FINALLY, My Presentation from October: Cooperative Discipline in a Confucian Heritage Class!! pt.1

Hello! I am excited to publish this research that I completed for a grad school class but have also seen real success with! This is all MY research & was completed for about 3 months in my classroom during the 2018-2019 school year.

The goal of this research was to see how using a western discipline approach would work in a Confucian heritage culture. I specifically chose to use Cooperative Discipline because I was attracted to the cooperativeness of it! My school focuses a lot on student agency, and so I thought it would be amazing to test how I could incorporate that cooperative approach with the students taking responsibility and agency for their behaviors!

This post is definitely a bit more geared to teachers in similar cultures as I am, but if you are an American/Canadian/Australian/European/etc., this research could still help you to at least understand the cultural approach to discipline and behavior that some of your Confucian heritage students may face.

I'll add where I got some of my initial research and literature review from at the bottom of this post if you're interested in reading more!

I'm also breaking this post into 2. This research paper is 53 pages long, so narrowing down the most important parts & making sure what I am explaining makes sense to you is a lot of work and is super important to me!

This is a long one, so buckle up. All that said, let's get into part 1!

In Chinese countries, such as China and Taiwan, understanding that the culture is Confucian-heritage (CHC) will help the western teacher be more successful in reaching those students. Using a cooperative learning approach, it must be remembered that this can be a strong contrast to the culture where “teaching and learning is organized in ways that stress teacher-centeredness” (Thanh, 5). Countries with a Confucian-heritage learning culture are working to reform their education systems to advance their students’ success rate in the ever-changing world, but that does not mean you ignore the culturally approach that many people still hold in education.

Confucian-based cultures can be very different to those with Western mentalities and methodologies. Often, the CHC classrooms are more teacher-focused, with the teachers leading the classroom discussion and talking at the students. This knowledge should change how a western teacher should approach students in CHC countries. Applying western methodologies to CHC classrooms is possible, but different methods should be adapted to fit within the culture without too much issue.

Teachers should learn to understand and identify their students’ academic emotions in CHC classrooms. The students in CHC classrooms put a lot of effort into their work, and in the book Cultural Foundations of Learning: East and West, Li (2012) claims that eastern CHC students attribute their achievement to their effort, while western culture students attribute their achievement to their abilities (pg. 70). This is important to know as a western teacher in a CHC classroom, as the goal is to help students feel successful in their work. The teacher needs to understand their criteria for success, as well as their students’ personal criteria for success.

There are cases made against grouping CHC students are “rote-learners” with little-to-no critical thinking skills (Gu and Schweisfurth, 2006). These students’ learning is affected by multiple factors, as are all other students. These factors can be, but are not limited to: cultural influence, the learner’s personal goals, the learner’s background, the environmental setting, etc. (Ng, 2014). Ultimately, it is the teacher’s job to engaged, inspire and guide the students in their education.

There is much discussion about the different effect that teachers, classroom environments, and academic levels can have on the students in CHC classrooms. The students are typically provided with the material needed for class, and often do not search out their own material to supplement. Also, CHC students will avoid attention being brought to them (discipline by teacher, answering questions out loud, etc.) in fear of not being self-effacing.

So, what is Cooperative Discipline?

Cooperative Discipline is similar to William Glasser’s Choice Theory, as it also states that students’ behavior is based on a choice. In her book, Cooperative Discipline,Linda Albert discusses how no one person can control another person’s choices, but that situations can help to direct an action (Albert, 1996). Cooperative Discipline works with the understanding that “students have the potential for moving toward more positive choices of behavior and for becoming responsible citizens of the school community” (Albert, 1996, pg. 9). Albert believes that a teacher requires a discipline approach that allows the teacher, student, and parent to work cooperatively (Charles, Senter, 2005). Albert focuses on the 3 Cs to help students feel belonging: capable, connect, and contribute (Albert, 1996).

Albert believes that misbehavior occurs “as students attempt unsuccessfully to meet a universal psychological need- the need to belong” (Charles, Senter, 2005, pg. 202). When students misbehave, they are aiming to fulfill four mistaken goals: attention-seeking, power-seeking, revenge-seeking, and avoidance of failure (Albert, 1996). Albert believes that we should use strategies that prevent misbehavior, but also states that teachers should use strategies to handle the moment of misbehavior. Using the 3 Cs can help teachers to create a classroom code of conduct. This would be what holds both the teachers and students accountable for their behaviors. The code of conduct would also replace the teacher’s set of rules that are normally used.

Cooperative Discipline focuses on answering three main questions: What do I (the teacher) do when kids act up? What can I do, so they will not continue misbehaving? How can I encourage the “good kids” to continue behaving appropriately? The student’s behavior is an attempt to satisfy one of the four attention seeking goals. As the teacher, we must identify the goal of the student and address it in a way that will help them not continue the behavior.

