Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely about education, parenting, and human behavior. He is the American author of 14 books, including PUNISHED BY REWARDS, THE SCHOOLS OUR CHILDREN DESERVE, BEYOND DISCIPLINE, UNCONDITIONAL PARENTING, THE HOMEWORK MYTH, THE MYTH OF THE SPOILED CHILD, and, most recently, SCHOOLING BEYOND MEASURE. Kohn's criticisms of rewards and competition have helped to shape the thinking of educators – as well as parents and managers – across the globe. Time magazine described him as the country’s “most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades and test scores.” He has been featured on numerous TV programs, including two appearances on “Oprah.” Kohn lives (actually) in Boston and (virtually) at www.alfiekohn.org.
Educational researchers have discovered that there is a significant difference between getting students to think about their achievement (that is, how well they are doing in school) and getting them to think about the learning itself (what they are doing). These orientations often pull in opposite directions, which means that too much emphasis on achievement can reduce students’ interest in learning — and cause them to avoid challenging tasks. When the point is to prove how smart you are, to get a good grade or a high test score, there is less inclination to engage deeply with ideas, to explore and discover.
Thus, as Alfie Kohn will explain, the problem with testing is not only how bad the tests themselves are, but also how much attention is paid to the results. Even new, “authentic” assessments may backfire if students are constantly led to ask, “How am I doing?” Getting students to become preoccupied with achievement may paradoxically undermine this very goal because of what happens to their motivation in the process. In this seminar, he will invite us to consider the implications of this basic distinction (between achievement and learning) for our curriculum, our pedagogy, and especially for the way we evaluate students: Creating a learning-centered classroom, he will argue, must begin with the elimination of letter or number grades.
If we want students to take responsibility for their learning and behavior, it is up to us to give them responsibilities. Young people learn to make good decisions by having the chance to decide about what happens to them every day — not by following someone else’s directions. Research shows unequivocally that students learn more effectively and care more about what they are learning when they have some say about what is going on. (By contrast, students, like adults, may suffer from burnout when they feel powerless.) Alfie Kohn will describe the whys and hows of supporting students' autonomy at school -- and children's autonomy at home -- by bringing them into the process of making decisions about what affects them.