Posts Tagged Alfie Kohn

14 Videos for Starting Dialogue on Rethinking Rewards, Awards

It is no secret that I have some strong opinions on using awards and rewards to “motivate” our students to be better behaved and achieve more in schools.  Instead of using carrots and sticks to bribe and punish students, we need to work to create the conditions for students to motivate themselves (adapted from Deci and Ryan) and move to a more intrinsic model of motivation in schools.

If you have further interest in reading my thoughts on rewards and awards, please read my post, “My Issue With Rewards” and check out my page “Rethinking Awards Ceremonies” that includes 50 posts from many different educators.

Here are some videos (in no particular order) that I have used to initiate dialogue around a conversation that questions the use of rewards and awards in schools (if you have any other videos to share, please link them in the comments below and I will add them to the post):

 

1.  Rick Lavoie on “Motivation and Competition in Schools” – here is a mashup I created of 3 videos of Rick Lavoie as he questions the use of competition as a motivational tool in schools.  He is not opposed to competition but he says that we need to reflect on HOW we use it and work to use competition when it is a choice.

 

2.  Daniel Pink on “The Surprising Truth ABout What Motivates Us” – Pink shares research on the issues with using carrots as a tool to motivate and states that we need to focus on creating the conditions through autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  Be sure to also read his book, “Drive”, in which he more closely links to Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s research on “Self-Determination Theory“.

 

3.  Sheldon from Big Bang Theory on Motivation - a comical clip to show the silliness of using bribes and punishments to alter behaviour.

 

4.  Dwight Schrute vs Alfie Kohn - in this humorous video, we see how “business leader” Dwight Schrute (in TV’s “The Office”) attempts to motivate his staff using the legendary “Schrute Bucks”.  Inserted between the clips are references to thoughts from author Alfie Kohn.  If you can access any episodes of “The Office”, be sure to check out their version of business awards, “The Dundies”.

 

5. Dr. Ross Greene: Kids Do Well If They Can – in this clip, Dr. Ross Greene shares how, instead of looking how to motivate kids to be better behaved (“kids do well if they want to”), we need to look through the lens that kids WANT to do well and, therefore, we need to look for the skills they are lacking and teach them so they CAN do well.  Be sure to check out his books “The Explosive Child” and “Lost at School”.

 

6. Alfie Kohn on Rewards – a short clip by Kohn that includes “the more you reward students for doing something, the more they lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward”.

 

7.  Joey’s Soap Opera Awards Loss - although comical, it shows the idea that awards can move us toward a “succeed by defeating others” mentality.

 

8. Nobel Prize Winner Richard Feynman on How He Doesn’t Like Honours – a good clip from the late physicist, Feynman, that challenges the idea of traditional “honours”.

 

9. Edward Deci’s Keynote - Deci shares the research that tangible rewards can actually DECREASE intrinsic motivation.  Deci is one of the key researchers in which Kohn and Pink have based their work.

 

10.  Daniel Pink on TED:  The Puzzle of Motivation - Pink shares thoughts and research on how traditional rewards aren’t as effective and do not motivate as we would think they would.

 

11.  Barry Schwartz on Using Our Practical Wisdom - in this TED talk, Schwartz talks about rules, carrots, sticks and actually choosing to do the right thing.

 

12.  Bribe Mentality: Neglecting and Derailing Intrinsic Motivation – the first 8 minutes of this video are very good and include the words of Kohn, Pink, and Marshall Rosenberg… the last part focuses on a resource-based economy that would go beyond the scope of most conversations in schools.

 

13: Mr. Keefe’s Class Dojo - this video shows how a teacher uses the software Class Dojo to attempt to “motivate” his students.  I won’t get into this one much in this post, and although this video is designed to support Class Dojo, this is definitely a good conversation starter on the use of sticker charts and rewards-based programs in schools.

 

14.  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: Christmas Bonus – Clark Griswold shows us what happens when a reward is expected… but not given/received.

@chriswejr

 

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The Problem With Black & White Statements in Education

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by the BCth: http://flickr.com/photos/bcii/4499830063/

I continue to hear how certain educational practices are harmful to kids. Things like homework, desks in rows,  multiple choice questions, worksheets, and tests are stated as being “toxic” and “educational malpractice”.  I think as educators we need to be careful when we make dichotomous statements like these as they tend to end the chance for any productive dialogue.

