“deep learning is really messy”

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.

5 comments on ““deep learning is really messy”

  1. Great post Elke

    I was very drawn by the way you bring in your role as a parent and as a teacher, that blend of personal and professional and how it gives you insights into your understanding of learning. I suppose one of the issues is that standardised testing is set up on those old ‘behaviorist’ notions of education – you know Skinner’s rats and all that. Get it wrong, electric shock, get it right and have a treat. Unfortunately I think that is the way learning is understood generally, in such narrow terms.

    All the best


  2. Elke, your posting is an excellent and insightful observation of a problem we are faced with in education. Do our students learn for the love of learning? I think the answer is yes which leads to a second question. What do they love to learn? They do not have to be rewarded when we ask the second question. The reward lies in the learning and it is our job, as teachers, to tease out what the students love to learn about and what connections we can make from there to the curricular outcomes.

    Richard, the reply is an excellent one, too. What are the reasons we have stuck to an outdated and largely discarded way of thinking. Elke does make an incredible observation based on the duality of her role as a parent and a teacher. Both of those roles reside within the same person and offers a different insight that is often ignored. Well done!


  3. Reblogged this on Teacher as Transformer and commented:
    This is a wonderful blog entry from an Australian teacher. Elke makes the point that our lives are intertwined and the roles we play, in this case parent and teacher, are not compartments. They serve to make our wholeness and a human being. We bring the life experience as a parent to the classroom and reciprocate by using the life experience gleaned from the classroom as parents. Our life story is a rich experiential tapestry.


  4. elketeaches says:

    Hi Richard & ivonprefontaine.

    The way I parent and teach are strongly connected. I know this because I had my first child after teaching two years at the College (Ontario, Canada). My approach to teaching, my motivation to teach, changed drastically (and over time) when I returned to teaching 16 months later. Granted, the first 2 years of teaching wasn’t “easy” anyway, especially with no teacher training.

    Having a child basically made me rethink the purpose of living, the purpose of work etc. When I returned to work I was very unhappy about not being with my son and so the first semester teaching was really difficult. What got me through it was my focus on building relationships with students (later I found this closely linked to Nel Nodding’s theory/concept of an ethics of care) and before I knew it these students (mostly) were keen to learn and I wanted to teach them, play squash with them and throw the footy around with them outside too. This is when it all changed and I felt invested in their learning and it gave more meaning to teaching for me.

    Thanks for your comments.



  5. […] written about this topic and my love for Alfie Kohn before.  Rewards are used a LOT in our schools, at work, at home and in […]


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