Middle School Lighthouse Session

Middle School Lighthouse Session
Posted on 03/19/2018
Kagan Structures

Twenty first century skills…things like complex communication, creativity, flexibility and adaptability, critical thinking, collaboration, productivity and accountability…skills and knowledge students need to succeed in school, work, life and citizenship.  To help equip students with these skills, Spencer Middle School (SMS) has begun implementing Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures, which organize cooperative work and have increased the quality of substantive conversations.  Representatives from SMS presented to school board members, administrators, teachers and members from Spencer Community School Foundation and School Improvement Advisory Council (SIAC) during the recent Lighthouse Session.

Sixth grade Language Arts Instructor and Instructional Mentor Coach (IMC), Tammy Delaney, along with Becky Koenig, 8th Grade Language Arts Instructor and IMC, kicked off the night by welcoming everyone, and sharing their excitement for the initiative.  “At the end of the last school year, teachers expressed a need for students to be able to work and collaborate better, so Mr. Hamilton was able to bring in the Kagan Cooperative Learning Group.  We had them for two full days, and teachers were able to participate and learn a variety of structures to help kids build better relationships and increase social skills,” shared Mrs. Delaney.

One of the first structures learned and implemented was classroom building structures, helping students get to know each other better, to build a classroom identity, and learn how to be positive supports to each other in the classroom.  Students are also learning the importance of valuing differences and how to work together on a regular basis collaboratively. 

To create a better understanding of a few of the various Kagan structures, 8th graders were in attendance to model, and they started with “Mix-Pair-Share.”  After a brief demonstration, everyone at the Lighthouse Session participated in the activity by following the pattern to move around the room, pair with a partner when the teacher called, “pair,” discuss a question provided by the teacher, and then share takeaways with the group.  The teachers stressed that the model can be used in various ways, such as a getting to know you activity or for more academic purposes by incorporating class content.

While substantive conversation has been around for many years as part of the Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) Components of Positive Student Conversations, SMS Principal Pat Hamilton shared data that proves Kagan structures are helping the conversations to improve and be more organized.   More than 50% of teachers are incorporating Kagan structures daily, and the impact for the students can be seen through skill development in the areas of communication, collaboration and problem solving, helping to prepare for a changing world.  “What the substantive conversation tries to create is thinkers,” shared Mr. Hamilton.

The teachers went on to discuss some of the tools and structures, and they intermingled the students and the school board members, to demonstrate the process by reviewing and discussing an article.  The exercise helped demonstrate how the structure allows participants to focus on the concepts, themes and problems, including higher order thinking, share unscripted ideas and have dialogue to promote a coherent and collective understanding.

After completing the last Kagan structure, a team building structure called a round robin, Mrs. Koenig ended by saying, “Lighthouse gives us a time to focus in on something and on the middle school and what we are doing with AIW, substantive conversation and Kagan.  It really allows us to be proud of what we are doing at the middle school and with our kids, and we appreciate the support of the board wholeheartedly.” 

Mrs. Delaney added that Kagan gives every student a voice.  “Everybody gets to share out their thinking.  While one or two people might share out to sum it up, everybody has a voice in the conversation.”

When gathering feedback, Jason Vulk, SIAC member, shared that he liked that students can creatively think and have an opinion.  Bill Orrison, representing the Spencer Community School Foundation, recognized that things have changed tremendously since he was in school, and he sees the benefits in how kids are allowed to have meaningful dialogue on a topic.  “Having been in business after 35 years, I can see that continuing to take that skill set and roll it into high school, the students are going to use it when they go to college and when they get into the business world.  It is going to help because they will be more confident in any type of a dialog with their boss and with their team,” shared Orrison.

When the students were asked how the strategies and substantive conversation has benefitted them, Jacie said that it has made her feel more confident and able to talk to anyone.  Ethan Hernandez said, “One thing that I got out of all of this is that it makes me able to think deeper than what I would be able to originally think, and it overall makes me think harder.” 

Board member, Dean Mechler asked the teachers what they think about the current 8th graders moving to high school next year, and Mrs. Koenig responded, “We hope that they’ll be good participants in their classes in whatever structure or setting they are given, and we hope that they are adaptable and that they’ll be able to transfer the appropriate skills to make them successful at the high school.”