I have made this mistake before… many times.  I have my areas of passion and there are mindsets and ideas that I have strong opinions about but I have learned (and continue to learn) that when we make statements that polarize people, you leave very little opportunity to engage.

I saw this tweet today by a few educators whom I truly respect:

I believe this came from a statement from Alfie Kohn and people were just sharing his message but I am not sure. Now, I have big concerns about homework (see here for our staff conversation) but this statement about homework leads me to a response of: REALLY? Of all the things we do during the 7 hours kids are at school, homework is THE biggest killer of curiosity?  How are we defining homework? What if we move to an inquiry-driven system in which school is real life and they continue their learning at home?  How do we even start the conversation about questioning homework when the statement says that teachers who assign homework (again, not defining what it is) are killing curiosity more than anything else in school.  Do we really think someone who believes in giving  homework will discuss this after a statement like this?

Tom Schimmer once said to me, “Be careful of the tone of your message as it can alienate those you are trying to reach”.  When we use powerful polar statements, they often “sell” and get retweeted… but do they do anything to move the dialogue and create educational change?  It is no secret that I am a fan of Alfie Kohn’s ideas… but I struggle with the tone that is used.  Compare Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” with the writing that Kohn has been doing for years.  They both have similar messages (and cite similar research) but Pink provides a gentle nudge while Kohn makes us feel like we should lose our teaching licenses if we give homework, use worksheets, or have desks in rows.  Kohn has done very well with the language he uses (and again, love his ideas, personally enjoy his books, and the research he shares) but so many are alienated by his tone and the dichotomous statements he makes. As educational leaders, is this the tone we want to use to create the conditions for change?

We have some fantastic teachers at our school.  Sometimes we have desks in rows, sometimes we give worksheets, and sometimes we use multiple choice.  As my buddy Cale Birk mentioned to me: “Maybe we should be questioning the learning tasks (activities) that students are doing?”.  I would add – maybe we should be less concerned about some instructions/questions written on sheets of paper (or a screen) and the location in which students are sitting and instead focus our attention on student learning and level of engagement.  Is there NEVER a time when kids prefer to work alone?  Is there NEVER a time when some learning should be done away from school? Black and white statements make it seem like this is the case… and, unfortunately, often end the chance for any professional dialogue on the issue.

The few examples stated are important conversations we need to have as educators.  We need to question our assessment practices as well as our learning activities and what we expect of kids away from school; but in order to effectively engage in conversations around these topics, we need to move away from the dichotomous, or black and white, statements of education.

Education is full of grey areas – some darker and some lighter.  If it was easy we would have figured it out long ago.  The vast majority of educators do not intend to harm students with their practices… it is important we listen and attempt to view through the lenses of others.  Only then can we start powerful conversations about educational change.

 

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My Issue With Rewards

A few years ago, as a new principal, I made a decision to recognize the children for “making a difference” at our school.  The idea was that at our monthly assembly, all staff members would have an opportunity to publicly thank and recognize any student that he/she felt had a made a difference.  Things started out well.  Kids were excited to be recognized.  Students seemed to be doing more around the school and letting us know about it… then after recess one day Ashley (pseudonym) and another student arrived in the office:

Ashley showed up helping another student walk.  The other student was crying and had an obvious scraped, bleeding knee.  Ashley was a primary student who had a number of behaviour concerns and reward/incentive programs were being implemented both at home and at school.  I was so happy that Ashley had decided to use her efforts to help another student…. but then it happened – the ‘Aha’ moment for me.  As soon as she saw me, her attention moved from the injured girl to me, she stopped helping the girl and said to me, “Mr. Wejr, I helped Susan to the office when she was hurt! Can I get one of those “Making A Difference” awards now?” (cue alarms going off in my head).  I stopped right there.  What had I done? Had I just taught this child to help another student not for the reward within the act itself but for the reward of being recognized at an assembly?  My response (not quickly thinking) was, “Yes, you will be recognized but….”  Before I could finish, she was so excited that she skipped off with no concern for what I was saying nor concern for the injured girl.

This recent story illustrates the unintended negative consequences that reward systems can have. I know that majority of teachers and schools make decisions based on what is best for kids and there is no intention of harm but are we, in fact, doing more harm than good by offering incentives for certain behaviours?

