EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP

September 1996


What to Look for in a Classroom

By Alfie Kohn

An earlier version of this chart was published in the September 1996 issue of Educational Leadership, and reprinted as the title essay in the anthology What to Look for in a Classroom...And Other Essays.

This revised version appeared as Appendix B of The Schools Our Children Deserve.

 

GOOD SIGNS

POSSIBLE REASONS TO WORRY

FURNITURE

Chairs around tables to facilitate interaction

 

Comfortable areas for learning, including multiple "activity centers"

Open space for gathering

Chairs all facing forward or (even worse) desks in rows

ON THE WALLS

Covered with students’ projects

 

Evidence of student collaboration

 

Signs, exhibits, or lists obviously created by students rather than by the teacher

 

Information about, and personal mementos of, the people who spend time together in this classroom

Nothing

 

Commercial posters

 

Students’ assignments displayed, but they are (a) suspiciously flawless, (b) only from "the best" students, or (c) virtually all alike

 

List of rules created by an adult and/or list of punitive consequences for misbehavior

 

Sticker (or star) chart -- or other evidence that students are rewarded or ranked

STUDENTS’ FACES

Eager, engaged

Blank, bored

SOUNDS

Frequent hum of activity and ideas being exchanged

Frequent periods of silence

 

The teacher’s voice is the loudest or most often heard

 

LOCATION OF TEACHER

Typically working with students so it takes a few seconds to find her

Typically front and center

 

TEACHER’S VOICE

Respectful, genuine, warm

Controlling and imperious

 

Condescending and saccharine-sweet

STUDENTS’ REACTION TO VISITOR

Welcoming; eager to explain or demonstrate what they’re doing or to use visitor as a resource

Either unresponsive or hoping to be distracted from what they’re doing

CLASS DISCUSSION

Students often address one another directly

 

Emphasis on thoughtful exploration of complicated issues

 

Students ask questions at least as often as the teacher does

All exchanges involve (or are directed by) the teacher; students wait to be called on

 

Emphasis on facts and right answers

 

Students race to be first to answer teacher’s "Who can tell me…?" queries

STUFF

Room overflowing with good books, art supplies, animals and plants, science apparatus; "sense of purposeful clutter"

Textbooks, worksheets, and other packaged instructional materials predominate; sense of enforced orderliness

TASKS

Different activities often take place simultaneously

 

Activities frequently completed by pairs or groups of students

All students usually doing the same thing

 

When students aren’t listening to the teacher, they’re working alone

AROUND THE SCHOOL

Appealing atmosphere: a place where people would want to spend time

 

Students’ projects fill the hallways

 

Library well-stocked and comfortable

 

Bathrooms in good condition

 

Faculty lounge warm and inviting

 

Office staff welcoming toward visitors and students

 

Students helping in lunchroom, library, and with other school functions

Stark, institutional feel

 

Awards, trophies, and prizes displayed, suggesting an emphasis on triumph rather than community

 

 


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