5th graders demonstrated animated RoundRobin discussions in small groups, teacher moving among groups, offering comments. Fascinating conversations all, each student with a voice, actively involved, having fun learning.

As a result of incorporating Kagan strategies, referrals for discipline have all but disappeared; fully engaged students keep busy. One teacher shared, "It's taken away all my stress." Kagan has helped transform our school culture at Parkview where "kids are having fun learning and teachers are having fun teaching."

To test the attitude of students toward using Kagan Structures, elementary teacher Danielle Gradone administered a questionnaire to her students every two weeks for an eight-week study.8 The teacher used a wide range of Kagan Structures and included structures in every lesson. Following the eight weeks, students responded very favorably toward Kagan Structures: 89% of responses were favorable (Strongly Agree and Agree) compared to 11% unfavorable. See table: Student Attitudes Toward Kagan Structures.

Student Attitudes Toward Kagan Structures

Survey Question

Strongly Agree

Agree

Disagree

Strongly Disagree

Structures are fun

13

7

0

0

Structures make topics more interesting

15

4

0

1

Structures help me communicate with others

11

7

2

0

Structures help me feel comfortable with my peers and teacher

7

9

3

1

Structures help me to participate more in class

11

7

1

1

Percent of Total

55%

34%

8%

3%

Student attitudes became more favorable over time: In the initial survey, administered after only two weeks of experiencing Kagan Structures for the first time, student responses were 76% favorable; in the final survey administered following eight weeks of Kagan Structures, 89% of student responses were favorable.

Survey results support the engagement hypothesis. When Kagan Structures are used, students indicate greater engagement by saying: they participate more, communicate more, and experience the content as more interesting and fun.

Statements by students support the conclusion that the structures produce greater engagement:

I feel challenged by the new learning strategies my teacher has introduced.

I love working with my shoulder and eyeball partner.

RoundRobin is my favorite part of CL because everyone is able to speak and it has to be about one subject, so no one should be off topic.

Talking it out with another person made the process clear to me.

2. Students Develop Social Skills and a More Positive Social Orientation

A second explanation of how Kagan Structures reduce disruptive behaviors is that when Kagan Structures are used, students develop social skills and improved social relations through their daily cooperative interactions. They adopt a more positive social orientation. That is, students have a more favorable view of classmates and more frequently exhibit cooperative behaviors towards one another. It should be noted that this second explanation is not inconsistent with the first explanation. It is probable that greater engagement and a more positive social orientation work symbiotically to decrease disruptive behavior.

First grade teacher Chelsea Porter comments on how the classbuilding aspect of implementing Kagan Structures has created a more caring classroom community: As I have done classbuilders, I have noticed my students helping, encouraging, and supporting each other in all settings without hesitation. They have become a community who cares about everyone.11

Marlene Kramer, Instructional Coach at Sage Elementary School, attributes the very dramatic decrease in discipline referrals at her school in part to the greater acquisition of social skills and improved social relations when Kagan Structures are implemented. As Mrs. Kramer puts it,

In every classroom at Sage, students work in heterogeneous teams of four and routinely engage in a variety of Kagan Structures. Teachers consistently reinforce the social skills built into each structure as they ensure that students know how to properly greet one another, offer praise, thank one another, and give appropriate departures. Teachers also engage their classes in classbuilders and teambuilders on a frequent basis to build safety, trust, and respect within their classroom. One of the exciting transformations that has occurred at Sage over the past four years is that the respect students show to one another in the classroom has transferred to other settings. The greetings, praises, and departures students use within Kagan Structures have now become a part of the students’ natural language and can be heard in the lunchroom, hallway, and during other times of the day… Reinforcing the social skills within each structure and consistent use of classbuilders and teambuilders increased the respect students have for one another as well as adults building-wide.12

Inverse Relation: Negative vs. Positive Behaviors. Attribution of reduced disruptive behaviors to increased acquisition of positive social skills and social relations is supported by data indicating there is an inverse relation between negative and positive behaviors. As students learn positive social skills and establish positive social relations, disruptive behaviors decline.

This inverse relationship was plotted at Madison Camelview Elementary School from 2011 to 2014. Madison Camelview Elementary School is a Title I school with 84% free and reduced lunch, a 28% ELL population, and a 10% special education population. It is also a diverse campus with 3% Asian, 10% black, 56% Hispanic, 11% Native American, and 20% white. Under the direction of principal Michael Winters, Madison Camelview implemented Kagan Structures school-wide:

The implementation of Kagan had a dramatically positive impact on student behavior. With full Kagan implementation, negative behaviors decreased while positive referrals skyrocketed. Students received discipline referrals for typical behaviors disrupting the educational environment and/or process. Students earned positive referrals for positive behaviors. Here are some behaviors for which students typically earned a positive referral:

  • Finding money on campus and turning it in
  • Helping a friend who dropped his/her books
  • Picking up trash without being asked
  • Helping to clean the cafeteria without being asked
  • Holding a door for a teacher whose hands were full
  • Being an excellent coach to a partner or team13

Within three years, positive referrals tripled and discipline referrals were reduced to a fourth of what they were!

