Tag Archives: Alfie Kohn

Compliance remains the central goal

Alfie Kohn said:

Whether or not it’s stated explicitly, compliance remains the central goal of most classroom management programs, character education initiatives, and parenting resources. Sure, we stress the virtues of independent thinking and assertiveness, but mostly in the context of getting kids to resist peer pressure. If a child has the temerity to resist unreasonable rules and demands imposed by adults, well, then, bring on the “consequences” (read: punishments) to “hold them accountable for their behavior.”

What is so offensive about Skinnerian programs like PBIS or Class Dojo isn’t just their methods, which amount to extended exercises in manipulation, but their goal, which is to elicit mindless obedience.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/26/how-to-teach-students-not-to-do-everything-they-are-told

Asking students to work in complete isolation

Sitting alone

Joe Bower said:

I would never ask students to complete anything that is worth doing in complete isolation from their peers, parents, books, or the Internet. I’ve worked hard to encourage my students to see collaboration as a critical characteristic of learning.

Alfie Kohn reminds us that, “I want to see what you can do not what your neighbour can do” is really just code for “I want to see what you can do artificially deprived of the skills and help of the people around you. Rather than seeing how much more you can accomplish in a well-functioning team that’s more authentic like real life.”

In the real world, there simply aren’t that many times you are expected to solve a problem or perform a task in complete isolation – and even if you were, it would be awfully archaic to refuse you the opportunity to reach out for the help you needed to get the task done.

via http://www.joebower.org/2015/05/3-reasons-why-albertas-provincial.html

Image credit: Sitting Alone, naraekim0801

Don’t intervene

Bharat Anand, Jan Hammond, and V. G. Narayanan said:

a typical approach to intervention in online [university] courses was to amass larger numbers of TAs [teaching assistants], so that some “expert” was ready to intervene quickly on any question as it arose. One unintended consequence? “Soon, everyone expected the TA’s to answer questions. No one took it upon themselves to do so.”

“Trust the students,” we preach in our classrooms. It’s one of the hardest axioms to follow. The temptation for an expert, or a teacher, is to help at the first sign of confusion. But letting it simmer can aid learner discovery. Indeed, the power of collaboration comes when you trust the group so that they are strongly encouraged – forced, even – to resolve problems on their own. Let an expert intervene, and you could undermine collaboration itself.

via https://hbr.org/2015/04/what-harvard-business-school-has-learned-about-online-collaboration-from-hbx

One of the things I love about the Discovery school in Christchurch, New Zealand is that the educators there do a wonderful job of handing everything over to the students. Teachers don’t leap in to solve learning or logistical problems. Instead they say, ‘What do you think?’ and ‘What might be some ways of solving that?’ and then honoring the kids’ ideas and solutions. Over and over and over again…

As Alfie Kohn noted over twenty years ago, “the way a child learns how to make decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions.”

Reader interest trumps passage readability?


Alfie Kohn said:

intrinsic motivation – has a huge empirical base of support in workplaces, schools, and elsewhere. We’ve long known that the pleasure one takes from an activity is a powerful predictor of success. For example, one group of researchers tried to sort out the factors that helped third and fourth graders remember what they had been reading. They found that how interested the students were in the passage was thirty times more important than how ‘readable’ the passage was.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/07/25/actually-practice-doesnt-always-make-perfect-new-study

Image credit: Reading, John Flinchbaugh

One of the most destructive ways to raise a child is with ‘conditional regard’

Alfie Kohn said:

Fury over the possibility that kids will get off too easy or feel too good about themselves seems to rest on three underlying values.

The first is deprivation: Kids shouldn’t be spared struggle and sacrifice, regardless of the effects. The second value is scarcity: the belief that excellence, by definition, is something that not everyone can attain. No matter how well a group of students performs, only a few should get A’s. Otherwise we’re sanctioning “grade inflation” and mediocrity. To have high standards, there must always be losers.

But it’s the third conviction that really ties everything together: an endorsement of conditionality. Children ought never to receive something desirable – a sum of money, a trophy, a commendation – unless they’ve done enough to merit it. They shouldn’t even be allowed to feel good about themselves without being able to point to tangible accomplishments. In this view, we have a moral obligation to reward the deserving and, equally important, make sure the undeserving go conspicuously unrewarded. Hence the anger over participation trophies. The losers mustn’t receive something that even looks like a reward.

