Book Circle #2 Garrett prall

Kohn, A. (2008). Beyond discipline: from compliance to community. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

"Beyond Discipline" by Alfie Kohn: In this novel, the author seeks to tear down traditional methods for classroom management. Instead of using positive and negative reinforcement to gain desired behaviors, the author looks into methods that teach students moral behavior, rather than attempting to force them into it.

Chapter 5: How Not to Get Control of the Classroom

As the author has stated in previous chapters, traditional methods of positive/negative reinforcement do not work in the long run. The comparison is made to the focus on standardized testing in schools. The focus seems to not be on true knowledge and learning, but more so on a student's ability to regurgitate someone else's facts. The student is able to recall information and may be able to pass a test, yet after the class is over, the information is lost. Likewise, by punishing/rewarding students for behaviors we deem appropriate, they are learning to exhibit those behaviors for the wrong reasons. Instead of doing the right thing because it's right, students do it out of fear of consequences or desire for reward: no true learning has taken place.

What do we want from our students?

When teachers are asked what they want their students to be like many years later, they use words like happy, responsible, caring, creative, life-long learners, etc. Not one of them state that they hope that their students can solve complex algebra equations or recall the names of Civil War generals. So why do we teach class like those are the things that matter? Likewise, why do we push for compliance in the classroom when what we should be teaching is the ability to make intelligent, moral decisions?

In truth, the more we micromanage student behavior in class, the harder it is for students to become free thinking individuals. Teachers may have many rules, not because it effects the learning process in any way, but because it makes it easier for the teacher. In other words, the classroom has become less focused on learning and more focused on "Do what you're told."

  • How can students be expected to grow into independent, free-thinking adults when throughout their previous years, they were expected to fall in line and conform to someone else's expectations?
  • How can an environment exist that is most beneficial students when so many teachers construct classroom environments that benefit themselves?

Teaching Morality

In order to develop a sense of right and wrong, students must do more than what they are told. True moral reasoning is constructed by oneself. When a student does something wrong, it is more important to help the student understand why the action is wrong, rather than punishing them for it. For example, if a student hits another student. Obviously it is morally wrong to hit another person, yet the student (especially dependent on their age) may not fully understand. As a teacher, it should be your job to first understand why they hit the other student, then you should help the student understand why hitting is wrong. The author states that asking a student to put themselves in someone else's shoes is often an effective strategy for helping students understand.

Chapter 6: A Classroom of their Choosing

In chapter 6, the author strongly advocates the use of a democratic classroom, an environment in which students have a say in their education. Democratic classrooms encourage students to make decisions for themselves, promoting free-thinking and decision making. A student will feel more involved in a classroom that they had a part in constructing. Likewise, they will feel more inclined to become involved in the material when they helped decide on the style of the lesson.

The idea of a democratic classroom is that everyone gets a say. It may take some time to get students to speak their minds on topics being discussed. In addition, it is important to ensure that students are making decisions because they feel is it the best choice, not because they believe it is what you want to hear. The author also stresses that an instructor should make sure that all students have a say and that a small group isn't making decisions for the whole class. In the end, the goal is compromise, not majority rules.

If the students vote on something that you disagree with, it is more important to deal with the new vote, rather than take that privilege away from them. The best solution would be to agree to implement it for a week or two and then have another meeting to discuss the effectiveness of the strategy. If it is counterproductive, a new approach may be voted upon.

Chapter 7: The Classroom as a Community

A classroom community is an environment of care and encouragement. One goal of this is to pull focus away from the individual, to get students to think less about "me" and to think more about "we." In a low stress, encouraging environment, students can focus on their education rather than worry about being judged. Groups of students who support each other will feel more inclined to push their limits and get out of their comfort zones. A classroom community combine with a democratic approach will have students coming up with ideas that will benefit the class as a whole.

Building a Community

There are a number of aspects that are vital to creating a community in your classroom:

  • Student Relationship with the Teacher - It is important that the students and teacher have a relationship of mutual trust and respect.
  • Student relations with each other - A community cannot happen unless students know each other and come to respect one another. In addition, a teacher that has positive relationships with other adults around the school will be a good role model for students to base their relationships off of.
  • Class Activities - The opportunity for a class to work together on a project or activity will build a sense of community.
  • Academic Instruction - Group activities and democratic discussions should be applied to educational content as well. Remember, an educational lesson can be found in almost any situation.


Kohn, A. (2008). Beyond discipline: from compliance to community. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


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