Dear Lancaster Parents, Family, and Friends...
Lancaster classrooms have undergone a shift in teaching strategies in the past few years, all in the name of student engagement. Students work in groups using different ‘structures’ to ensure that each student is interacting with the material, and their classmates, and truly understanding it.
Lancaster schools began using Kagan Cooperative Learning developed by Dr. Spencer Kagan, about seven years ago. The method uses structures with names like ‘All Right Round Robin’ and ‘Timed Pair Share’ to engage students with the material being taught, as well as give teachers a way to assess each student informally, to ensure mastery.
For example, with ‘All Right Round Robin’ a history teacher may ask students to consider the causes of World War I and each student in the group takes turns writing causes down. This eliminates a traditional pitfall of group instruction in which a few students do all of the work. The strategy also allows the teacher to have a written account of the different causes considered by each of the students, in order to assess understanding by all students, rather than just a few students, as would be the case in a traditional classroom where students are called upon to answer questions.
‘All Right Round Robin’ and ‘Time Pair Share’ are just two of several structures upon which the Kagan method operates. Others include ‘Rally Coach’ and ‘Stand Up, Hand Up, Pair Up.’ The common thread is to encourage active participation by every student, and to afford teachers better opportunities to track each student’s ongoing progress.
An additional benefit to the Kagan method is the fact that students are able to get to know others in their classes, with whom they may not normally interact. Groups start off with team building activities to get to know one another and find commonality in order to foster teamwork over the time that they work together. This helps students to learn the soft skills important for daily life beyond school and is especially beneficial in a large district such as Lancaster.
Backed by science of how the brain works, Lancaster teachers are using strategies that promote positive interdependence, individual accountability, equal participation, and simultaneous interaction. Many of the structures encourage movement, which increases the flow of oxygen to the brain and helps to stimulate the brain to stay active.
Lancaster’s experience began with Kagan instructors training teams of teachers in a five-day program. In turn, those teachers became trainers for their peers and, as of January, every Lancaster teacher has been through at least two days of Kagan training. By adopting a gradual rollout, and at times arranging training through Erie 1 BOCES and inviting other school districts to participate, we have been able to keep costs down, while maximizing the benefits for our students.
The Kagan method provides the structure, organization, and management to achieve engagement, to build social skills, and to allow students to wrestle with content. It also pairs nicely with changes that are taking place in education standards at the state or national level, such as being able to support one’s answers and being able to communicate what one does and doesn’t know and provide evidence.
For the past two years, Lancaster has been recognized as a national site for the Kagan method and Dr. Kagan has visited our schools to see the method in action and work with teachers; additionally, members of his highly-trained staff have visited classrooms to support the implementation. I am so proud to see Lancaster again be leader at the forefront of an instructional method that supports teachers and enhances the experience of our students.
Michael J. Vallely, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools