Saturday, October 8, 2016

Even introverts can enjoy cooperative learning!

The first conference I've ever attended as a Common Core Demonstration Teacher was Kagan Engagement and Cooperative Learning.  My job entails attending a variety of Common Core conferences throughout the year and then applying the strategies in my own 4th grade classroom.  I had never heard of Kagan and the only reason I went was because other Common Core Demo Teachers had signed up.  It was also in Pasadena, California, which is somewhat close to my house and it was on a Saturday and I wouldn't have to miss any school.  So at 7:30 in the morning my friend Hortencia and I roll up to the high school where the conference is scheduled.

We walk in and I'm impressed with the environment at once.  Although we are in a high school cafeteria, it looks comfortably set up and they have a spread of breakfast danishes and bagels from Panera including fruit plates and coffee.  I am already feeling at ease and ready to learn.

I sit down at a table of four with other fellow Common Core Demonstration Teachers.  We all begin to chit chat and catch up with each other when the conference begins.  I am feeling very comfortable in our small group and I'm ready to learn something new.  Our presenter is hilarious right from the beginning and makes everyone feel right at home.  He is wearing a little bow tie and looks like the biggest nerd, but he is so cool!  You just love to listen to him and then you discover that he has a lot of knowledge!  I learn that Kagan presenters have been educators and even administrators and have thoroughly utilized Kagan strategies in their classrooms and became Kagan fanatics long before making the transition to Kagan presenter.

Right away we begin getting acquainted with engagement strategies.  We learn how to share with a partner, giving each party equal talking and listening time.  We learn how to team build and class build by telling our face neighbor what we ate last night with lots of elaboration.  We list ice cream flavors, taking turns with our shoulder partner.   Then we take turns, again everyone with the same amount of talking time sharing with the four members of our table what is our favorite food with descriptions and sensory details.  We learn how to greet each other, praise each other, and say goodbye to each other.  Kagan really stresses the social component in their lessons.

By now I'm getting really comfy and self assured with my group when the music starts.  We are told to get up and walk around.  I don't want to get up and walk around.  I am a happy introvert and I really like to learn in my little area of known variables.  But I get up and walk around with the music just like everyone else.  Some people begin to dance, but that is definitely not me.  When the music stops, we are to find the closest partner to us, someone we don't know.  We are to shake hands with them and introduce ourselves.   Kagan stresses the fact that our students do not know how to greet or introduce their selves so they must practice, like we are practicing now.   We then have to tell each other why we chose to get in the teaching profession, practicing the strategies we learned in our comfy, risk free group.  Now we don't say goodbye to our partner but are told to take him to find another pair of partners.  We greet each other again and go through the routine of meet and greet.  Now my original partner has to introduce me to the new pair.  This teaches him and trains him to be a good listener.  When it is my turn I realize that I was so nervous that I forgot why my "new friend" wanted to become a teacher.  I have to ask him again, which is embarrassing, but it teaches me to get over my fears and listen and pay attention to others when they share something with you.  I guess adults need these lessons in social etiquette also unfortunately.  Now that the new group of four knows each other we are told to grab our things and move to a table with our new group.  My heart drops!  I was so happy before in my little risk free group of fellow teachers and peers.  Now I have to get social and talk to new people??!!  I was not happy anymore.

Well the day went on and it wasn't so bad.  The presenter remained as entertaining and knowledgeable throughout the day.  I learned so much as to the why of student engagement.  I learned that getting students out of their comfort zone helps develop their minds.   I learned that standing up, dancing around, any type of movement are types of brain breaks that young minds (an old ones) need so desperately if they are going to learn and retain information.  I learned that equal time sharing gives the introverts, like me, practice sharing and prepares them for life that you can't always sit back with a cozy group of four.  I also learned that equal time listening gave extroverts time to learn that listening is just as important as speaking.  I also learned that my new group of four were great people and I spent a very fun day learning amazing new strategies and philosophies with them.

The day went so well that I am now a complete Kagan fanatic.  Everything I do in my classroom has some type of Kagan engagement strategy behind it.  My students absolutely loved my new teaching style also.  Throughout the year I returned to a Kagan conference seven separate times.   If you continue to read my blogs you will probably see elements of Kagan engagement and cooperative learning woven throughout my lessons and my rationale for designing them.  I would encourage anyone to personally check out a Kagan conference.  They have them all over the world actually.  My favorite spot is in San Clemente, California because it is their headquarters and situated besides the beach in a comfortable two story building.  (I still can't get away from wanting to be in a comfy and riskfree zone.)  What is wierd is that now Kagan headquarters the place for cooperative learning and engagement kind of feels like home to such huge introvert like me.     Here is their website in case you are interested.  kaganonline.com

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