Comparing Layered Curriculum with 3 others

Kagan Structures- Advanced Cooperative Learning, Differentiated Learning, Problem Based Learning

Martha Verde

Kathie Nunley, author of Layered Curriculum, states that all children are entitled to a special education. Although special education often has negative connotations, the word special can and should be interpreted in the way it was intended. Special means different things to different people. What is special to one person may not be to another. Those of us in education say that we try to provide an education that is somewhat challenging, according to what the powers that be dictate, and equitable. The word equity, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, refers to "the state, ideal, or quality of being just, impartial, and fair (p. 462). In an educational setting, equity can be expanded to indicate a state in which all children have equal opportunities to learn, to participation challenging programs, and to have equal access to the services they need in order to benefit from that education. This is sometimes an unsurpassable task because we have so many students with so many backgrounds and needs. They work on different levels and have different modalities of learning. What's a teacher to do?

The needs of students can be met, but with modifications that all students can benefit from such as Layered Curriculum, Cooperative Learning, Differentiated Learning, Problem Based Learning, and Meaningful Engaged Learning. These are methods or theories of teaching children that sometimes do not follow the standard classrooms of the past, with the teacher in front giving the information and the students, sitting in rows receiving this information.

Kagan Structures-Advanced Cooperative Learning

Dr. Spencer Kagan believes that it is not what you have to teach, but how you teach it. He calls this Kagan Structures. The Kagan Structures align instruction with how the brain best learns, implementing both cooperative learning and multiple intelligences philosophies and methods. The traditional teacher centered classroom is replace with strategies that are engaging and student centered. Basically, structures are a generic, content free, set of techniques for organizing content. Some of Kagan's activities include, Numbered Heads Together. In this activity students get into groups and are given a number. They answer questions together and the teacher calls on a group and gives a number. The student with that number has to answer the question. It's a way to involve all students because no one knows what number will be called and everyone in the group knows the answer, but not who will say it.

Kagan's Structures are in alignment with Cooperative Learning, Multiple Intelligences Theory, Brain-Based Learning, Flow Theory, Vygotsky's Theory, Behavior Theory, and Transference Theory. Some of the documented positive outcomes include: Academic Achievement, Thinking Skills, social Skills, Caring Community, Status Equalization, Language Acquisition, Education for Character, Multiple Intelligences, and Emotional Intelligences. Many professional have said that one the most important benefits of adopting Kagan's Structures are that the positive transformations that they produce and the fact that they do not have to change when the curriculum changes or new programs are adopted.

There are many similarities between Structures and Layered Curriculum. First of all, both methodologies allow many modifications for the diverse populations found in the classroom. Each of the models includes a student-centered classroom where the teacher is more of a facilitator than the main attraction. Kagan aligns his Structures with many of the same theories such as Brain Based Learning and Multiple Intelligences. Finally, learning in a small group setting is both acceptable and encouraged in both methods of teaching.

Differentiated Learning

Differentiated learning is a model of instruction that revolves around the belief that students learn in many different ways. Therefore, the traditional classroom does not meet the needs of many children. The emphasis on covering an entire curriculum is not as important as covering just the key concepts to the extent that the children really understand what is that they are required to know. In this method of instruction modification takes place in three areas: content, process, and the final product. The differentiated learning takes place only when student modification is necessary. The content can be structured to include only key topics with the set of standards. Teachers usually have no control over the curriculum, but they do have control on how it is presented. The process includes the activities and course work that each child is required to do on order to learn the content. This is where much of the differentiation is found. The students are given activities, which allow them to learn in the best way for them. The final product in this method is how the students can show what they know. It can also be done in a variety of ways. The students can demonstrate their knowledge in a way that they feel comfortable.

This is another example of a student-centered classroom. In this model, like Layered Curriculum, the learning experience is altered to fit the needs of the students. The teacher makes modifications so that each of the students has a better chance to master what is expected of them. A major difference in this type of instruction compared with that of Layered Curriculum is that the element of choice does not exist. The teacher makes the choices of what, when, and how material is learned. Another difference deals with Layered Curriculum's Key #2. Student's grades improve with higher levels of thinking and more complex tasks. In Differentiated Learning this does not exist. You get the amount of points that each assignment is worth and you have no option to improve your grade.

Problem Based Learning

Yet another method of teaching involves situational learning. Students are presented with a problem and then must figure out to solve it. As they work in teams, they must determine how to go about solving the problem. They find the sources of information and then combine the group's knowledge into a solution. The group then presents the solution to the class. The class then offers additional solutions or information and the group must then return to the problem to figure out how the solution can better solve the problem. Therefore, learning in this manner has a real life meaning. The process in its self is a learning experience along with the curriculum. Problem solving involves critical thinking as well as interpersonal skills. Learning in this method is taken out of context of the classroom and placed in real life situations.

When comparing Problem Based Learning with Layered Curriculum a few things coincide. First of all, the students have some choice in how they solve the problem. One of the key elements of Layered Curriculum is choice. The students are encouraged to work in groups, which can also be apart of Layered Curriculum. The classroom is set up to be learner centered where the teacher takes on a non-traditional role of facilitator. There are significant differences in these two methods. First of all, and most importantly, there are no modifications or differentiating aspects to this method. The students work in a group and each member is equally responsible for his part. The solution depends on the entire group. There is no reward system in place for anyone who does more to earn a better grade by using higher-level thinking in their work. This is the main difference in these two methods.

Although there are several methods to teach in a student centered classroom, it seems as though none of them give as many advantages as Layered Curriculum. The ideas of choice, multiple intelligences, and doing more to receive a better grade encompass a wide range of student needs. Due to the fact that there is no one size fits all, the basis is Layered Curriculum is so flexible that it can take on many forms and be changed as necessary to accommodate a wide range of students and their learning styles. The main goal is to make sure that all students can feel successful in school. They come with many different gifts and it is up to us in the field of education to tap into those gifts and to use them to assure academic success.


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