Some guidelines for interventions for the different goals are (Albert, 1996):

  1. Focus on the behavior and not the student.

  2. Take charge of the negative emotions.

  3. Avoid escalating the emotions.

  4. Discuss misbehavior later.

  5. Allow the student to save face.

When consequence is needed, select a consequence that is related, reasonable, respectful, and reliably enforced (Albert, 1996). Using teacher-student conferences after the consequence can help to resolve the conflict and create a plan for more responsible behavior later (Albert, 1996).

So how can I adapt this approach to fit a non-Western mentality? And what did my intervention look like?

Adapting a theory, like Cooperative Discipline that is more focused on making the students successfully fulfill the three C’s, as mentioned before, may be a bit easier as the focus is on the acceptable behavior and helping the student feel successful.

One aspect to international teaching that teachers must face and be able to adapt to is that not all people have cultures that are the same as their race or ethnicity would presume. There are people from all over the world with multiple worldviews or cultures put into one classroom, including the teacher. Ginsberg and Wlodkowski note in their book Diversity and Motivation: Culturally Responsive Teaching in College, the differences between people are much more subtle and detailed than we realize on the surface level. This alone makes the teacher who aims to be culturally responsive “puzzled by how to pedagogically enact their respect for diversity” (Ginsberg, Wlodkowski, 2009, pg. 7).

My plan was to start by sitting with the students and discuss with them what our classroom should look like. This is outlined in Cooperative Discipline by Linda Albert. This was done in English, but with Chinese translation as needed to ensure that we were all working together and were of the same understanding. Since we already had our classroom essential agreements, we used this time to review and redefine them. The below pictures are our essential agreements.

This also went with my school’s guidelines and expectations of how teachers and students plan and create their classroom rules together. This was my baseline data on their knowledge of behavior expectations. I also collected baseline data through taking notes on their behavior throughout the day.

I also spent time discussing with the students what the different consequences would be for breaking our agreements. Over the following weeks, I implemented a Google form that helped me gather data on the students’ behavior. I requested that my co-teacher help me to gather this data as well through the Google form, but my main focus will be on bilingual/English-only classes. Disappointingly, she did not use the form often and so my data was skewed slightly, as I did not have enough representation from Chinese only classes.

During misbehavior moments, I used methods that Linda Albert recommends in her book, Cooperative Discipline, and focused on communication with the students. I asked them questions to ensure they understand that what they have done is unacceptable and how else we can respond or react. Questions like: What are some other choices we could make? What have has happened that has caused this discussion? Can you help me understand why you have chosen this behavior? I made a point to review the essential agreements, model the correct behavior, and encourage my students to engage in self-reflection.

The students were given chances to take a break if needed and remove themselves from the situation. The students also had the opportunity to communicate in whatever language they felt comfortable in. When necessary, I included the parents to discuss the misbehavior. I continued my use of ClassDojo to help continue encouraging the expected behavior or positive decision-making on the students’ part.

Since my goal here is to share what I learned, what worked in my class and how YOU can use this same method, come back next week for the results of this study AND a link to my Google Form that I used so you can make your own copy also do better at documenting your students' behavior!

Thanks for reading! Chat again soon!




Ng, C. K. L. (2014). Teachers' understanding of chinese english language learners' academic emotions in the 1st - 8th grade classrooms (Order No. 3626295).

Gu, Qing & Schweisfurth, Michele(2006) Who Adapts? Beyond Cultural Models of ‘the’ Chinese Learner, Language, Culture and Curriculum, 19:1, 74-89, DOI: 10.1080/07908310608668755

Gillies, R. M., & Boyle, M. (2009). Teachers reflections on cooperative learning: Issues of implementation. Teaching and Teacher Education,26(4), 933-940. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2009.10.034

M. D. (2018). Characteristics of Good Foreign Language Educators Across Cultural Boundaries. In Challenges of Second and Foreign Language Education in a Globalized World(pp. 251-270). Springer.

Albert, L. (1996). Cooperative discipline: Teachers handbook. Circle Pines, MN: AGS Pub.

Charles, C. M. (2005). Building classroom discipline. Boston: Pearson.

Li, J. (2013). Cultural foundations of learning: East and West. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Slavin, R. E. (2007). Educational Psychology: Theory and practice. NY, NY: Pearson.

Thanh, P. T. (2014). Implementing cross-culture pedagogies: Cooperative learning at Confucian heritage cultures. Heidelberg: Springer.

Ginsberg, M. B., & Wlodkowski, R. J. (2009). Understanding Relationships Between Culture and Motivation to Learn. In Diversity and Motivation: Culturally Responsive Teaching in College. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley and Sons.

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