I love Alfie Kohn. I stumbled on his work when I had my first child and bought lots of parenting books to read. His book Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes made me rethink parenting techniques and has also had an impact on how I have taught and how I want to teach in the future.
It is painful sometimes to hear my son tell me how he was rewarded with something at school for being good, kind, smart or tidy. Hey! You’re a good, kind, smart & tidy kid just because that’s who you are, because it gives you intrinsic value, because it makes you feel good to be good, to be kind etc. Yeah, yeah, I know I don’t want to be a kill-joy, my son likes the rewards because he sees other kids value these rewards. I just don’t want him to turn around and say “what’s in it for me?”…..oh how I dreaded hearing those words when I taught at the College in my past work. I want my son, and all children, to learn because they love learning.
I’ve got to be realistic though….when I start teaching in High Schools I will be teaching young adults that have been brought up to cherish rewards (it’s part of schooling, parenting and society!). How do I avoid rewards/punishments and focus on learning? Is this even going to be possible considering the curriculum pressures and expectations? I think like many things it’s going to come down to ‘balance’ ~ balancing what I have to do/teach, covering the curriculum and then also trying to include as much real learning, deep learning and exploration learning as possible.
Here is an interesting video of Kohn describing “real” learning via discovery. Instead of looking at the negatives, such as how easy it is to miss this type of learning because of our focus on standardised testing, I think it’s important to see/hear a great example of teaching and learning.