Disruptions Down, Social Skills Up. Stacey Magnesio conducted a study of the impact of Kagan Structures on disruptive and positive behaviors in her 4th grade class.14 She had been having serious problems with disruptive behavior and decided to institute three Kagan Structures: RoundRobin, RallyCoach, and Quiz-Quiz-Trade. She plotted the number of disruptive behaviors per student each week using the ABCD Tally Chart.15 The ABCD Tally Chart records Aggression, Breaking the Rules, Confrontations, and Disengagement for each student. Frequency of disruptive behaviors declined week after week when Stacey introduced Kagan Structures. See graph: Frequency of Disruptive Behaviors.

To determine if this decline in disruptive behavior was associated with an increase in positive behaviors, Stacey used 5-minute time sample observations of selected students, recording incidents of Listening Attentively, Praising Others, Respecting Differences, Staying on Task, and Taking Turns. The frequency of positive behaviors in fact increased dramatically as incidents of disruptive behaviors declined. See graph: Frequency of Positive Social Skills for Target Students.

Note: Taylor was not available for observation Week 1.

Mrs. Magnesio noted the decline in need to deal with disruptive behavior freed up time to focus on academics:

This made a powerful impact on my classroom. Not only were the students getting better at working together as the weeks went by, I was able to spend more time teaching and less time lecturing my students about being team players and working together.

Progressive Improvement of Positive Behaviors. Positive behaviors become the norm as Kagan Structures are implemented school-wide. This was clearly revealed at Cheatham Elementary School.16 The school plotted the number of positive referrals for unrequested positive behaviors from 2007 to 2011 using the same method described in the Camelview study.

Following the implementation of Kagan Structures school-wide, positive referrals skyrocketed from 46 to 475 positive referrals a year—more than a ten times increase! See Graph: Positive Referrals Following Adopting Kagan

The positive behavior of students was noticeable to outside visitors:

We would also hear a great deal of praise from outside visitors. Literally every outside visitor, including district office staff, would comment on how polite and well-mannered our students were. At first, this surprised me because dealing with the behavior issues on a day-to-day basis I didn’t always see that, but they did. The positive behavior became the expectation and the norm.17

3. Structures Are Management Tools

Each Kagan Cooperative Learning Structure is a predictable sequence. For example, to do a RallyRobin, first the teacher has students think about items they can mention, and then partners take turns orally stating one item until the teacher calls time. Once students have done a RallyRobin a few times, when the teacher says we are going to do a RallyRobin, students know exactly what is going to happen. A major finding from brain research is predictable routines create psychological safety. When students feel safe in the classroom, many needs are being met and students are more capable of focusing on learning and are less likely to be disruptive. Further, the tight sequence of events in each Kagan Structure leaves little room to get off task. For example, in RallyRobin after Partner A states an item, it is Partner B’s turn and so it is unlikely Partner B does something other than name the next item. There is less room for disruptive behavior than an unstructured interaction. Finally, the tightly sequenced series of events in each structure serves as a management tool. Each student has an active role in the learning task. Each student knows exactly what he or she is to do. Structures create predictability, safety, and keep students on task—all contributing to a lower probability of disruptive behaviors.

4. Structures Are Fun

Students enjoy interacting in structures. Research consistently finds students prefer cooperative learning over independent learning tasks. For example, in the aforementioned survey, one hundred percent of students either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, Structures are fun. It is worth pointing out that not a single student disagreed with this statement. Recently I was in a high school class in New York. The teacher said the students come in after school to “play” Quiz-Quiz-Trade. They see it as a game. When students are having fun in class, their liking for class, content, and teacher goes up. In turn, they are less likely to disrupt a class that they are enjoying and confront a teacher who is providing activities they enjoy: If I like you, our class, and learning together with my classmates, I don’t want to mess it up.

5. The Basic Principles (PIES) Embedded in Structures Reduce Disruptive Behavior

When trying to understand why Kagan Structures lead to reduction of disruptive behaviors and discipline referrals, it is helpful to ask, What is a Kagan Structure? Kagan Structures are situations that organize the interaction of students with each other, the content, and the teacher so that four basic principles are in place: Positive Interdependence, Individual Accountability, Equal Participation, and Simultaneous Interaction. For short, we use the acronym PIES to refer to these four principles. In different ways, each of these principles reduces the likelihood of disruptive behavior, as summarized in the Table: Implementing the PIES Principles Reduces Disruptive Behavior.

Implementing the PIES Principles Reduces Disruptive Behavior

Principle

Description

How It Reduces Disruptive Behavior

Positive Interdependence

Puts students on same side; Requires contribution of each

Students help, encourage, praise, and tutor each other. They cooperate. When students feel supported by others, they are less likely to put each other down or active aggressively. If a student does not know how to solve a problem, the student is less likely to act out against the teacher or others. Ready, supportive helpers surround students. Students feel safer so they are less likely to have a fight or flight reaction.

