Thursday, 4 April 2013

Part 2: Examples of successful Kagan classroom structures

Kagan structures have spanned over 30 years of academic integration with thousands of teachers attending training workshops each year.

The development of this approach followed an extensive period of experimentation before being transferred into applied classroom teaching. The concept centres on the principle that cooperativeness is most powerfully determined by the situations in which children find themselves. On this basis, an individual can be encouraged to be extremely cooperative or extremely competitive, depending on the learning environment created.

One of the co-founders of this approach, Dr Spencer Kagan found that, regardless of cultural, social or economic background, a student’s behaviour could be modified by the situation created by the teacher.

Classroom applications were used to test this hypothesis and they confirmed that, within the correct environment and situation, teachers could foster a range of positive outcomes from students.

Kagan structures therefore, rooted in situationism, have become a significant part of social psychology whereby the teacher adapts the classroom structure and lesson plan to elicit a particular social behaviour, the most attractive of which being effective and sustained cooperation among students.

As with all theories, piloting and small-scale studies can offer insight into their impact but it is difficult to determine whether these techniques are scalable.

In this article, part 2 of our 3-part review of Kagan structures, we identify examples of its application to help you decide whether this could support and enhance your own teaching methodologies.

Following the initial application of this alternative teaching structure, data from empirical evidence suggest that it has been gaining increasing support with examples of successful integration covering schools and districts around the world.

One such example has been Berkley Elementary School, which opened as the first Kagan-driven school. Situated in Polk County, Florida and consisting of 560 students, 61 per cent were registered on the free or reduced-fee lunch programme and many were from a multicultural background. When the school initiated the partnership programme, Berkley’s head teacher was sceptical as to whether such an untraditional approach would offer sustainable learner engagement. But soon after participating in an intensive training weekend, he quickly converted to the new approach.

In 2001, a year after the scheme began and the school opened, Berkley achieved higher student grades than all other newly-formed elementary schools in the USA. In 2002, only one other title one school in the entire district scored higher than Berkley. The success that Berkley has achieved and sustained has convinced their head teacher and many other stakeholders who were initially doubtful of the impact Kagan structures would have on academic achievement, particularly its universal effect on each year/grade, of the value of Kagan teaching practices.

The results from US examples provide mounting evidence of the successful impact Kagan structures have on teaching and learning, but this is where the idea was conceived and evolved, so we’ve considered a second case example based in the UK, involving a more recent application.

Homewood School and Sixth Form Centre, based in Tenterden, Kent, is becoming widely recognised for its forward thinking approach towards a twenty-first century personalised learning agenda, offering students an accelerated timetable and enabling them to sit examinations when they are ready, rather than at a fixed age.
While placing a high emphasis on integrative learning technologies, Homewood’s Vice-Principal of Partnerships, Chris Foreman, has encouraged teaching staff to continually question their best practices, with many now delivering fully-flipped classrooms.

While the flipped model switches the learning responsibility to the student, Homewood has combined it with elements of Kagan structures so that preparatory lesson tasks provide students with an underpinning knowledge which they are then tested on, in groups, to develop their own understanding and support the accelerated learning of their team-mates. To do this, Homewood harnesses the benefits of an effective e-learning resource to deliver content and information prior to the lesson and then consolidates their learning using Kagan teaching practices.

While this approach may seem radical, it is also coherent, structured and based on years of empirical research which may be the reason for Homewood’s progressive success and development.

Each teacher is an individual and will have their own preferred teaching methods and style. What Kagan structures offer is a consistent approach that once learnt can be applied successfully to any learning environment and situation.

Here’s a round-up of some of the observed advantages of the Kagan structure:

  • Teacher-friendly
    This approach has been notoriously easy for practitioners to learn and to begin using. Teachers tend to pick up the components of the structures quickly as a result of their logical application. This enables them to demonstrate dramatic changes to their teaching practices shortly after they have received the training. The reason for this is that once teachers learn the structure they can draw upon it as and when they see fit, or adapt and refine to suit a particular situation that they wish to create.
  • Appeals to students
    Kagan-orientated classrooms offer students more freedom, empowering them to take more responsibility over their own learning. This makes learning more social and, as a result, more enjoyable.
  • Students build social relations
    Through group collaborative exercises and group problem-solving, students develop better interpersonal skills and form stronger relationships with their classmates.
  • Any grade, any content
    Kagan structures can and are being applied in a range of academic disciplines and across various grades/years. The structure is flexible and malleable to most learning situations and so offers teachers a universal strategy to add to their own teacher toolkit.
Only a few examples are outlined here and you will be the best judge on whether Kagan structures offer a viable teaching methodology. It is, however, an interesting alternative and one that we will be looking at in more depth in Part 3: Traditional versus Kagan teaching approaches.

Read related article:

Benefits of Kagan
Introduction to Kagan structures and their benefits