Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures- My Top Five!

Today I want to share with you some cooperative learning structures that I use in my classroom and absolutely love. They are great to use anytime, but they sure come in handy during testing season when you have a lot to review! 

If you haven't heard of them before, Kagan has come up with ingenious "structures" to increase engagement, practice social skills, and provide academic practice all at the same time. They use the term "structure" rather than activity or game because they really are very structured. Each one is designed to maximize engagement and provide a structured opportunity to use social skills. Rather than just "working together," each student has a role in the structure. 

My kids enjoy the structures and ask for them by name! How great is that? I truly would be lost without them! I've put together a list of the top five structures that I use most often to share with you. 

So here we go!

First up and my absolute favorite- Quiz-Quiz-Trade! 
(I have blogged about this before you can read about it more in detail here). 

Materials Needed:
 Quiz Quiz Trade Cards
You can make cards out of anything. I have some fancy ones that I have typed up and enhanced with clip art and some that are hand written and falling apart. Whatever works! The cards need a question on one side and the answer to the question on the other side. Each side needs to be labeled with 'Question' or 'Answer' for clarity.

How it Works:
Quiz-Quiz-Trade is an active structure in which students stand up, partner up, and quiz each other with questions. It seems simple at first glance, but social skills are embedded in the structure. :) 

1. Students find a partner, high five them and say, "Hi, partner!"
2. Student one quizzes student two using the question on their card. They hold the question side of the card to their partner and keep the answer side facing them. If the partner answers correctly, they receive a praise. If they answer incorrectly, they get a tip. 
3. Student two quizzes student one using the same process described above. 
4. When both students have quizzed and answered, they high-five and say, "Bye, partner!" and they find a new partner. 

This structure is my absolute go-to. It's easy, quick, gets the kids moving, and allows me to get some good informal data by listening and observing. It's also great to use in times of transition and when materials need to be passed out or taken up. I honestly could not live without it!  

I sometimes use this structure as a class builder. I throw in some get-to-know-each-other-questions and leave the answer side off. The students learn a lot about their classmates this way! 


Materials Needed
-Question Cards (1 set per team) OR 
-paper and pencil or dry erase boards and markers
Like the Quiz-Quiz-Trade cards, these can be simple or fancy. It's best to have some sort of answer key for the team to use to check for accuracy. 

How It Works:
Showdown is a team activity. Students work alone to answer a question and then have "show down" with their team to share their work and discuss. 

1. Teams stack their question cards in the middle of the table face down. 
2.  One partner is designated the Showdown Captain for the round. They flip over the top card revealing the quesiton to the team. 
3. All teammates read the question and record their answers on their recording document (dry erase board or paper). Students keep their recording documents hidden from their teammates' view and there is no talking during this time. 
4. When the showdown captain notices that all students are finished, they call "Showdown!" All team members show their answers to their teammates. 
5. Teams discuss their answers and must come to an agreement on one answer. (This creates some great conversation!)
6. The Showdown Captain checks the teams' answer for accuracy using the answer key. If correction is needed, the team corrects. If not, the team celebrates! 
7. The role of Showdown Captain rotates around the table so each team member has that opportunity. 

I love this strategy because all students are engaged and it creates some wonderful discussion. Because each team member must show their answers to their teammates, it creates a subtle sense of urgency and responsibility but still allows for coaching and correction. The teams are completely independent once they learn the structure, so it frees you up to listen in, observe, or correct and reteach as needed. 

This is also a great way to differentiate. You can easily create a different set of question cards for each group.

Before the students attempt this structure, it helps to discuss some phrases your students can use when they disagree. Phrases like, "Can you explain your thinking please?" or "What evidence do you have to support your answer?" can help students clarify their thinking and defend or sometimes change their answers. I never want a student to just write an answer and not give a genuine effort. My students know that their classmates and I will be questioning their answers- even if they are correct! 

