Feel-Bad Education: And Other Contrarian Essays on Children and Schooling by Alfie Kohn

Getting Hit on the Head Lessons

  • This title comes from a Monty Python skit. The key point is that even good teachers engage in bad instruction to prepare kids when more bad instruction comes their way. Kohn uses the “Better Get Used To It” term for these practices. He sees traditional grading as something that reduces quality and interest in learning, and preference for challenging tasks. He notes that research does not support assigning homework. People don’t get better at coping with unhappiness because they are made deliberately unhappy. (Doug: Kids are resilient, but sooner or later they run out of gas if enough bad things happen to them.)

It’s all about what they learn.

  • Preservice teachers in many states spend very little time learning about learning. Real learning can’t be quantified. Preoccupation with data turns schooling into something shallow and lifeless. Many teachers expect students to bear up and benefit from a constant barrage of criticism while being extremely sensitive to criticism themselves.

If there is cheating, the pedagogy needs reform.

  • Cheating is a much a function of the environment as of individual character. Cheating is more common when academic tasks are boring, irrelevant, or overwhelming. If students see the goal as getting good grades, they are more likely to cheat. Think of cheating as a symptom of problems with the priorities of schools and the practices of educators. Competition of any kind increases cheating as does giving rewards. The practice of making rewards artificially scarce intensifies negative effects. (See my summary of Drive by Daniel Pink for more on problems with motivation.http://bit.ly/jl7ara) Closed book individual testing deprives students of the resources and social support that characterize well-functioning real-world environments. Most collaboration is considered cheating. Efforts made to curtail cheating turn the student-teacher relationship into a criminal-police relationship.

How to Create Nonreaders

  • Kohn believes that you can’t motivate with extrinsic inducements, but you can kill motivation with them. His ways to kill motivation for reading include: 1) making them read a certain amount and to document it daily 2) Make them do writing assignments to prove they read something even though it’s easy to fake 3) Make everyone read something different so they can’t share 4) focus on skill questions with one correct answer 5) other rewards 6) use reading activities to prepare for standardized tests 7) restrict their choices. To support their desire to learn, give them: 1) opportunities to suggest options 2) allow some decisions to be made collaboratively 3) mix in these ideas when you can and avoid the seven don’ts listed above. Buy the book and get Kohn’s concrete ideas.

The Trouble with Rubrics

  • If rubrics are just another way to dish out grades, they don’t do anything to fix the problems that grades have been shown to cause. They make students think less deeply, avoid risks, and lose interest in the learning itself. They still involve human judgment and force students to comply to a set of rules that can produce vacuous writing. When students focus on how well they are doing, they often become less engaged in what they are doing. Don’t assume an assessment technique is valuable in direct proportion to how much information it provides.
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