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How asset-based teaching can improve classroom behavior

Nothing will derail a classroom faster than classroom management challenges, no matter how well planned your lesson is. And even if you have the best intentions in mind, focusing too much on student misbehavior as a problem that needs to be addressed will only increase resistance and frustration on the part of the students. So what options are you left with?

Shifting your outlook on classroom behavior and employing an asset-based view of students can actually reduce behavior problems while increasing student engagement and excitement about what they’re learning. This is in contrast to a deficit-based view of students, which focuses on correcting their inadequacies. In this article, we’ll look at six advantages asset-based teaching has on improving classroom behavior.

What is asset-based teaching?

When I was earning my teaching degree, I remember reading about a line of research that looked at “funds of knowledge” in students. This was fascinating because it was the first article I remember reading that viewed the students’ home life as a positive and something that could be incorporated into the classroom and curriculum.

Asset-based teaching has roots in ‘funds of knowledge.’ This philosophy values the positives and strengths that students bring into the classroom. Asset-based teaching approaches each student as a whole person, including their culture, home life, prior experiences, and knowledge, with the perspective that all of these areas can be brought into the classroom environment. Boiled down to the nuts and bolts, asset-based teaching is about focusing on students’ strengths and building learning around those strengths and their existing knowledge instead of highlighting any deficits or cognitive gaps.

Of course, there are many reasons why students misbehave, and asset-based teaching will not magically cure all of your classroom management issues. However, it has the potential to address some of the most common reasons why students misbehave.

6 advantages of asset-based learning

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1. It focuses on strengths

It’s easy to merely say that we value the strengths of our students, but is that really the case in practice? Asset-based teaching makes this a concrete priority. To discover student strengths, you need to actually talk to your students and learn what they bring to the classroom. This allows you to then structure your lessons around their strengths.

Optionally, you could also pull in an assessment that identifies strengths. These assessments give you both an individual and classroom-based view of strengths. At the individual level, this would allow you to better understand each student’s strengths. But at the same time, it would give you a better sense of the collective strengths of the classroom.

Keep in mind that there’s no single “right” way to deliver content — but knowing your students’ strengths can at least allow you to approach instruction more thoughtfully, and to design activities that students will love.

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2. It’s culturally responsive

Student demographics are becoming increasingly diverse, and that’s a good thing. Diversity creates a culture of multiple perspectives and helps students learn how to work in teams to produce results. At the same time, if the classroom is not culturally responsive, then students might not feel welcome, and the advantages of a diverse classroom will not be realized. A culturally responsive classroom can be identified through intentionally taking an inclusive approach, relating material to students’ lives, and creating meaningful assignments.

Asset-based teaching redirects the emphasis to the positives inherent in the differences between students. Instead of questioning why some students are not picking up on the English language as well as their peers or are speaking with their friends in a different language than is used in the classroom, think about how fluency in their first language can help them learn English. If it is easier for them to use computers set in a different language or to write in their native language first, that can actually be a strength.

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3. It helps you get to know your students better

A teacher who takes an asset-based view of their students must get to know their students. Sometimes, deficits and assets appear in the course of a school day. However, to really know the assets of a student requires knowing who they are, what they like, and what they do.

The best way to do this is to simply have conversations with the students. These conversations can happen before the start of the day, during a break, or during independent learning time. Students enjoy sharing things about themselves and feeling like their teacher cares about them.

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4. It draws on students’ interests

A natural outcome of getting to know your students better is that you’ll learn more about their interests. And perhaps you could find ways to relate these interests to the content you teach. Has there been a time when the same standard could be met but the content used could be selected by the students? For example, in a lesson on density, students could bring in certain items from home to test. That is an easy way to bring in the interests of students. To increase student engagement even more, you could also base your class projects on student interests. This can bring content to life and stop all the questions about why students have to learn this!

young girl student writing on a notebook in class

5. It enables you to create student-centered classrooms

In a truly student-centered classroom, student voices need to be front and center. This may seem scary because it means you’ll need to give up a certain level of control as a teacher. However, students can and will learn information on their own. We’re no longer the sole owners of facts and knowledge. Students need to feel as if the classroom is their playground, where they can learn how to think, collaborate, and create information.

For a teacher to give up some control in the classroom and empower students means that they must believe that students bring tremendous value. It creates an environment where students feel like they have a voice and have ownership of their learning. A great example of this is letting students choose their own topics and doing their own research instead of preselecting the topics for the students. If they choose a topic that is not right for the assignment, then you can have a conversation and see what else they might like to learn about.

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6. It connects to prior knowledge

The most meaningful learning occurs when it builds on what we already know. As teachers, we have no idea what students will take away from a lesson. We have learning goals, standards to meet, and assessments to measure. This does not ensure that students learn from a lesson exactly what we want them to learn. Rather, they will make their own meaning.

Oftentimes, this meaning is connected to any prior knowledge the student might have. With an asset-based view of students, any prior knowledge they bring into the learning environment is a valuable starting point.

Asset-based teaching should naturally reduce any classroom behavior problems because relationships are built, and students are pictured as a whole person. You will probably still encounter situations or students who tend to cause disruptions in the classroom. Even when a student needs to be disciplined or lose privileges, an overall asset-based view of the students means that these negative repercussions will feel less punitive. Students will know that they are an important part of the classroom and that their teacher enjoys having them.

Connecting to overall discipline philosophies

The shift away from zero tolerance to restorative justice aligns well with asset-based teaching. Students are not handed out punishments that align with deficit-focused teaching. Instead, they are brought in as partners in the discipline process and are given a voice. In both models, the power shifts in the classroom to create a community of learners.

Benefits for students

School can be a very stressful time for students. Sometimes, they speak entirely different languages at home or maybe they love playing video games that aren’t allowed in school. Students will feel peer pressure to behave and act in certain ways. They are trying to navigate social circles while at the same time learning and performing in the classroom.

Asset-based teaching helps students feel welcomed, supported, and valued. They are not numbers to teach, exams to grade, or graduation marks — they are people who have multiple identities, intersections, experiences, and backgrounds. Classroom behavior will improve as students are empowered and treated with positivity and respect. Focusing on strengths even when you are frustrated or challenged is not easy, but it will pay dividends in the long run.

Photo credit: Tamara Bellis; Ben White; João Rafael; Les Anderson; SpeedKingz; pan xiaozhen; Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash.com; Shutterstock.com

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