Another bit of advice- if your students are lacking on social skills, this structure needs to be highly monitored. Be as proactive as you can and provide the students with words or phrases for problems you anticipate. Simple phrases like, "I disagree" or "I solved it this way" can help ease those tension-filled moments when students disagree. When you are just starting out, keep the questions basic. As the students  become more familiar with the structure and improve their coaching skills, you can increase the rigor.

Numbered Heads Together
Materials Needed: 
-Teacher-created questions to project to class
You can use written questions, oral questions, or questions or problems you have typed from the computer. PowerPoint is my best friend for this structure
-Something for students to write on
Dry erase boards work best for this, but pencil and paper works also
-Visible numbers for students
Arrange your students in groups and they will number off. So, in a group of 4 students you will have a number 1, a number 2, a number 3, and a number 4. You can use smaller or larger groups as needed. 

How it Works:
This structure is very similar to Showdown, but is a whole class activity. 

1. The teacher gives a question or problem to be answered. 
2. All students in the team answer the question on their own recording document making sure no other teammates can see their answers as they are working. No talking during this time! (We hold our boards in our arms)
3. When all teammates have recorded their answers, the teacher says, "Heads together!" 
4. All students share their answers and discuss, correct, coach, or celebrate. The team must agree on one answer. 
5. When an answer has been decided, all students erase their answers or flip their papers over if writing on paper. 
6. The teacher calls on a particular number. The student with that number from each group stands. The teacher decides how they want the selected students to respond. All students can answer at the same time, one of the students can answer, the students can rewrite their responses on their recording document, it's up to you! 
7. A new question is given and the steps repeat! 

This structure is great for those concepts that the whole class needs practice with.  It's different than Showdown because it adds the additional layer of sharing answers in front of the whole class. Even if a student originally gives an incorrect answer, they can still correct it during the team discussion and it takes away the anxiety of sharing wrong answer with the entire class. 

Because this structure requires students to agree, they will need some phrases to use when they disagree. These structures are wonderful teaching moments for politeness, handling frustration, expressing disagreement, etc. Lots of teachable moments! 

I love using this structure with vocabulary- especially shades of meaning and choosing precise language. We have had some very deep discussions! I also love that you can use this structure any time. We keep our dry erase boards and supplies in our desks so they can be pulled out in a few seconds. I can give a question orally and we are off! It's a great time filler when you have those awkward five or ten minutes when an activity finishes up faster than you anticipated. 

Materials Needed:
-Question cards with an answer key
-Optional: role cards with descriptions for students

How it Works:
Fan-N-Pick is a card game teams of students play together. Each member has a very specific role, so until the students feel comfortable with the roles, it helps to have them visible. We use a mat that came out of the Kagan Cooperative Learning Book.

1. Student #1 fans the cards to student #2 and says, "Pick a card, any card!"
2. Student #2 chooses a card and reads the card aloud. 
3. Student #3 answers the question aloud to the group. 
4. Student #4 checks the answer for accuracy and gives coaching if needed or a praise if the answer is correct. 
5. The roles rotate clockwise. Student #1 gives the cards to student #2 who fans for student #3 and so on. 

This structure does take some practice. Kagan developed these handy Fan-N-Pick mats that give brief descriptions of each role and then can simply be turned when the roles rotate. 

The students love this structure mostly because they get to use a silly voice to say, "Pick a card, any card." It's the small things! I love it because it provides great practice and everyone is engaged!  Each member has a specific role, so no one can sit out. 

This is another structure that's great to use as a class builder. Use generic get-to-know-you questions and change the role of the checker so they have to restate what the student who answered said and it serves a new purpose!

Rally Robin
Materials Needed: 
None- just an oral prompt given by the teacher!

How it Works:
Rally Robin is a partner activity that is similar to an oral tennis match. 

1. Pairs of students face each other.
2. The teacher gives an oral prompt or question. 
3. Students alternate giving answers as quickly as possible, back and forth, back and forth. 

