Tag Archives: teaching

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

Student for a Day [VIDEO]

Adam Provost asked five educator colleagues to participate in the ‘Student for a Day’ project. Here are their stories:

What would you learn by doing this at your school?


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

You learn the work by doing the work

Cale Birk says:

You learn the work by doing the work. . . . So what if we made it a primary objective in education to spend as little time as possible talking to our learners and as much time available out getting them to DO the work? And when I am speaking about learners, I am referring to students AND adults.

via http://thelearningnation.blogspot.com/2013/10/youre-just-not-that-interesting.html

3 big shifts


Trying to keep things conceptually simple, I see schools needing to make 3 big shifts:

  1. From Low-Level Thinking to High-Level Thinking. From an overwhelming emphasis on students doing lower-level thinking tasks (factual recall, procedural regurgitation) to students more often engaging in tasks of greater cognitive complexity (creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, effective communication).
  2. From Analog to Digital. From local classrooms that are largely based on pens/pencils, notebook paper, ring binders, and printed textbooks to local and global learning spaces that are deeply and richly technology-infused (devices + Internet).
  3. From Teacher-Directed to Student-Directed. From classrooms that are overwhelmingly teacher-controlled to learning environments that enable greater student agency (ownership and control of what, how, when, where, who with, and why they learn).

I think the third one’s going to be most difficult. As educators we are not ready to give up control…

How is your school doing with these 3 big shifts?

Download graphic of this table

Image credit: 3Brittney Bush Bollay

Reading logs aren’t learning, they’re obedience

Lisa Morguess says:

What is the point of reading logs, anyway?  Teachers want kids to read – I get that.  But a reading log says, “I don’t trust you to read, so you must prove to me that you actually read for the prescribed number of minutes by writing down what you read and for how long you read.  And even then, I won’t take your word for it, so have your mom or dad sign the reading log as a witness that you actually did said reading, because you cannot be trusted.”

Here’s what reading logs actually do: they turn reading into a chore.  They teach kids that time spent matters more than content or understanding of content.  Reading logs tell kids that they are untrustworthy and must continually prove themselves.  They send the message that kids cannot be independent learners – they must rely on Mom and Dad to back them up.

This is not learning – it’s obedience.

via http://hometownhomeworkchronicles.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/the-reading-log-the-quickest-most-effective-method-of-killing-a-love-of-reading

Will an emphasis on ‘close reading’ kill the joy of reading?


As most educators know by now, the new Common Core standards emphasize ‘close reading.’ It’s hard to argue with that as a necessary skill for understanding complex writing. As a professor I spent lots of time dissecting research articles, book chapters, blog posts, and legal cases with my students. Close, careful reading and discussion also have been a staple of English / Language Arts classrooms for decades, as have been the critical analysis of political arguments in Social Studies classes, of pseudo-scientific claims in Science classes, and so on.

BUT… I keep thinking back to some quotes from Kelly Gallagher’s phenomenal book, Readicide:

“What has gone wrong in our schools: the creation of readicide through intensive overanalysis of literature and nonfiction. Young readers are drowning in a sea of sticky notes, marginalia, and double-entry journals and, as a result, their love of reading is being killed in the one place where the nourishment of a reading habit should be occurring – in school”

“On my desk is a copy of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (2007) unit of study for teaching To Kill a Mockingbird. This study unit, a guide to teaching Harper Lee’s timeless novel, contains overarching questions, chapter study questions, essay questions, vocabulary lessons, activities for specific chapters, guided reading lessons, directions for setting up a writer’s notebook, literary analysis questions, collaborative activities, oral presentations, handouts, transparencies, displays, quizzes, and projects. It also comes with an almost incomprehensible unit guide. This guide is 122 pages long – almost half the length of the actual novel! … If I were to follow this curricular guide step-by-step in my classroom, there is little doubt my students would exit my class hating To Kill a Mockingbird forever. Worse, students who have been taught to hate To Kill a Mockingbird will find themselves much farther down the road toward hating all reading. . . . No student ever achieved reading flow from analyzing every nook and cranny of a complex work. Students in these reading situations are not coming up for air. They are coming up for life preservers. . . . The overanalysis of books creates instruction that values the trivial at the expense of the meaningful. . . . ”As I look at the 122-page teaching guide for To Kill a Mockingbird, . . . the value in teaching this book is when we use this great book as a springboard to examine issues in today’s world. This opportunity seems to be largely missing in the district’s mandated curriculum. A golden opportunity for our children to read, to write, and to debate about relevant issues is buried under 122 pages of mind-numbing instructions.

“We would never buy a book at Barnes and Noble if it came with mandated chapter-by-chapter exams. We would never read a book so that we could tackle worksheets afterward. We would never begin a new read with the expressed goal of earning points. And we would never feel compelled to read if we had to complete a project after every book. Yet, as teachers, we do all of these things to developing readers. We subject them repeatedly to treatments that are counterproductive to developing book lovers. And we do it book after book, year after year. Worse, we rationalize our behavior by believing we must prepare students to perform well at test time. Shameful.” 