We often hear of schools that use merit tickets, gotchas, prizes, etc to encourage students to behave a certain way.  Before I go on further, I need to say that these systems work; they are successful… SHORT TERM.  These systems get students to comply to the rules that we set out but do they actually help to internalize their actions?

PBIS_Ticket

We have not used a school-wide reward system for a number of years (other than my error of implementing the “making a difference” idea); the previous principal and a number of staff members were opposed to motivating kids with incentives and “stuff” (by rewards an incentives, I mean tickets, candy, money, prizes, etc).  Instead of rewards, we provide descriptive feedback on how children could improve as well as what they have done well.  We try to praise their efforts rather than the results of their efforts.  We also honour each child for who they are rather than what they do (without awards).

I recently read a blog by a BC administrator, whom I truly respect and admire, called “Beyond Discipline or Beyond Common Sense” but I have concerns and questions on the promotion of the use of merit tickets.  In the story, he discusses how the use of tickets caused the misbehaving boy to change his behaviour and instead focus on getting caught being good.  To grow as an educators, I want people to challenge  my current opinions, so here are my concerns/thoughts/questions with this:

  • Value of tickets – what is the currency? Is picking up garbage worth 1 ticket and if so, then what is the going rate helping a new student make friends or leading a fundraiser for the SPCA – more tickets or the same?
  • Are we standardizing rewards for individualized behaviours? (much like we standardized grades for individualized learning)
  • How old are students when we stop rewarding with tickets?  What happens when the reward is removed?
  • Are the tickets used to remind teachers to praise?  If yes, is there another way that we can help staff to learn to praise and recognize students efforts?
  • Tickets and incentives do not teach and often those students who misbehave are lacking skills.  How were the behaviour skills learned by the students?
  • Was it the use of tickets or the feedback-based conversations with the teacher that resulted in the behaviour change?
  • Is the student proud of his tickets or proud of who he is?
  • If we are trying to “catch kids being good”, many will make sure they are “caught” (Look at me!).  What happens when we are not around? Will the positive behaviours continue?  Do we want to promote a society that behaves well ONLY under surveillance? (cue argument about speeding tickets)
  • What happens to the student who does not need the incentives to do the right thing? Does their motivation change?

Now, I do not intend to make this an intrinsic vs extrinsic, PBIS/non-PBIS (Positive Behaviour Interventions and Support) debate.  Motivation falls on a spectrum and I feel there is value in both (ie. praising effort as extrinsic).   Also, The PBIS system has a number of effective practices; my issue is with the behaviourist view on use of rewards.  I know many who use the rewards system in PBIS cite the research done by Judy Cameron of University of Alberta and I could make this blog even longer and cite the words and/or research written by some educators, economists, and psychologists.  Instead of this, here is a list of people that discuss the problems/concerns of rewards-based programs but I encourage you to research their ideas:

  • Jean Piaget
  • Maria Montessori
  • Nel Noddings
  • Michel Foucault
  • Richard Ryan and Edward Deci – Self Determination Theory
  • Dr. Ross Greene
  • Rick Lavoie
  • Barry Schwartz
  • John Hattie
  • Daniel Pink
  • Carol Dweck
  • Seth Godin
  • Barbara Coloroso

As someone who previously used tickets (Weej Bucks, Bobcat Bucks) as a classroom teacher and also as a principal who has observed the negative impact that a reliance on incentive-based systems can have, I challenge and encourage you to reflect upon the current practices and determine if the rewards like this are actually needed.  What if we just did the following:

  1. Relationships: focus on trusting, caring relationships with kids
  2. Feedback: provide descriptive feedback (positive and negative) to students based on their actions – how did it make them feel? How did it make others feel? Help students to see the reward within the task itself.   Dr. Ross Greene tells us that all kids WANT to do well if they CAN.  Help teach students the skills so they can do well.
  3. Work WITH Students: include student voice in the conversation around behaviour and avoid doing things TO students.
  4. Honour: focus on the strengths, rather than deficits, of the child.  Continue to work with the child on skill development but encourage the use of strengths and passion
  5. Reflect: what is it about the task that is making this difficult?  Include students in this conversation.  Are we playing a role in making it more difficult for the student?

