Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cooperative Learning – Kagan Workshops


This workshop in Sydney on 12th April was an invigorating day spent working in practical terms on concepts and structures for implementing cooperative learning across primary and secondary classes. Laurie Kagan capably managed a large group of teachers through the day. Many school groups were there including several who have cooperative learning structures embedded in their school routines.

Several Parramatta Peelers (and Parramatta Diocese schools generally) were in attendance and certainly the
Kagan philosophy fits right in alongside PEEL.

So what’s all the fuss? Lets look at the guiding concepts first:

TEAMS – There are lots of ways of forming teams but the basis of most of what we did on this day relates to heterogeneous teams of (ideally) four students. A mix of abilities, gender and ethnicity means some care is taken in getting teams right, and teams are not expected to stay the same all year. Five to six weeks is suggested as an ideal time.

WILL – Now, you can’t just tell kids to cooperate and go away. The Kagan way is based on regular classbuilding and team building activities which make the classroom a social and accepting place.

MANAGEMANT – Cooperative learning places demands on the traditional classroom and things may look chaotic at times. So good management is as essential as ever.

SKILLS – A host of social skills are needed for cooperative learning to work, and these will never go astray in or out of class. Teamwork skills include: listening carefully, waiting patiently, taking turns, reaching consensus, resolving conflicts, asking for and offering help. These skills are embedded in the structures used.

BASIC PRINCIPLES – Positive interdependence, Individual accountability, Equal participation and Simultaneous interaction join to form the backbone of the cooperative classroom. (Think PIES)

STRUCTURES – There are over a hundred structures defined in the Kagan material, but starting small is the best advice. Timed Pair Share, RallyCoach, Find My rule are just a few. You probably have your own favourites if you already foster cooperative work with kids. Structures are planned through lessons to enhance content and cluster learning. The Kagan structures are sure to offer you something new.

Probably the most enlightening idea of the day for me (and it was a day full of enlightenment) was the principle of simultaneous interaction. It is so easy to plan to speak for a few minutes and realise too late that you’ve gone on and the kids are zoning out, however relevant the content.

Learning to shorten your teaching time and crossing to kids asking each other questions, checking each others’ understandings, and remembering to praise your partner or team mates means that kids are actively engaged through the lesson, and can avoid that one kid who always answers your questions, and the twenty something who are happy to let him. This is something I know can improve my teaching.

Now, I admit that I did refer to some materials I bought at the workshop to write the above (although the handout we received on the day was an excellent and interactive one). To have a look at books, smartcards (handy summary cards) and posters take a look at
Kagan Products available in Australia through Hawker Brownlow.

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