‘A day with Alfie Kohn’ (15/11/16) has left me reflecting on the purpose of education. John Dewey states, ‘The purpose of education has always been to everyone, in essence, the same – to give the young the things they need in order to develop in an orderly, sequential way into members of society.’ But, how exactly are we giving our children and young people the things they need in the 21st century? How are we enabling them to become powerful learners? How are we providing the skills and dispositions to function and flourish…to feel good and do well?
In some traditional classrooms there is still a focus on chalk and talk, and although this is considered preparation for the tertiary world of lectures, how are we preparing our children and young people with work of the future, to solve real life problems – our classrooms should focus on technical and social skills, of creativity and curiosity and the ability to ‘create and collaborate.’ Kohn states that teachers should think about creating a place about ‘thinking and exploring.’
Thinking and learning environment...is it easier said than done?
The tasks that intrigue children and young people, tap into their curiosity and interests, connect to the things they care about and allow them to work with their peers will engage and build a learning environment as opposed to an anti-learning environment. Fostering curiosity is the key to learning.
Curiosity and creativity is a seeking and an exploration. It is not about finding, but exploring. We must create environments where our children and young people are curious, they must feel entitled to ask questions and be encouraged to stray, to explore, to seek. Our role as educators is not to provide answers but to ‘complicate and facilitate,’ it is to give time and free rein to inherent curiosity and questions and allow our students to exist in the heightened state of hungering for knowledge. Curiosity and fostering a curious environment connects with learning and the intellectual stretch. A classroom where curiosity flourishes is an open place in which the dialogue, the questioning is allowed to move in any direction driven by students’ questioning and the voice of our children and young people.
Authentic Student Voice
Children and young people are more enthusiastic when they have some say. When they are being actively listened to and when action is taken as a result of listening to their voices. Kohn spoke with passion about student voice. A supportive, nurturing environment, which fosters learner wellbeing and empowers our young people through authentic student voice, engages them in genuine learning relevant to their lives and aspirations, and will lead to increased achievement and accomplishment. The authenticity, and knowledge of our children and young people is refreshing, their youth and naiveté will bring novel, unjaded perspectives to the “same-old, same-old” we as adult keep trying to make decisions out of. More importantly, their enthusiasm to participate alongside adults will rejuvenate staff and the system and fuel the passion to make a positive difference for all children and young people, it will engage them in learning and build a sense of belonging and connection.
Kohn said, ‘our children and young people make good decisions by making good decisions, not following directions.’ What opportunities do we provide to our students at the classroom, school and partnership level to be decision makers? Too often our children and young people translate Student Leadership as Student Voice. We need to partner with them from the beginning, allow them to co-construct the curriculum, unpack data and make key recommendations and solve problems. How many of your school policies have been developed with children and young people? Allow children and young people to have a say about what they are doing. The best curriculum is not prepared for them but designed with them. Deep thinking can ‘take off’ from questioning by our students. Work with them in partnership and see how this changes the behaviours and engagement in the classroom and site.
‘Children are Not Pets’, they are Active Meaning Makers
Our children and young people are individuals, each one is different – with a different background, history, interests, with individual characteristics goals and motivators. Children aren’t just future adults – children’s needs and perspectives are worth attending to in their own right. Our children and young people are placed into their year level bands with peers of their own age. Kohn said, ‘we expect our children to spend all their learning alongside peers of their age, when I was 42 I didn’t spend each and every waking hour with other 42 year olds.’ In our schools what opportunities are we providing for our children and young people to collaborate with students (and adults) of all ages. We want children to develop in many ways and should embrace the idea of teaching the whole child, and support and promote many forms of development.
Kohn is passionate (and was animated) on the topic of motivation – REWARDS. There are different kinds of motivation and the kind matters more than the amount. As educators we should enable the intrinsic motivation. The more we provide children and young people with the extrinsic rewards the more they lose interest in what it is they are doing to get the reward, they are seeing the task as a means to an end (the reward). We should not simply be providing students with the physical and verbal ‘doggy biscuits.’
The long and short of it is, as educators we need to be giving our children and young people a voice, collaborative not competitive environments, a place where they can engage in what they are doing and feel at the centre. Other aspects to consider included:
Non grading of students, looking at schooling beyond measure (we should not be providing our children and young people with numbers and letters), do not focus on the data, rather, the attitudes, goals and perspectives of each child
No homework (why do we assign children more academic tasks after the school day is over, even when those tasks cut into the time our children and young people have to pursue interests and support them in other ways)
Alfie Kohn has views and research that challenges educators and leaders, he is thought provoking and it is worthwhile reading his research. Even if you do not agree with his views, it will allow you time to reflect and review...what is your goal as an educator?