This is one of my favorite structures to review math skills. I can simply say, Rally Robin- start at 50 and count by fourths and off they go! It's great for skip counting, rhyming words, giving examples of words with a certain prefix or suffix, synonyms, etc. It gets students talking, they love to challenge themselves to see how fast they can go, and it's great practice. Best of all- it's no prep, quick, and easy! 

Well there you have it! These structures are truly a part of our classroom culture. We use them every single day. I can guarantee that when we do a structure the whole class is engaged and that makes my heart happy! I honestly cannot imagine teaching without them!

If you would like more information about Kagan, check out THEIR WEBSITE. They even have a new mini-book focusing just on their structures!

(This picture is not linked to the website. Click HERE 
 HERE to be taken there)

Have a great Thursday!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Celebrate the Not So Small Things :)

Tonight I have to share a celebration that is just warming my heart.

I have a student, we will call him Sam, that has been a struggle for me all year long. You know the type- withdrawn, unmotivated, would basically sit and do nothing all day if you let them. The kid who keeps you up at night as you think of how you can reach them. I have worked hard all year long trying to figure Sam out, get in his head, and we have had lots of little moments over the course of the year. We've had our good days and bad days, and he has been making steady progress.

But today, he absolutely blew my mind.

It all started a few weeks ago with an idea from one of my amazing teammates.

The boys in our school need role models, solid positive examples of what scholarly men should sound like and look like. So my teammate, who happens to be male, thought of a brilliant idea- Tie Tuesday. Every Tuesday he wears a necktie and chooses students to wear one of his 'magic ties' in class to be a model of scholarly behavior. In order to wear one of his ties, the student must take an oath and promise to behave and follow all directions. This idea caught on quickly with the boys and soon several of them throughout the school were wearing their own neckties from home and truly improving their behavior.

On a whim one morning a week or so ago I talked with Sam about trying out a magic tie. I explained that if he chose to wear one he had to exemplify all the characteristics of a scholar- all day long. He thought about it, but said he wasn't quite ready.

Today Sam walked in the door with a smile on his face, came right up to me, and said, "I'm going to wear a tie today." I tried not to let him see my surprise and just said, "Well go and get it!" I was a little nervous at how this was going to play out, but I kept my smile strong when he came back in with the tie neatly around his neck.

Let me tell you - I have never seen that child work the way he did today! Not once did I have to remind him to start his assignment, tuck in his shirt, find a pencil, or turn in his paper. He did everything- every single thing all day long! He even showed all of his work on his math assignment when he normally does it all "mentally" AND he shared his feelings at our class meeting!

At one point during the day he asked me for an extra journal to practice math problems in. As we were standing next to the cabinet and I was feverishly searching for the extra journal praying that I wouldn't somehow ruin this precious moment, I was telling him just how proud I was of him. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "Yeah, I'm having a really good day. I don't know if it's me or just the tie." I stopped digging, put my hands on his shoulders, looked him in the eyes and told him that he didn't need a magic tie. He was amazing all on his own. I gave him the biggest hug I could give (and held back my tears). I couldn't get on the phone fast enough after school to gush to his grandma about his awesome day.

If you were to know Sam personally, and we all have a Sam in our classroom, you understand how huge of a deal a day like today is. These moments of absolute joy when you see a child bloom in front of your eyes - they are priceless. This is why I love my job. We do whatever it takes- even if it means creating the idea of a "magic tie" to bring out the best in a kid. I will be forever grateful to my teammate.

In the midst of testing season, it's very easy for us to overlook the little things that are sometimes the most important things. Today was a milestone for Sam, hopefully one of many more to come.

Tonight I'm not going to worry about how to better explain summarization or how to find multiple lines of symmetry. I'm not going to stress about my kids continuously ignoring the word NOT in a question or failing to see the word OPPOSITE. Tonight, I'm going to celebrate the small things - the small things that are actually very big things. I hope that you will, too. :)