Kagan Structures Enhance Engagement Within Schools


When students returned to school after a refreshing summer break, they discovered that the renovations to the building weren’t the only changes that had been made. 

Activities and teaching within classrooms looked drastically different than previous years, and this led to grumbling as well as praise among the staff and students. But what exactly summoned this change in learning within the school district? Who is responsible, and why was the implementation of activities requiring more participation from all individuals decided to be a good idea? 

This year, department heads made a collective decision to introduce a new style of learning and teaching known as the Kagan Structures. Kagan is well-known within the education field, and teachers had known about it prior to introducing it within our district. 

“Kagan is a professional development program for teachers to train on cooperative learning,” Principal Jeremiah Johnston said. “Cooperative learning is about student engagement. Getting kids into small teams with structured practices will increase engagement levels.”

This belief is upheld profusely both in Kagan training sessions and on the Kagan website. According to information included in the “about us” tab on the site, the Kagan system is used worldwide from kindergarten to adult education, and in all academic subject areas. The goal of the use of Kagan structures is to boost engagement to enhance learning, and schools use these structures to increase academic achievement, improve ethnic relations, improve self-esteem, create a more agreeable classroom atmosphere, reduce discipline issues, and develop students’ social skills and character virtues. Because Kagan stresses engagement and cooperation, it prides itself on the engagement of every student rather than just some. 

Encouraging students to participate is not always an easy task. In order to encourage greater cooperation, Kagan has a number of “Kagan structures” in which each student must take part. Some well-known Kagan structures are Numbered Heads Together, Time Pair Share, RallyRobin, and Quiz-Quiz-Trade, all of which require that each student has time to talk. These structures and many more can be found in the popular book Kagan Cooperative Learning, which also includes several team-building activities and methods to encourage engagement. This book can be found in the classrooms of numerous teachers within the district since the implementation of the Kagan structures. 

I believe it was a great decision. Teachers have seen really positive things coming out of classrooms when using the Kagan structures and we are very early in the process,” Johnston said. 

Kagan’s publications and workshops are based on a research program developed by Dr. Spencer Kagan in 1968, as relayed by the Kagan website. Kagan and his team discovered that they could manipulate students’ interaction patterns to be more cooperative or more competitive. They applied this to education to create a more cooperative and interactive learning environment, which can be accomplished through the use of Kagan Structures. The Kagan website stresses the belief that the more the students interact with peers and the curriculum, the more they learn. It also offers a list of resources and research that backs up their claims that engagement and cooperation enhances learning and improves social skills and character virtue. 

“My personal thought is it [the website] looks very elementary based,” Johnston said. “Having gone through the initial Kagan training, I was amazed at how engaged our teachers were. It was the best professional development I have seen while in Cody.”