Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Part 1: The benefits of Kagan classroom structures

In the USA and in small but increasing numbers of UK classrooms, teaching and learning is taking quite a different approach.

Students are not seated in rows, they are not asked to be quiet, to keep their eyes on their work – just the opposite. For proponents of alternative teaching styles, Kagan has become one of the most revolutionary learning strategies.

 Whether you’re familiar with Kagan structures or interested in learning more about alternative teaching techniques. In this article, the first of a 3-part series, we consider the uses and benefits of implementing kagan structures in your classroom, particularly in relation to boosting student engagement and learning.

The Kagan structure, sometimes referred to as cooperative learning, commonly involves the teacher setting up the classroom structure into pods (small teams of four) that are tasked with a group task and asked to work collaboratively to reach their learning goal. While each student is responsible for their own learning, they are also responsible for supporting and helping to enhance the learning of their team mates if they are to complete the task.

Kagan learning is built upon group collaboration – working together, interacting with each other and exploring the curriculum in ways that differ from traditional teaching methods.

Whether you’re familiar with the Kagan (cooperative) approach or have seen this type of classroom structure in practice, the first impression that most will draw is the level of student engagement required in the learning process. Through the use of intensive collaboration, students have to work together regardless of their ethnicity, sex, religion or ability – working as a unit to complete the task objective. Yet while the Kagan structure is built on the concept of group work and group achievement, it is non-competitive. One of the main disparities between this approach and traditional individualised approaches to teaching and learning is its ability to create a completely new classroom environment. The Kagan approach places students side by side rather than assigning them isolated works or positioning them against each other. By changing the physical structure of the room and delivering group cohesiveness, the principal aim is to radically change the dynamics of the educational experience and subsequently the educational outcomes as well.

Dr Spencer Kagan, a professor of psychology at the University of California, is one of the founding fathers behind Kagan structures, publishing well-read works on strategies behind successful cooperative learning, multiple intelligences, character development and cognitive abilities. Dr Kagan has become renown in the education sector for his contribution to the innovation of alternative teaching practices and actively trains thousands of academics each year in his Kagan methodology of teaching.

So what are the benefits of adopting Kagan structures?

For the school:
  • easily integrated into the classroom with minimal CPD required
  • complements other teaching methodologies such as flipped learning
  • complements the use of digital technologies - with the use of curriculum-specific e-learning resources, the teacher spends less time lecturing and more time facilitating group collaboration and offering face-to-face support
For the learner:
  • accelerated academic achievement - based on decades of controlled educational research, results have consistently shown accelerated academic achievement, particularly in minority and low-achieving students.
    Engage students in kagan structures
  • development of thinking skills
  • improved relations between students of different cultural, social and economic backgrounds
  • enhanced social skills and social relations
  • increased appreciation for the purposes of teaching and learning (metacognition)
In an interview, Dr Kagan points to the wealth of data that demonstrate the ‘tremendous effect simple Kagan structures have on transforming the way teachers teach and the way students learn’.

Teachers who have introduced Kagan learning often remark on the impact it has on increasing participation, engagement as well as the effect it has on delivering real results in terms of academic achievement. However, the attraction of these techniques has become particularly poignant in recent years as greater demands are being placed on school-leavers to attain more advanced, softer skills. For Kagan proponents, this approach creates an environment that fosters interpersonal development. The act of communicating freely with peers significantly improves students’ people skills as they work together and appreciate the value in positive communication and team working.