Individual Accountability

Performance of each is viewed by other(s)

When each student must perform, none can take a free ride. Individual Accountability keeps students on-task with less opportunity for off-task disruptive behaviors.

Equal Participation

Student perform equally or at least equitably

Students have more equal status, producing mutual respect and more positive social interactions. Mutual respect decreases arguing.

Simultaneous Interaction

Maximizes overt active participation

More engaged students are less disruptive.

In addition to the ways in which the PIES principles directly make disruptive behavior less likely, they build class cohesion and a liking for class and content. Students who are enjoying class and learning are less likely to be disruptive. Finally, as noted by many educators, the social skills and positive social relations built into the structures (respectful listening, taking turns, patient waiting, praising, encouraging, tutoring, conflict resolution, mutual respect) all lead to a profound change in social orientation of students away from competition and individualism and toward cooperation. Students surrounded by others with a cooperative social orientation have far less motivation to be disruptive.

Conclusion

The data is in. When Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures are implemented, the incidents of disruptive behaviors and discipline referrals decreases. There are a number of possible explanations. Many explanations flow directly from understanding Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures. The structures are situations that implement PIES, in turn creating more engagement, accountability, and cooperation. Engaged students who are held accountable are less likely to get off task. Further, cooperation leads to acquisition of social skills and improved social relations. Students see themselves as a community of learners all on the same side. Given this feeling of mutual support, students feel more secure and like class more. They are less inclined to disrupt a class that is going their way.

References


1 Lee, D. Mills Hill School – A Journey Towards Success. Kagan Online Magazine. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Fall 2009.
www.kaganonline.com/free_articles/research_and_rationale/326/Mills-Hill-SchoolA-Journey-Towards-Success

2 Corey, J. At Lehigh Senior High School, “It's All About Engagement!” Kagan Online Magazine. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Fall 2017.
www.kaganonline.com/free_articles/research_and_rationale/461/At-Lehigh-Senior-High-School--It-s-All-About-Engagement!-

3 Kramer, M. Discipline Referrals Decrease Dramatically at Sage Elementary. Kagan Online Magazine. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Spring/Summer 2014.
www.kaganonline.com/free_articles/research_and_rationale/387/Discipline-Referrals-Decrease-Dramatically-at-Sage-Elementary

4 Corey, J. At Lehigh Senior High School, “It's All About Engagement!” Kagan Online Magazine. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Fall 2017.
www.kaganonline.com/free_articles/research_and_rationale/461/At-Lehigh-Senior-High-School--It-s-All-About-Engagement!-

5 Kramer, M. Discipline Referrals Decrease Dramatically at Sage Elementary. Kagan Online Magazine. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Spring/Summer 2014.
www.kaganonline.com/free_articles/research_and_rationale/387/Discipline-Referrals-Decrease-Dramatically-at-Sage-Elementary

6 Kramer, M. Discipline Referrals Decrease Dramatically at Sage Elementary. Kagan Online Magazine. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Spring/Summer 2014.
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7 Kleyn-Kennedy, C. Engaged Learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Issue #54.
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8 Gradone, D. Increasing Student Participation, Interest, and Communication with Cooperative Learning Structures. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Issue #53.
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9 Allard, K. Student Comments on Cooperative Learning and Multiple Intelligences Structures. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Spring 2000.
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10 Murie, C. R. Effects of Communication on Student Learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Summer 2004.
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11 Kramer, M. Discipline Referrals Decrease Dramatically at Sage Elementary. Kagan Online Magazine. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Spring/Summer 2014.
www.kaganonline.com/free_articles/research_and_rationale/387/Discipline-Referrals-Decrease-Dramatically-at-Sage-Elementary

12 Kramer, M. Discipline Referrals Decrease Dramatically at Sage Elementary. Kagan Online Magazine. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Spring/Summer 2014.
www.kaganonline.com/free_articles/research_and_rationale/387/Discipline-Referrals-Decrease-Dramatically-at-Sage-Elementary

13 Winters, M. Earning A Grades with Kagan. Kagan Online Magazine. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Fall 2014/Winter 2015.
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14 Magnesio, S. & Davis, B. A Teacher Fosters Social Competence with Cooperative Learning. Childhood Education, Summer 2010. Reproduced in Kagan’s Online Magazine, San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Fall/Winter 2010: www.kaganonline.com/free_articles/research_and_rationale/185/A-Teacher-Fosters-Social-Competence-With-Cooperative-Learning

15 Kagan, S., Kyle, P. & Scott, S. Win-Win Discipline. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing, 2004.

16 Winters, M. Becoming Exemplary with Kagan. Kagan Online Magazine. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Fall/Winter 2013.
www.kaganonline.com/free_articles/research_and_rationale/371/Becoming-Exemplary-with-Kagan

17 Winters, M. Becoming Exemplary with Kagan. Kagan Online Magazine. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Fall/Winter 2013.
www.kaganonline.com/free_articles/research_and_rationale/371/Becoming-Exemplary-with-Kagan