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West Chicago D-33 structures give kids an active role in classroom

WEST CHICAGO – Students in West Chicago Elementary School District 33 are engaging with the learning process, thanks to a series of special techniques being used regularly in the classroom by many district teachers.

These structures, developed by Kagan Publishing and Professional Development, are designed to enhance student engagement by ensuring every student plays an active role in the classroom, rather than sitting back while others take the lead in group work or class discussions.

“Some of the most powerful learning that happens in schools is amongst peers,” said District 33 Assistant Director of Learning Christine Wells.

Kagan has about 250 instructional structures for teachers, Wells said.

One of Turner Elementary School fouth grade teacher Amanda Eakins’ favorite structures is called Quiz-Quiz-Trade.

As part of the activity, students each have a card with a question they ask a partner. After both partners quiz each other, they trade cards and move on to another partner.

“It’s almost like they don’t realize they’re doing work because they’re having fun,” Eakins said.

After using Quiz-Quiz-Trade in her classroom to prepare for a social studies test, she noticed an improvement in grades. Not one student failed the test, she said.

As a teacher, using Kagan structures allows Eakins to feel reassured all students are learning because they’re participating equally, she said.

One structure Indian Knoll Elementary School fifth grade teacher Julie King uses is called Rally Coach.

In this setup, students work as partners and take turns completing math problems, while explaining the steps they take to figure out the answers. King uses the strategy for math, but it also can be used for other subjects.

Overall, King said the structures make students more accountable for their learning. Rather than being able to hide or “check out” if they don’t understanding something, they know they need to contribute to classroom activities as much as everyone else. And teachers are able to more easily identify students who may need extra help.

“I think it encourages them to become more active in their learning,” she said.

For students who are more eager to regularly raise their hand in class, the structures allow them to learn more by listening to others’ ideas, King said.

Kagan training began in summer 2011. Both Eakins and King volunteered to participate early on in the training, which all Pre-K through eighth-grade teachers, as well as building principals, are required to complete. There are still 48 teachers across the district who need to be trained, Wells said.

District administrators also are trained in the Kagan structures, and other staff members are aware of the structures, making student engagement part of the district-wide culture, she said.

District 33 has been contacted by other school districts to learn more about how the structures have been used. The district also has presented at conferences to share its journey with engagement learning, which continues to include monitoring teachers’ use of the structures to ensure they are being implemented correctly, Wells said.

Increased engagement leads to students who are better prepared to meet the rigor of the new Common Core standards and 21st-century learning, she said. Beyond the classroom, the children are prepared for futures where they will be expected to work as members of a team and be problem-solvers, Wells said.

“It’s the engagement of kids that matters,” she said.


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