A Contemporary Problem of Practice in the Classroom: Linear Classrooms

A Contemporary Problem of Practice in the Classroom: Linear Classrooms

Sarah Graham, English Language Acquisition teacher, Leysin American School

Characteristics of Linear Classrooms

Linear classrooms are commonplace among educational institutions. Linear learning and instruction are derived from the notion that students learn uniformly and dissimilarly. “We remain in a culture that promotes one curriculum for all, one age group and one grade at a time, and one set of tests to determine learning” (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017, p. 1). This classroom environment can only be successful in an idyllic setting, as it assumes that students all share the same personal learning preferences and interests. If education is meant to be a platform to a prosperous experience in life and workforce, then our current educational missions and ideologies need to balance students’ needs and desires with that of the demands of their future. Linear classrooms are malapropos, as they do not foster an enriching and best supportive classroom environment. These classrooms embody a host of characteristics, that more or less facilitate teacher-centralism.

Teacher instruction (direct instruction) is a systematic way of communicating, planning, and content delivery in the classroom (Cagiltay, et al., 2006). Although this method provides a strong structure for concentration on an academic task (Cagiltay, et al., 2006), it assumes that students learn at the same speed and in the same way. The formula for direct instruction is to learn through teacher-directed instruction, stay on task at a predetermined time set by the teacher, and perform or demonstrate learning based on teacher-made assessments (Cagiltay, et al., 2006), which heavily reduces students’ capacity for being the captains of their own learning.

Again, linear classrooms assume homogenous learning styles. All students are given the same style of instruction and expected to complete the same demonstration-of-learning activity. These teacher-designed activities assume sole responsibility that sufficient learning will take place, and then be measured by the teacher-selected/teacher-designed assessment. A homogeneous learning environment ignores individual differences of skill, ability, and interests.

In addition, linear classrooms, by design, presume a homogenous pace of learning. Based on the aforementioned formula, students receive direct instruction and perform the academic activity, whilst remaining on task. Teachers have a predetermined time frame of when students will master the skill/content objective. Within this realm, teachers have the full responsibility of creating academic content/skill objectives, designing the way in which students learn (teacher-planned learning initiatives), providing feedback to reinforce learning, and administering assessments; all with the assumption that students will need the same amount of time to complete each step.


Pitfalls of Linear Classrooms

We need students to become metacognitively familiar with what they want to accomplish and who they want to become (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017).  With linear classrooms, opportunities for self-exploration, growth of social capital, and development of voice are limited. “Students from even the most privileged schools may suppress their aspirations- their passions and intense interests- because their deepest desires are held captive to the practicality of what others call success” (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017, p. 2). Standardized learning and linear classrooms prohibit and incapacitate the opportunities to enrich and deepen learning experiences. Although our economical world is shifting globally from industrialism to personalization, which is revolutionizing music, medicine, politics, publishing, etc., our schools remain stagnant and immobilized in tradition of teaching to a one-size-fits-all standard through our linear classrooms.

Linear classrooms create an environment of automatic learning. In other words, it creates habits of valuing rote recall and memorization. Imagine driving a car, you engage your long-term memory automatically to turn on the engine, shift gears, accelerate, merge, and pass other drivers. Relying solely on automatic learning doesn’t prepare for drivers in unpredictable disruptions, such as sleet or the engine overheating (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017). Automatic learning can be helpful in acquiring academic knowledge, but it doesn’t aid in developing a skill set beyond standardized testing. In other words, it doesn’t help students to pursue strategic abilities and “expand their resourcefulness and capacity for engaging with and solving challenging problems” (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017, p. 9). Heretofore, teachers in linear classrooms utilize discipline-specific learning goals, which are “woefully insufficient if we want students to thrive in a modern world (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017, p. 13).”

The prevalence of linear classrooms perpetuates common classroom issues, such as low motivation, fewer opportunities for social-emotional and metacognitive development, and fewer opportunities of content-mastery and multiple displays of learning. When teachers set the learning target, the time frame, the tasks, and assessments, students will have little to no ownership of their learning and abilities development. In shifting responsibilities to students, the changes will be positively irrevocable, as they develop academic and dispositional competencies. Learning should be teacher-led and student directed, which is oppositional to that of linear classrooms. The teacher-determined curriculum can encompass broader learning goals that extend beyond the academic objectives to incorporate cross-disciplinary and dispositional goals, in which student-teacher collaboration will empower students with a voice in their own learning (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017).