If we did these simple things every day with each student (obviously some would need more support than others), would there be a need for tickets and other prizes?  In my experience, the answer is no.  I have observed classes and schools that have respectful cultures that do not rely on incentives.   Do we have the perfect school in which every one behaves respectfully all the time? No, we have some incidents of disrespect and inappropriate behaviours just like other schools but we approach each incident with a learning/growth mindset and, although it is much more difficult and it takes much longer, we continue to see long-term learning without the need for prizes.

For those who often cite the workforce or the real world to support the argument for  the use of rewards, I will leave you with an example from the “Motivational Guru” Dwight Schrute:

For another video that compares this to the thoughts of Alfie Kohn, please click here.

Thank you to Tom for making me think and reflect on this topic. As this is an often debated issue and this is based on my opinion, I look forward to reading your comments.

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The Price of Grades

What marks do I need to score this?In a recent article in the Vancouver Province, it described an initiative started by a community to pay their children for getting good grades.  After reading this, my heart began to race and I was floored.  How could an entire community believe that extrinsically motivating (bribing) kids into getting good grades was going to help with their learning?

Many of us have read from Alfie Kohn and Daniel Pink about the harm of using extrinsic rewards for learning and how this can actually inhibit students from participating in higher level thinking, risk-taking, and deeper learning.  Kohn has stated, “the more you reward someone for doing something, the less interest that person will tend to have in whatever he or she was rewarded to do.”

So why is it acceptable to pay kids or reward kids for learning?  These tactics may work very short term but what about the harm that it does in the long term?  What happens if the reward is removed?  Will the student still see value in learning?  What is the going rate for an A; is there inflation?

I was so fired up that I went in the staff room and showed some staff the article.  A few staff members were appalled, some didn’t really have much of an opinion and one teacher said, “I think it is a good idea”.  WHAT?!?!  I asked her to continue and fill me in on how this is a good idea; she continued, “well, the system is not working for these kids, the community is probably frustrated that the system is not changing, so they are trying something.”  I gave every reason why this was a bad idea (places focus on grades rather than learning, students become more worried about the reward than the process, etc) and we agreed to disagree.

Later in the day, I started to reflect on the words of this teacher.  I started to begin to see what she was saying.  The system is not working for many kids; they are not motivated by grades and their learning is not being personalized in a way that is meaningful and relevant.  So if one extrinsic motivator (grades) is not working, and their intrinsic motivational needs (Autonomy, Master, Purpose – from Daniel Pink) are not being met, the community felt they had no choice but to increase the extrinsic motivator by adding cash.

Boom.  Although I 100% disagree with using money as a carrot/bribe for achievement (please do not do this), the real problem is a system that is failing far too many students.  The system is not relevant to many kids.  (It is far worse when people have the ability to change the system and choose to resort to paying kids for grades like the Chicago Public Schools “Green For Grades” Program).

In BC, there is plenty of talk these days around “personalized learning”.  In order for us to make school more “personalized” and relevant to students we need to change the focus on achievement and grades to more of a focus on the process of learning.  The curriculum needs to be altered (made smaller) so teachers have the time and flexibility to bring in topics and learning activities that are of interest to students.  Students also need a much bigger voice in what and how they learn.  Schools should be a place where students can come and have the opportunity to learn something in which they have an interest, not be forced to learn something in which they have no interest.

I have taught grade 1 through grade 12 and as they grow older, many students seem to lose their sense of curiosity and learning – a primary student has yet to ask me, “Is this for marks?`while this is a common question in most high school classes.

So what happens to this inquisitive learning nature in children? Why do some feel the need to have to resort to bribing students into doing well at school?  As students move up through the system, the societal and educational focus shifts from learning to grades and from the child to the curriculum. Some of the teachers at our school have stated that they would love to just teach what is meaningful to their students but they are pressured from society and the Ministry of Education to define student learning in the form of a single letter or number. Too, they feel pressure to make sure they get through the mandated curriculum.

So what is worse: paying students to get good grades? defining learning with a single letter? forcing a student to fit into a system that may not be relevant to him/her?

Every student and educator WANTS to do well. We need to change the system so that they all CAN do well (Dr. Ross Greene).  If we create an education system in which educators and students have the flexibility to make learning truly personalized and meaningful to students, people will not have to resort to the behaviourist theory of using harmful bribes and extrinsic rewards such as grades and money.

