Learning Cultures

Transforming Education

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    Teach independence

    Independence is a skill that needs to be developed. Show students how to use the Work Time Format to practice independence.

    Explore Work Time   >
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    Find engaging activities for students

    Stock your classroom with activities that maximize students' opportunity to learn during the Independent Work Time Format.

    Go to Resources   >
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    Make every space a learning zone

    See how teachers make the most of classroom space to maximize learning.

    View classroom slideshows   >
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    Alter your teaching stance

    Minimize teacher-directed lessons and maximize student-directed activity. Hear how teachers used the Formats to transform classrooms into learning cultures.

    Visit Practitioners   >
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    Make students responsible for learning

    Let students use the Writing Share Format to share drafts, solicit comments from peers, and use feedback to make substantive revisions.

    Learn About Writing Share   >
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    Spice up Unison Reading time

    Choose from dozens of magazine titles for your classroom library and let students choose what they want to read.

    Go to Links   >
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    Show kids how to be helpful and 'promotive'

    Give kids the chance to collaborate and learn together. Use the Formats to support positive social norms in your classroom.

    Read the 'Rubrics'   >
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    Find resources

    The Learning Cultures classroom environment is rich with resources students can independently access to pursue their learning goals.

    Go to Resources   >
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    Maximize "time on task"

    Double students' opportunity to learn to read by showing them how to independently manage the Unison Reading Format.

    Learn about Unison Reading   >
  • Cynthia McCalister 2011 (1)

    The McCallister Method

    Liberate your students from a lock-step transmission curriculum. Learn an alternative curriculum structured around social practices that raise achievement, build independence and engagement.

    Learn about Cynthia's work   >
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    "Unbundle" your curriculum

    Let students become obsessed with writing! Give them freedom to write for their own purpose, on topics of choice, as means to reach high learning standards.

    Learn about Genre Practice   >

What is Learning Cultures?

The Learning Cultures is a comprehensive systems approach to school reform with a primary goal of helping all students learn how to carry out their own intentions. Based on the ideas that children meet or exceed their potential depending on the resources provided by their culture, the Learning Cultures curriculum provides every teacher with the supports necessary to create classroom cultures that allow all children to take initiative to rise to their fullest potential. Learning Cultures is an educational model developed in a way that ensures all students learn.

Learning Cultures

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is founded on three principles

1) Every child can reach high learning standards when the classroom culture provides experiences and resources that support success and when each child is held accountable to classroom social norms that secure the behaviors of cooperation, consideration, and effort

2) Children are most successful when their learning is self-initiated, when they hold responsibility for learning, and when the learning process allows them to pursue personal interests

3) Social interactions are fundamental to learning, and higher-order thinking is best supported when students have opportunities to work cooperatively with others to solve problems and achieve collective goals

Learning Cultures consists of a simple, yet comprehensive set of classroom practices called Formats. Formats resemble some familiar classroom practices, such as lessons, small group work, individual conferences, independent work time and group meetings. But inspired by recent scientific insights into processes that support high levels of thinking, learning and engagement, these practices are specially reorganized.

When the Formats are followed consistently and with fidelity, students of all backgrounds and levels can achieve academic success. Learning Cultures allows teachers of every grade level and subject area to create classroom cultures characterized by student independence, motivation, high achievement, cooperation,

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and distributed leadership.

Learning Cultures Is...


Traditional linear transmission curriculum models are organized into discrete units and specify a prescribed sequence of instruction to be taught by teachers and presumably mastered by students. In the traditional mode, students are held hostage by the order in which a teacher chooses to present knowledge.

Learning Cultures is different. The curriculum is organized around social practices defined by the Formats, which specify the roles and responsibilities for students and teachers as well as the ways in which academic content and learning standards are used. The Formats alter traditional lines of responsibility in the classroom, holding students accountable for accessing the knowledge they need.

Whereas most curriculum models address content frontally through didactic transmission, Learning Cultures Formats enable students to take initiative to learn content through participation in social practices. Learning Cultures ensures students master literacy and content competencies, as well as the social competencies that are an integral facet of all forms of 21st century literacy.

Research Based

Learning Cultures Formats are designed to incorporate current knowledge from fields across the behavioral sciences to maximize student engagement, autonomy, responsibility and learning. Since all of the Formats are justified by sound theory and incorporate evidence-based practices, Learning Cultures works effectively to raise student achievement while supporting the social and emotional development of students.

Practical and Functional

The Learning Cultures curriculum is functional and practical. Specific procedures for each curriculum Format are outlined in a rubric specifying clear procedures that teachers of any grade level or subject can easily follow without the need for costly, extensive professional development support. The rubrics provide a blueprint to effectively implement engaging and challenging curriculum that meets high learning standards.

Free and Accessible

Knowledge is acquired through experience; it isn’t a commodity that can be owned, packaged and commercially traded to schools for money. Learning Cultures allows teachers to control the curriculum. Once teachers and students learn how to implement the learning Formats, this model is designed to generate individualized and group instruction plans without the need for curriculum outsourcing. Learning Cultures decommercializes the education process by eliminating dependence on education vendors for pre-scripted manuals, consumable workbooks, software programs, or other costly packaged materials.

The contributors to LearningCultures.net believe that better schools enhance the quality of children’s lives and improve the quality of our society. Our primary mission through this website is to provide free access to knowledge about the Learning Cultures method so that schools can build capacity to implement standards-based curricula independently, at a low cost, with minimal reliance on commercial outsourcing.



Learning Cultures is a progressive educational approach based on the assumption that children are naturally inclined to learn and grow when curiosity, engagement and social relatedness are supported. Learning Cultures is distinctive in the way accountability to high learning standards is incorporated into daily curriculum and instruction practices.


Education is a powerful democratizing force when children have opportunities to exercise fundamental rights of freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of thought and freedom of movement. But traditional classroom practices routinely prohibit social interaction, censor language and control thinking, even in democratic societies. How will children acquire the dispositions needed by citizens to safeguard democratic values if they don’t have the chance to practice them?

The Learning Cultures curriculum recasts the social order of classrooms in order to provide children with maximal freedom to think, speak, move, and associate freely with their peers, thereby instilling in them the rights and responsibilities associated with citizenship within a democracy.