Friday, August 22, 2014

Beginning on Solid Ground

Over 170 CUSD staff members enjoyed two days of solid introduction, instruction and training related to the use of what are called Kagan Structures to be used in our classrooms.  Dr. Vern Minor did an excellent job of "making the case" for student engagement.

There is a very logical and concrete way of determining  the answer to one very simple question:  "Can students hide in our classrooms?"  In other words, can a student go through a class in a period, or even a school day without being called upon or without being held accountable to learn, pay attention and participate?

We determine this as we were instructed through the acronym we learned called PIES.  The presenter did an excellent job of getting this "stuck in my brain."  When I go into a classroom now I think of PIES:

1. P = are students POSITIVE and INTERDEPENDENT in their communication?
2. I = is each INDIVIDUAL student being held ACCOUNTABLE to learn?
3. E = is there EQUAL participation?

The case in point is true Cooperative Learning can and does fulfill all of these with the correct STRUCTURE.  Otherwise, as our presenter pointed out, we are just having kids do "group work."  Once again, as in all "new" ideas, there is no new principle to learn here.  It goes back to structuring our student work with the right set of parameters and expectations.  It just so happens these structures are tested and proven to work.  The success of this and any other learning management system (not to be confused with digital LMS) is in the execution of the structures.

That brings me to a powerful point in this process.  At the conclusion of the training, we were shown a short video clip of one of the founders of Kagan Structures.  With the beginning of the school year and with the new implementation of these structures in our classrooms, his words ring loud and clear.  He emphasized to all of us to be sure to take the time and patience and perseverance to focus our work on a solid foundation of setting up students in groups and teaching one or two procedures (structures).

This message is indelible in noting how important it is to create a foundation for our students to know exactly what they are supposed to do and when based on our cues and procedures.  The point is to be excellent, thorough and flawless in just one or two of these.  Anything short of making sure our students have these structures "down" will end up signaling frustration and a judgment that "the structures don't work after all."  The key is in consistency and fidelity to the structure.

It goes back to the principle of being average at many strategies vs. being a "world beater" at a few.  I have no doubt our student engagement for more and more of our kids will provide the frequency and quality of learning opportunities we have been yearning.  Oh by the way, it just so happens when kids are engaged, our work is much easier and more fulfilling!

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