So I’m torn. I want students to be able to critically analyze what they’re reading but even more importantly I want them to love to read. When I taught 8th grade, a mom told me that she once found her daughter reading in the shower, one arm stuck outside of the curtain. Now that’s a love for reading! I’m worried that the more we emphasize the technocratic side of reading, the less we will celebrate and foster the pleasurable aspects of reading. It does us no good to teach kids how to read if at the end they don’t read because we’ve sucked the joy out of it.

I’m concerned that, like in so many other areas of educational reform these days, we’re going to tip way past what’s reasonable. But maybe I’m just making stuff up. Got any thoughts on this?

Image credit: Reading, Canon_Shooter

More of this, please

So far Paul Bogush’s class commercial (10:34) is my favorite education video that I’ve seen this year. I’m not sure which part I like better, the first two-thirds with upbeat pictures and videos or the last third with student quotes, some of which nearly bring me to tears.

“Chin up and be fierce.” You are in Room 301!

Your class is difficult to describe. It’s not so much social studies … as it is life.

Before this class I had never sat in a classroom for a whole period without being bored or looking at the clock and hoping it’d move faster … but in this class I found that things were constantly interesting and looked at the clock hoping it would slow down.

With all the conversations in class it showed me that I should not be a speck of dust in a room of crowded people … but I should be the Eiffel Tower.

I know I have become a better person from your class with a little more knowledge … and a whole lot more heart.

You pulled me out of the shell … that other teachers put me into.

I want this for my kids. And yours. And everyone else’s. More of this, please.

Two cans and a string aren’t enough


Over at Education Week, Jenna Barclay describes how she compensated for her 8th grade students’ lack of access to digital learning tools by making do with the analog teaching resources that they had on hand. They simulated ‘wikis’ with butcher paper and colored pencils. They made a ‘table top blog’ using notebook paper, moving around the room and commenting on each other’s paper posts. They summarized an article by passing back and forth paper ‘tweets.’ And so on…

All of the comments on the post praise Jenna for her initiative and creativity. And rightly so. Instead of whining and giving up, she found innovative ways to try and foster the thinking skills needed by her students. By all accounts, she and her students had many successes. But the more I read, the more I just wanted to cry. Here’s the comment that I left on her article:

I think this is a wonderful tale of a teacher creatively ‘making do’ to serve her students as best she can. And, yes, one can teach critical thinking, collaboration, and other essential skills without technology.

BUT… digital technologies and the Internet take all of this to the next level. For example, as great as what Jenna did here is, it didn’t allow for students to expand their voice – and interact with relevant, meaningful audiences – beyond the local. And as creative as students can be with butcher paper, the simple fact is that students can be even more creative when we expand their toolkit with digital creation, connection, and collaboration tools. We can’t pretend that analog learning environments are equal in power to digital learning environments, particularly since nearly all knowledge work done OUTSIDE of schools is done with digital technologies.

So I love what Jenna did. AND I also want her and her students to have access to robust digital learning technologies so that they can be even more powerful and amazing and relevant to what they’ll need when they leave their analog school environment.

Heroic tales of innovation like Jenna’s are wonderful testaments to the creativity of the teaching spirit. But how many school leaders and policymakers will use stories like hers as an excuse to not put digital tools into the hands of students? Too many, I’m afraid.

In a digital, global world, access and equity issues are important. Jenna and her students deserve true power, not artificial, simulated, “look we can pretend we’re really doing this” experiences that sort-of-but-not-really capture the essence of the real thing. We would never say that using two cans and a string is the same thing as actually making a phone call. We would never say that scooting around in a plastic children’s car is the same thing as actually driving. And we would never say that lying on a flat surface moving our arms and legs is the same thing as actually swimming. Nor should we when it comes to learning with digital technologies and the Internet.

Instead of having our hearts warmed by this feel-good story, how about if we do a better job of getting teachers the tools that they and their students really need?

Why are you working on that?


I’m astounded at how often my children do things for class without understanding the bigger reasons behind WHY they’re doing those things. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Me: What are you working on?
Them: [random learning task]
Me: Why are you working on that? How does that fit into the overall picture of what you’re learning/doing? Are you going to do something with that later? What purpose are you trying to achieve? What is the reason why you were asked to work on that?
Them: I dunno.

I’m also astounded at how hard they work on those things. They’re very diligent, despite having absolutely no idea why they’re doing what they’re doing. There seems to be a lot of trust (or at least compliance?) by my kids that they’re being asked to do the right things. I confess that I’m usually much less certain.

And, of course, there are the kids who are less compliant and/or trusting than mine…

Image credit: Untitled, Dan Buczynski

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