Linear classrooms are not self-paced, personalized, differentiated, or individualized. It is un-customizable to student’s interest and style of learning, and leaves the potential for negative stigma for “branded” special education students that are unable to match the pacing set by the teacher. A flexible and personalized classroom can allow for student equality even amongst our higher-achieving students. It can help our students to “pursue aspirations, investigate problems, design solutions, chase curiosities, create performances,” (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017, p. 2-3) and most importantly expose students to meaningful problems and challenges, which will ultimately help them to develop skills such as striving for accuracy, taking responsible risks, and developing persistence.

The roles of the teacher and student have been widely researched, and thus more questions have been asked than answered. What has become undoubtably clear is that the role of the teacher needs to be radically changed from a linear, teacher-centric role to a learning mediator and coach (Wismath, 2013). Teachers shouldn’t be the tap that turns on or off the nozzle that determines a student’s learning capacity; instead we should have a meta-role as the mirror that reflects students’ action and decision-making in their pursuit of knowledge and ability. In evaluating the characteristics and pitfalls of linear classrooms, it is clear the glass ceiling created by a linear mentality prohibits and demotes necessary and valuable non-academic skill sets. Stepping outside the linear classroom into a multi-directional (non-linear) learning environment is of great interest and remains non-negotiable.



Cagiltay, N. E., Yildirim, S., & Aksu, M. (2006). Students’ Preferences on Web-Based Instruction: linear or non-linear. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 9(3), 122–136. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/jeductechsoci.9.3.122.pdf

Kallick, B., & Zmuda, A. (2017). Students at the Center: Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind (1st ed.). ASCD.

Wismath, S. L. (2013). Shifting the Teacher-Learner Paradigm: Teaching for the 21stCentury. College Teaching, 61(3), 88–89. https://doi.org/10.1080/87567555.2012.752338


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to have your thoughts below.





Sarah Graham is an English Language Acquisition and psychology teacher for 9th and 10th grade at Leysin American School in Switzerland. She has worked as a teacher for 7 years and in the international market for 5 years. She is currently pursuing an Ed.D in Educational Practices and Leadership with an emphasis on Teacher Education. Sarah’s aim is for students to gain skills beyond discipline-specific goals and to develop dispositional competencies, such as listening with understanding and empathy, persistence, taking responsible risks, flexibility, etc. She believes that if we want our students to be successful in a quickly evolving workforce and rapidly changing modern world, our education needs to reflect that in a holistic manner. 

Future generations and female role models

Future generations and female role models.

Juliette van Eerdewijk, Primary Principal, International School of The Hague

Our young people who grow up to be the new leaders, the future workforce and parents of our world have a right to equal opportunities. It is also our human right to be treated equally no matter our differences. Yet, what we experience in 2020 is still not providing the world with a platform that allows for equal opportunities. One area, besides many others, that needs to be tackled is the global gender gap. In the World Economic Forum report of 2020, the following was stated.


Projecting current trends into the future, the overall global gender gap will close in 99.5 years, on average, across the 107 countries covered continuously since the first edition of the report. Lack of progress in closing the Economic Participation and Opportunity gap leads to an extension of the time it will be needed to close this gap. At the slow speed experienced over the period 2006–2020, it will take 257 years to close this gap.
– World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap report 2020 – pg 6 # 7


Furthermore, the WEF report identifies the following:
By region, Western Europe has made the most progress on gender parity (at 76.7%), followed by North America (72.9%), Latin America and the Caribbean (72.2%), Eastern Europe and Central Asia (71.3%), Sub-Saharan Africa (68.2%), South Asia (66.1%) and the Middle East and North Africa (60.5%)


This translates into gender parity in years as:

· 54 yrs – Western Europe

· 59 yrs – Latin America and the Caribbean

· 71.5 yrs – South Asia

· 95 yrs – Sub-Saharan Africa

· 107 yrs – Eastern Europe and Central Asia

· 140 yrs – The Middle East and North Africa

· 151 yrs – North America

· 163 yrs – East Asia and the Pacific


The 99.5 years was already bad enough, but the slow speed experienced in the recent decade will delay this to 257 years. Surely as educators and leaders, we can’t allow this to happen to our great-great-grandchildren. This is not just a female issue, this is a world issue, this is something we all need to tackle. We need men to stand up and demand a change so that their great-granddaughters have a right to dream and follow a career they want, as doctors, engineers, in computing, politics, technical, you name it. Do men find it acceptable that this will happen to their own flesh and blood? Or are they just thinking of their own cosy position at the moment, without a care for the future?

