I love to learn and keep telling my students that we will always be learning throughout our lives!
Over the past couple of months I have been taking PD based on Cooperative Learning (Kagan Structures). Cooperative Learning is not an entirely new concept, it was also done several years ago, but Kagan refined a way to teach the structures more explicitly and purposefully. He recognized that the more students speak and share their ideas, the more that they learn. The structures allow for equal participation during the lesson. These strategies are not tied to any specific content, but may be used across all curriculum areas. Cooperative Learning also helps to develop the students’ social skills.
I recently had the pleasure of team teaching some collaborative learning lessons in two Junior High classes. The Math teacher and I modeled and then scaffolded Rally Coaching first in a Grade 6/7 Math class and then later in a Grade 8/9 Math class. Word Problems based on the outcomes that the students were learning had been developed for each group. Students had to coach their partners towards exhibiting a way of solving their word problem. It was very important for the “coaches” to give the right amount of encouragement and to lead their partners towards the correct solution without telling them the answer. The classroom teacher and I walked around doing a formative evaluation by listening in and modeling various words for the coaches. The students had the chance to explain their own thought processes as well as to hear their partner’s thought process during this cognitive activity. Word Problems are often very difficult for some students; this cooperative learning structure allowed more successes to many students who may not have had success on their own. After the lesson, when the classes were asked to reflect back on the process, all but one student expressed enjoying the chance to share their ideas and ways of solving their problems. As teachers reflecting back on the lesson, we recognize the need for movement and discussion which the Rally Coaching structure allowed. We also spoke with the student who did not enjoy the activity and have some ideas of a way which we can accommodate that student’s needs as well.
Four Corners, and a Placemat activity were tried out in a Grade 4/5 class. I modeled a Four Corners cooperative learning lesson which started as a team building activity for fun, but also ended up incorporating Social, LA, Science, and Math – which the students were able to verbalize at the end of the lesson. The students all participated eagerly and shared their thinking with their classmates. The movement was valuable for those students who need regular body breaks. Later in the day, I team taught the Placemat Structure during a Health lesson with the classroom teacher. Once again, the students were able to share their thoughts with each other while the classroom teacher and I walked around doing some formative assessment. Those students who may not have been able to come up with ideas on their own were able to peek at their neighbours’ ideas and develop their own or rephrase what their neighbour had written. When the group was doing a Round Robin of their ideas during sharing time, each student was given equal time to share their thoughts letting the students know that everyone’s ideas were important. The process also allowed for the students to use consensus to come up with their top four ideas. Everyone in the group was given the chance to explain why they felt one concept was more important than another. Listening to the students’ thoughts was valuable for recognizing their level of understanding.
Being allowed to self-reflect is so important for our students. It often allows them to recognize their own areas of strengths and needs. Sharing those thoughts with a peer helps students to hear their thought processes. Kagan Structures supports that learning!