Helping students get engaged in their learning
Helping students get engaged in their learning
Faith Behr
Thursday, February 28, 2019

When 1st grade teacher Brittany Le Gal says “hand up, stand up,” students stand up, raise their hand ready to high five and quickly find a partner to discuss their teacher’s question.

This method is perfect to get students to process and review information, as well as for energizing the class and forming random teams. Le Gal uses it often in starting a lesson.

“This helps students to work more collaboratively, take ownership of their education, and learn from their peers,” she said. “Hand-up, stand up” is one of a number of strategies designed to get all of the class engaged. These strategies are called Kagan structures and have a profound effect on student understanding and engagement.
Increased and engaged learning
“These structures have truly increased the learning in my classroom because students who are shy or maybe don't know the answer can no longer hide behind those who do,” said STEM teacher Nicole Williams. She often uses “hand up, stand up” and other strategies after students are sitting on the rug at the start of class. “It helps students to get moving, fully engage them in a topic and build social skills.”

Recently, she used a strategy called “time pair share,” where students together watched a video, shared their response with a partner, listened to their partner and stated whether they agreed or disagreed. “This was with 1st graders!” she remarked. “ The level of their conversations and their justifications blew my mind,” she said.

It used to be the teacher dispensed information then called on one student for the answer, which didn’t engage all of the students. Using Kagan cooperative learning strategies every student is encouraged to get involved in formulating a response.

Kindergarten teacher Cristina Ottaviano said the cooperative strategies also help students with social skills. “It helps students to learn how to appropriately interact with others while staying on task,” she said. The strategies are used at all grade levels.

Holding students accountable
Albright Middle School teacher Amanda Zoske often uses a strategy called “talking chips,” in which each student in a group receives two chips and uses them to speak in their groups. It ensures equal participation and active listening. She has been using it during lessons on argumentative writing in language arts class. “It allows students the opportunity to speak and listen, while holding every group member accountable for making equal contributions,” she said.

Over the last two years, Salt Creek District 48 teachers have participated in four full days of Kagan training. They have also experienced coaching from a Kagan coach.

A game changer
“Bringing this to our District has been a game changer,” said Director of Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment and Professional Development Angie Ross. Teachers apply the methods to what they are already teaching in order to make the content more interesting and the students more active in their learning. “Student engagement has increased and students are communicating to each other about content that they’re learning so that aids in retention,” she said. Once the students learn the strategies, they can be easily and naturally incorporated into lessons to allow students structured opportunities to collaborate, discuss, and even move about the classroom. The coaching has allowed teachers to fine tune their lessons and incorporate more cooperative learning with students.