Comparing Layered Curriculum with 3 others
Kagan Structures- Advanced Cooperative Learning, Differentiated Learning, Problem Based
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 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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