1703 North Beauregard St.
Alexandria, VA 22311-1714
Tel: 1-800-933-ASCD (2723)
8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. eastern time, Monday through Friday
Local to the D.C. area: 1-703-578-9600
Toll-free from U.S. and Canada: 1-800-933-ASCD (2723)
All other countries: (International Access Code) + 1-703-578-9600
September 1996 | Volume 54 | Number 1
Creating a Climate for Learning
When you walk into a "working with" classroom, what aspects of school life are you—or are you not—likely to see?
In describing the climate of a classroom, we are often guided by a certain set of values, a vision of what school ought to be like. We might begin with the premise, for example, that an ideal climate is one that promotes deep understanding, excitement about learning, and social as well as intellectual growth.
In such a classroom, students play an active role in decisions, teachers work with students rather than doing things to them, and the learners' interests and questions drive much of the curriculum. The environment supports children's desire to find out about things, facilitates the process of discovery, and, in general, meets children's needs. A school with this mission has a climate very different from one in which educators are mostly thinking about how they can make students work harder or follow directions.
Put another way, in a "doing to" classroom or school, the adults tend to focus on students' behavior in order to elicit compliance; the preferred methods are punishments and rewards. In a "working with" environment, the focus is on students' underlying motives in order to help them develop positive values and a love of learning; the preferred methods include the creation of a caring community and a genuinely engaging curriculum.
When I conduct a workshop, I like to present a conceptual framework that contrasts these two approaches to education. I then invite workshop participants to list familiar practices that exemplify each of them. Participants work in groups, categorizing—and in the process, scrutinizing—various aspects of school life. (For example, if the faculty object to students' clothing, a "working with" response would be to invite students to meet and reflect together on how this problem might be solved.
A "doing to" response would be to tell students what they may wear, or simply to force all of them to dress alike.) These lists tend to grow quickly because there is no limit to the number of examples. And the exercise makes an important point: It is one thing to talk about a learner-centered classroom, and something else again to specify exactly what such a place looks and sounds like. Here, then, is an abbreviated list—a crib sheet, if you will—that administrators, parents, and others can use to gauge the climate of a classroom and school.
Possible Reasons for Concern
Location of Teacher
Students' Reaction to Visitor
Around the School
Copyright © 1996 by Alfie Kohn with contributions from Sylvia Kendzior, Rheta DeVries, and Jim Beane.
Alfie Kohn's books include Punished by Rewards and, most recently, Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community, just published by ASCD. He can be reached at 242 School St., Belmont, MA 02178.
Copyright © 1996 by Alfie Kohn
Subscribe to ASCD Express, our free e-mail newsletter, to have practical, actionable strategies and information delivered to your e-mail inbox twice a month.
ASCD respects intellectual property rights and adheres to the laws governing them. Learn more about our permissions policy and submit your request online.