Kagan’s structural approach to cooperative learning

By Murray Bourne, 10 Sep 2007

Many teachers - and students - complain about group work in class. There are always one or 2 students who do all the work (so they say) and another 1 or 2 who don't pull their weight.

But a big part of the problem is that teachers do not give students the required skills for effective group work.

American educational psychologist Spencer Kagan has a neat set of structures for improving cooperative group-based learning.

According to Jane Joritz-Nakagawa, the aims of Spencer Kagan's Cooperative Learning Structures are:

One aim is to foster positive, cooperative relationships between learners studying any subject in a class. The second aim is high academic achievement for all learners in a class.

Some of the techniques are well known (Timed Pair Share) while others were new twists on things I already use.


Each Kagan structure is based on PIES:

(P) positive interdependence; (I) individual accountability; (E) equal participation; and (S) simultaneous interaction.

This makes a lot of sense and such an approach would go a long way to improving group and whole-class cohesiveness.

Student Feedback

I usually don't put too much store in student feedback (not because the students don't know what they are talking about, but because most people say "nice things" in surveys and are rarely "accurate" in their stated view).

However, Joritz-Nakagawa outlines her own experience using Kagan's approach and reports her students' reactions:

Positive comments from students in anonymous end-of-term course evaluation questionnaires have focused most especially on their satisfaction regarding relationships with other students in the same class, their appreciation of the many chances to exchange opinions with peers in class, the active nature of learning, and, in English courses, their increased confidence in their English abilities over the course of a term. Other comments focus on knowledge gained, respect of students in the class, and appreciating the variety of classroom activities.

In Joritz-Nakagawa's article, read the interesting cross-cultural comments about the application of Kagan structures in classrooms in Japan.

But wait, there's more:

Kagan and his associates have identified approximately 200 cooperative learning structures

I like the aims and the claims for this approach and will try out some of the new things when I next get a chance.

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