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Classroom Management

How an Asset-Based Approach in Education Can Improve Classroom Behavior

6 Min Read
students smiling at their school desks

Nothing will derail a classroom faster than classroom management challenges, no matter how well planned your lesson is. It’s can be hard to stay on lesson with student behavior problems. So what options are you left with?

Shifting your outlook on classroom behavior and employing an asset-based view of students can 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 in the classroom. In this article, we’ll look at six advantages of an asset-based approach in education on how it can improve classroom behavior.

What is Asset-Based Instruction?

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

Asset-based instruction 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 an asset-based approach to 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 Teaching

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, 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.

2. It’s culturally affirming

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 affirming, then students might not feel welcome, and the advantages of a diverse classroom will not be realized. A culturally affirming 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.

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.

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!

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.

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 learning 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.

Asset-based instruction 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.

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

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