Social structure proves valuable in classroom

Ten year teaching veteran and Indiana native Barbara Scarnato was part of the first accredited graduating class of Florida Gulf Coast University. She went on to become a math teacher and is a part of the Bonita Middle School staff.

One of the more successful programs in use with her students is the Kagan cooperative learning model. Developed by Dr. Spencer Kagan and Miguel Kagan, the approach uses structures, which are the foundation for classroom activities. Students collaborate with one another, become supportive and interact equally. Teachers and students provide content.

Scarnato reports that after using the program with last year’s students, their statewide FCAT test results revealed an improvement of one level.

Japanese classroom teacher, Jane Joritz-Nakagawa says, “Cooperative learning is a type of structured peer interaction emphasizing positive human relationships, collaboration between peers, active learning, academic achievement, equal participation, and equal status of students in the classroom. It can be used to teach any subject matter, whether that be foreign languages, math, social studies,” or other subject areas.

Researchers report dramatic the results of using the model to “include higher self esteem of students, more positive peer relationships including improved inter-ethnic/cross-cultural relationships and lowered levels of prejudice, and equal or higher academic achievement, compared to classrooms where students worked without cooperation (independently) or structured competitively (negative interdependence).” We asked Scarnato to talk to us about how she uses the program and the benefits to her students.

The Banner: What does Dr. Kagan believe about classroom learning dynamics?

Barbara Scarnato: The literature says that Dr. Kagan believes that ‘traditional competitive classrooms do not foster pro-social human behaviors. In a classroom where no student-to-student interaction occurs, students do not learn to interact with each other, share information with each other, or help each other succeed.

TB: What does research say about how students learn?

BS: We learn and understand about 10 percent of what we hear, 15 percent of what we see, 20 percent of what we see and hear, 40 percent of what we discuss, 80 percent of what we experience or practice and 90 percent of what we attempt to teach others. So the purpose of the Kagan structures is to get the kids to the 90 percent mark.

TB: What are some of the benefits you have observed?

BS: The students learn to cooperate with each other as they work as a team. They learn to have patience with other and with those who work at different learning levels. They build their self-esteem and behaviors improve, as they learn to more effectively interact with each other. All of these skills will benefit them in the work place.

If you know of a student or teacher with a special achievement, contact Jean Amodea at

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