Let’s work together as educators, parents, students, and community members to create this change so there is no reason to consider the price of grades.

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Homework Why’s and Homework-Wise

stressed student

“…the more we learn about learning, the more willing we may be to challenge the idea that homework has to be part of schooling”

Alfie Kohn


I remember my days  in school when the bell would ring and the teacher would blurt out the homework for the next day.  This work did very little to increase my learning and it often left me arguing with my mother, who happened to be a teacher, at the kitchen table about how to do the work correctly.

Lately I have seen a few blogs, newspaper articles, and journal articles (see below for links) questioning the purpose and practice of homework: Why do some teachers give homework and others do not? Why is homework given as a blanket assignment in which each child is given the same homework? What is effective homework? How much homework?

These questions, along with many others, led our staff (K-6) to discuss this topic at our last staff meeting.  Here is a summary of our dialogue on the issue of homework:

  1. The teaching and learning of the specific outcomes should happen at school – with students, teachers, and staff to support. According to the research by Kohn, “there is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students.”  Students should not be sent home with homework that relies on parents, family members or tutors to provide instruction.  If the student is not learning this at school, who do we expect to teach it? We also need to keep in mind that not all students have someone that can help them at home – how does homework benefit these students?
  2. Homework should be meaningful, relevant, and engaging.  Students need to feel like they will benefit from the learning and feel they have ownership of the assignment.  Student input about assignments can lead to a view that this is their learning, rather than the teacher’s assigned work to be done. Provide CHOICE; there are many ways that students can practice and/or demonstrate learning.
  3. Homework should be differentiated. We all agreed that the time per day rules/policies (ie. 20 minutes/day for grade 2, 30 min/day for grade 3, etc) do very little to support the individual students.  A learning activity that takes one student 10 minutes may take another student 30 minutes.  Each student requires learning that is catered to their needs – homework should be differentiated just as it is done during school.
  4. Homework should be flexible. Family time and play time are so important for students at any age!  If a child is involved in activities on certain days and only has a small amount of time with the family that day, maybe homework can be given on a different day.  Again, the learning activities need to keep the individual student in mind and we must respect students’ time. Is homework even necessary that day/week?
  5. Homework should not be part of the grade. Although grades are a topic for another post, one of the worst things we can do to a students is grade them on their learning at home (or worse, give them zeros for not completing homework).  Reflect on how much parent involvement there is and how this impacts the homework and learning.  Is a student going home to an environment that supports homework or is the student leaving school to look after his/her younger siblings or go to a part-time job to help support their family?  Homework must be designed to support learning; the assessment OF learning needs to take place in class when the teacher is there to support.
  6. Reflect on the purpose of homework. If the students understands the learning outcomes, why do they need to spend more time on material they already understand; if the student does not understand the learning outcomes, how do we expect them to learn it at home?  Is the homework “busy work” (ie. worksheets with 40 math questions, argh!) or is it going to actually enhance their learning?  Is the particular assignment the BEST way to help the student learn? Is it necessary? Is this homework more important than being active and spending time with the family?

In addition, we often hear teachers and parents say that homework helps students to understand that in order to get ahead in the “real world”, you must do more and take responsibility for more.  If we are relying on homework as the main way to teach responsibility, we are in trouble.  Again, if a student goes home and has a parent that ensures their homework gets done, is the homework teaching them responsibility? What about the responsibility to spend time with and help friends and family or serve a purpose in the community? I agree that students should be responsible for their learning but in order to do this, we have to give them responsibility through voice and ownership; this can happen throughout the day and not just with homework.

So what can we, as parents and educators, do about the idea of homework? I think Kohn sums it up nicely,

It strikes me as curious on the face of it that children are given additional assignments to be completed at home after they’ve spent most of the day in school – and even more curious that almost everyone takes this fact for granted.  Even those who witness the unpleasant effects of homework on children and families rarely question it.

I believe it is time that we all begin to question it.

