Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Kagan in My Back Pocket

I sort of started a quest this year.  I say "quest" because it is a journey that will take research, adjusting/changing long-held practices, and much much reflection.

I want to dramatically reduce the number of worksheets my students do.

To the point that any "worksheet" that is done serves a direct purpose of application or assessment of a topic.

No more time-filler worksheets.  I need to find other ways, more active ways, more engaging ways for students to learn content in class.  But this is hard.  It's hard to assess if students are truly absorbing the information.  However, in reality I'm aware that they are probably not absorbing material on the worksheets either.

Today I reached way back in my "back pocket" and pulled out some Kagan Cooperative learning strategies that reminded me why I fell in love with Kagan in the classroom 10 years ago.  And left me wondering why in the hell I haven't been using it more often.

Today's lesson centered around these essential questions:

Why didn't more slaves escape to the North?  
How did some manage to escape despite the odds?

We have been attempting to answer these questions by studying the context of slavery and laws in the south as well as three primary source documents.  Today's discussion was to tie it all together.  This is usually done with a "discussion worksheet."  Students write down notes about each discussion question and receive a completion grade for it.

I didn't want to make copies today.  I didn't want to have to force kids to pay attention and write down stuff they weren't invested in.  I didn't want to ask a question and watch the blank stare on 3/4 of the students in my room while the 1/4 answer everything.

So we didn't.

We did Kagan.
  1. I had students in teams of 3 or 4 and told them to number off 1-3 or 1-4.  I then numbered each group in the room. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
  2. I explained that I would ask a question off the discussion worksheet, and allow for the teams to discuss an answer.  All members of the team needed to know their answer and be ready to respond aloud if called upon.
  3. After a minute or two of discussion time, I took a dice to roll for a group number.  1-6
  4. Once the class knew which group was on the hot-seat, I took my handy-dandy little spinner (from a Kagan workshop) and spun it to land on a number (1-3 or 1-4).  That numbered person in the group had to give the group answer aloud.
It was SO MUCH MORE AWESOME than a worksheet. Because...
  • I could visually see everyone in the class participating in the discussion over each question.
  • Students LOVED the randomness of the spinner and the anticipation of having to respond.
  • All level learners were able to answer questions correctly.
  • Everyone participated!

I couldn't have asked for a better class discussion.  I was so excited for each class to come in so we could "play" again.

I asked each class if this was better than a worksheet.

The response was a rousing cheer YES!  MUCH BETTER!

Ok's time to dust off your book, read through your strategies, and start making your methods more of a staple rather than a last-minute resort.

You just might be the key to my quest!


  1. Which Kagan book do you have? The original? I was thinking of purchasing the 7-12 Social studies American History book. What are your thoughts on purchasing?

    1. I think I just have the regular, but to be honest, I haven't used a Kagan book in a long time. I do a lot of searching online for Kagan stuff. Most of the time a picture or short description sparks an idea. If you're looking for a good book with good resources, my favorite are "iThink: U.S. History" there are different volumes, but they have really good activities that incorporate the use of primary sources, writing, and historical thinking. I hope that helps!