We need to better equip our future generation to deal with the challenges that they will be facing and ensure that there are equal opportunities for women, to give them the skills to participate in the economy and the complete labour market, to give them a chance to open a bank account and control their own finances and obtaining credit, to be involved in politics. We need to provide them with the role models in our educational system, where we encourage young females to take the steps to choose subjects that will lead to a greater choice of opportunities in the labour market.

In international education, we pride ourselves in making our students independent, forward-thinking, life-long learners. We help them to get skills that create future leaders, future workers who can contribute to the economic stability of our country and world in general. This future is built on students’ historical experiences and we are currently their experience. So, what picture do we provide them with? What role models do we give to them that will allow them to be so forward-thinking or willing to accept diversity in the workplace, such as gender balance, racial equity and equal pay.

Whilst the world of education is currently still dominated by white males allowing this to continue is an offence, as we are robbing the next generation of a future where they would have equal rights, something we still do not have in 2020. We would ostracize them from many possibilities and lead them into stereotypical work, stereotypical behaviour and nothing will have changed from 2020. We would rob them of opportunities, of visions of equality and we would be the violator whilst they would be the victim. We make our children the victims of our choices.

The importance of having female leaders as role models is vital to both our males and females. Breaking the stereotypical image of a leader as a white male is needed for our future generation to connect with a world where they are supposed to be functioning to their fullest capacity, contributing to new innovations and keeping our world a healthy and safe place, and guiding others to make the right choices. Males need to be able to start seeing that women leaders are able to bring strength to companies, research has already shown that diversity in leadership brings different voices to the decision-making process which in return leads to better decisions. Young females need to see women in these roles so that they have a role model that they can learn from, and at the same time males can learn from female role models just as well. Young people need to see that these jobs can become a reality for anyone and are not just there for a few lucky ones. Our young people need to see that females can hold the top positions, have the ability, the skills and the drive to be capable of a job and therefore be equal to men.

The focus here may have been gender, but this applies to many more differences, that would provide us with even more depressing data, such as equality for people of colour, for those with disabilities to name but a few.

Breaking the stereotyping of jobs for females, jobs for people of colour, jobs for people with disabilities, jobs for anyone who is marginalised, has got to start with us, right now. Us means all of us. Not just women, not just people of colour, not just people with disabilities, we all need to make conscious decisions that things have got to change. We cannot allow the future generation to suffer, because we did not find it important enough to raise our voice and stand up for our and their rights.

It is time for all of us to take a stance, male leaders please join us in our efforts to raise this awareness. We, and the future generation, ask for equity and for the right to be treated equally, for the right to have opportunities to be recognized for the skills and value we will bring to society. Together we can make a difference, but we do need the help of our whole society. Stand with us, raise your voice for your daughters, your granddaughters and their loved ones. Everyone will be better off if we are all given an equal chance.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to have your thoughts below.





Juliette van Eerdewijk was born in the Netherlands and specialised in Kindergarten education and Primary education. She went abroad in 1988 and has held different leadership positions in 10 countries across Europe, South America, Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. She has developed and led a variety of curricula, e.g. IB, IPC, English curriculum and school-based inquiry curricula. She holds a Masters of Arts degree from the UK in Specific Learning Difficulties.

Juliette returned to the Netherlands in 2015 and is currently the Primary Principal at the International School of The Hague, which includes whole school responsibilities. She is involved in training senior leaders (iNPQSL) at the International Leadership Academy where they have given an international spin to this training. Juliette is also a country lead of #WomenEdNL. She is a keen life-long learner and her hobby is wildlife photography.