A commitment to conditionality lives at the intersection of economics and theology. It’s where lectures about the law of the marketplace meet sermons about what we must do to earn our way into heaven. Here, almost every human interaction, even among family members, is regarded as a kind of transaction.

Interestingly, no research that I know of has ever shown that unconditionality is harmful in terms of future achievement, psychological health or anything else. In fact, studies generally show exactly the opposite. One of the most destructive ways to raise a child is with “conditional regard.”

via http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/05/04/opinion/sunday/do-our-kids-get-off-too-easy.html

12 education guidelines from Alfie Kohn

Alfie Kohn says:

  1. Learning should be organized around problems, projects, and (students’) questions – not around lists of facts or skills, or separate disciplines.
  2. Thinking is messy; deep thinking is really messy. Therefore beware prescriptive standards and outcomes that are too specific and orderly.
  3. The primary criterion for what we do in schools: How will this affect kids’ interest in the topic (and their excitement about learning more generally)?
  4. If students are “off task,” the problem may be with the task, not with the kids.
  5. In outstanding classrooms, teachers do more listening than talking, and students do more talking than listening. Terrific teachers often have teeth marks on their tongues.
  6. Children learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions.
  7. When we aren’t sure how to solve a problem relating to curriculum, pedagogy, or classroom conflict, the best response is often to ask the kids.
  8. The more focused we are on kids’ “behaviors,” the more we end up missing the kids themselves – along with the needs, motives, and reasons that underlie their actions.
  9. If students are rewarded or praised for doing something (e.g., reading, solving problems, being kind), they’ll likely lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward.
  10. The more that students are led to focus on how well they’re doing in school, the less engaged they’ll tend to be with what they’re doing in school.
  11. All learning can be assessed, but the most important kinds of learning are very difficult to measure – and the quality of that learning may diminish if we try to reduce it to numbers.
  12. Standardized tests assess the proficiencies that matter least. Such tests serve mostly to make unimpressive forms of instruction appear successful.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/10/30/a-dozen-basic-guidelines-for-educators

Before we ask kids to do their best, ask if the task is meaningful

Alfie Kohn says:

Challenge — which carries with it a risk of failure — is a part of learning. That’s not something we’d want to eliminate. But when students who are tripped up by challenges respond by tuning out, acting out, or dropping out, they sometimes do so not because of a deficiency in their makeup (lack of stick-to-itiveness) but because those challenges — what they were asked to do — aren’t particularly engaging or relevant. Finger-wagging adults who exhort students to “do their best” sometimes don’t offer a persuasive reason for why a given task should be done at all, let alone well. And if the rejoinder is that it doesn’t matter if the assignment is just busywork because kids need to develop “good work habits” across the board, well, a reasonable person would wonder who stands to benefit when children are taught to work hard at anything that they’re assigned to do by someone with more power.

via http://www.joebower.org/2013/10/what-do-kids-really-learn-from-failure.html

Do you have a learning environment worth learning?

Yes, we want children to learn, but then that means we must care very deeply about whether children want to learn, which means we must provide them with a learning environment that is worth learning. [emphasis added]

Alfie Kohn via http://vimeo.com/53056240

Hat tip: Joe Bower, http://www.joebower.org/2012/12/from-culture-of-performance-to-culture.html

“Time on task” is less important for higher-level understanding and creativity

the nature of the task helps to determine the relationship between time and achievement. It turns out that more hours are least likely to produce better outcomes when understanding or creativity is involved. “How much is learned by rote is a direct function of time and effort,” acknowledges literacy expert Frank Smith. “But when the learning is meaningful we learn much faster. . . . Having to spend long periods of time in repetitive efforts to learn specific things is a sign that learning is not taking place, that we are not in a productive learning situation.”

Sure enough, researchers have found that when children are taught to read by focusing on the meaning of the text rather than primarily on phonetic skills, their learning does “not depend on amount of instructional time.” In math, too, even the new-and-improved concept of “engaged” [time on task] is directly correlated to achievement only if both the activities and the measure of achievement are focused on rote recall. By contrast, there is no “linear positive relationship for higher level mathematics activities, including mathematical applications and problem solving.”

Alfie Kohn via http://www.joebower.org/2012/08/limits-of-time-on-task.html

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