Research/Links:

Homework Lady C. Vatterott
Abusing Research: The Study of Homework and Other Examples A. Kohn
The Truth About Homework A. Kohn
Rethinking Homework A. Kohn
Homework is killing our kids’ joy in education J. Ferry
More Teachers Flexing Around Homework E. Anderssen

Rethinking Homework J. Spencer
The Great Homework Debate: Does It Ever End? R. Collins
What Homework Should Be B. Kuhn
The Destructive Forces of Homework J. Bower
The 5 Hallmarks of Good Homework C. Vatterott
Show Us What Homework’s For K. Cushman
Homework Done Right J. Alleman, et al.
The Case Against Homework S. Bennett/N. Kalish

Homework Lady -  by Cathy Vatterott
Homework is killing our kids’ joy in education – by John Ferry (Vancouver Province Newspaper)
More Teachers Flexing Around Homework – by Erin Anderssen (Globe and Mail)
Abusing Research: The Study of Homework and Other Examples – by Alfie Kohn
The Truth About Homework – by Alfie Kohn

Rethinking Homework – by Alfie Kohn

Rethinking Homework – by John Spencer
The Great Homework Debate: Does It Ever End? – by Remi Collins
What Homework Should Be – by Brian Kuhn
The 5 Hallmarks of Good Homework – by Cathy Vatterott (Educational Leadership Journal)
Show Us What Homework’s For – by Kathleen Cushman (Educational Leadership Journal)
Homework Done Right – by Janet Alleman, et al.
The Case Against Homework – by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish

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Death of an Awards Ceremony

This is the time of the year that most schools are meeting and arguing over who is the top student in a variety of categories; high schools have selected their valedictorian (mostly based on who has the highest grades) and majority of schools are gearing up for their annual awards ceremony.

Yesterday, at our staff meeting, a decision was made that will change the way we end the year at Kent.

If you are a person who believes school is all about grades and awards, I am afraid that you will not like the decision made by our school yesterday; if you are a person who loves the idea of the “proud parent of an honour roll student” bumper sticker, you may be frustrated by our school.

June 1, 2010 marked the end of a tradition at our school – a tradition that awarded top students not for their efforts and learning but for their grades and achievements. The staff at Kent School decided to abolish the “awards” part of the year end ceremony.

Academic award winners? No more.  Athletic award winners? Nope.  Honour roll ? Nuh uh.

Part of our school goal is “for each student in our school to recognize and develop his/her unique talents and interests…”.  The key words in this are “each student”.  We do not want to just recognize those that excel in specific areas, we want to recognize EACH student for the areas in which he/she excels.

As a school, we need to move away from the traditional educational hierarchy that says those students who excel in language arts and maths are more important than those who excel in fine arts. We need to move away from recognizing only those students who have figured out the “game of school” and know how to “do” school well.

What motivates students? Grades (and honour rolls) or learning? There are many students that are unfortunately only motivated by grades.  This is not their fault, it is what has been taught to them.  The comments such as “if you want an A, you must do this…” or “if you do this, you will lose marks” have taught students that grades and achievement is more of a priority than learning.  Grades are extrinsic motivators while learning results in more intrinsic motivation.  So, do we want students to motivated by grades or learning?  Learning!

When I ask our grade 4 students what the honour roll is, they have not a clue, nor do they care. Yet, in the past we have awarded certain students for getting good grades by giving them a certificate and telling them that they made this esteemed club called the honour roll. By doing this, what are we teaching kids? Are we not teaching them that it is not so much the process of learning that is important but it is the resulting grades and report card marks?

Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset, talks about the difference between praising students for their effort and ability. If we praise students for “being smart” or “being athletic”, research says that we create students who are afraid to take risks and usually shy away from challenges. What kind of students do we want – those that rise to the challenge and take risks or those that believe that what they can or cannot do is ‘fixed’ and based on how ‘smart’ they are.

Alfie Kohn (referenced in the “For the Love of Learning” blog by Joe Bower) sums it up nicely when he writes this about awards:

“…researchers have found that children who are frequently rewarded — or, in another study, children who receive positive reinforcement for caring, sharing, and helping — are less likely than other children to keep doing those things.

In short, it makes no sense to dangle goodies in front of children for being virtuous. But even worse than rewards are awards — certificates, plaques, trophies, and other tokens of recognition whose numbers have been artificially limited so only a few can get them. When some children are singled out as “winners,” the central message that every child learns is this: “Other people are potential obstacles to my success.”Thus the likely result of making students beat out their peers for the distinction of being the most virtuous is not only less intrinsic commitment to virtue but also a disruption of relationships and, ironically, of the experience of community that is so vital to the development of children’s character.”

So what will our year-end ceremony look like?  Each grade 6 student will be honoured and recognized for their strengths, talents, and/or interests.  There will be no honour roll, no academic winners (and losers), no athletic award winners (and losers) and no recognition that one student’s talents are better than another.  The focus will be on EACH student and not just CERTAIN students.

In schools we always need to question and reflect on why we do things.  Why do we present awards to certain students?  What does this do to help learning in schools?  Why do we state that proficiency in math is more important than excelling in theatre?  How do we motivate our kids?  When our answers to these questions do not place student learning at the forefront, we need to change the way we do things.   At Kent School, we have by no means solved all that is concerning with education, but we have made a step forward.

For another blog on thoughts on the idea of “valedictorian”, please read Eric Sheninger’s blog “Recognizing the Valedictorian in All”

Thank you to Roxanne Watson (my previous principal & one of my mentors) for helping to fuel the passion in this area and starting the conversation with our staff.

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10 Skills for “Doing” School

I think it was Mark Twain who wrote, “I never let schooling get in the way of my education”.  Unfortunately, Twain had a point; there are skills that you need to do well in order to “do” school well in the current system of education.  If a student is unable to polish up on these skills it becomes difficult to achieve success in today’s schools.

Here is my list of the 10 skills (in no particular order) that students need to work on in order to become good at “schooling”.

  1. Stay in your desk – do not get up to talk to anyone, go to the bathroom, or get a drink unless you ask.
  2. Put your hand up to speak – do not call out.
  3. Do what you are told; comply – do not question what is said or how things are done; do not be different.
  4. Do your own work – do not collaborate as we need to know what you know not what your partner knows.
  5. Memorize - do not apply learned knowledge beyond what is needed for the test.
  6. Do your homework – and do all of it, even if you understand it – or worse, you do not understand it.
  7. Line up and walk down the halls quietly – order is important, other people are watching how you act.
  8. Stay on task – do not focus on thoughts other than what is being taught, or until the bell rings.
  9. Excel at numeracy and literacy – do not worry about the arts, PE, or the trades as they are not important.
  10. Strive for rewards – stickers, percentages, letter grades, awards are all important.

Alright, so you can hopefully read the sarcasm in the above list.  I have to admit that as a teacher, I have unfortunately overemphasized these skills many times throughout my career (and still catch myself doing so).  The aforementioned skills will help students to do well in school; if they hone all of these skills, they most likely will get good grades and make their teachers and parents happy.  What being successful at these school skills will not ensure is that the student is educated and will prosper beyond formal schooling; in life outside of formal schooling, there are more important, deeper learning qualities such as collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving as well as character skills such as love, care, compassion, and empathy that will help students to truly flourish in life.

Unfortunately, we have all been raised in a system that places emphasis on these skills so we all think this is the norm.  We are also in a system that has high class sizes, low teacher support, and a broad and demanding curricula that forces many teachers to have to maintain control and order of their classes just to survive the day.  There are, however,  teachers and educators that are trying to change the system; they are trying to create a system that places more emphasis on student learning and education and less emphasis on schooling.  It is important that we start hearing the success stories of these educators – teachers that are spending less time on rewards, grades, memorization, tests, and control and more time on student engagement and learning.

What it comes down to is determining how we define the purpose of school. David Coulter, at the University of British Columbia, speaks of how schools should be there to help students create their path to lead a good and worthwhile life; how the “good and worthwhile life” is defined is up to each individual.  If we define education this way, we need to question if the skills that are emphasized in the current system encourages students to develop their own path toward a worthwhile life.

The biggest frustration for me is that schooling and learning are not the same things – a student who struggles with the skills needed for school often begins to believe that they are unsuccessful learners.  We need to start focusing on the individual strengths and interests of our students and start putting learning, rather than schooling, at the centre.  By doing this we will hopefully move toward an education system in which schooling, learning, and educating are all synonyms – a system where “doing” school has a much deeper meaning for our students.

For some quality work on this topic, please read the writings of educators/authors David Coulter, Guy Claxton, Sir Ken Robinson, Alfie Kohn and Joe Bower.

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