Monday, February 12, 2007

Alfie Kohn and Michael Thompson

Pam and I recently attended a two day workshop with two dynamic presenters: Alfie Kohn and Michael Thompson. Alfie spoke about homework and also about learning and rigor. Michael Thompson spoke about the social lives of children and also about the changing roles of independent school parents. Here's a quick summary of my ( Gregg's) notes on Alfie's presentation: (I will share some of Michael Thompson's insights at a future faculty meeting)

Alfie Kohn - Homework

  • No study has found any meaningful benefit in homework before HS. Does homework help with the love of learning?

Why is homework given if it does not have value?

  1. We don’t ask meaningful questions about homework or anything. That’s the way it is!
  2. We don’t trust children on how to use free time.
  3. Attitude about use to research
  4. Better get used to it – it will happen soon in US
  5. Tougher standards – parents should not complain if no homework
  6. Homework persists because we do not understand how learning happens

Do not give homework unless you can make a good case for it. Homework is OK if:

  1. The assignment is likely to get kids to think more deeply and understand the material
  2. If kids get more excited about the topic. Will kids like math more because of this?
  3. If you did not design the homework, don’t assign it!
  4. Ask kids their view – what did you think about the homework?
  5. Try a week or unit with no homework. How did it affect kids?

Learning and Rigor

What one is doing vs. how well one is doing. - is the key question!

“An over emphasis on assessment can actually undermine the pursuit of excellence.” ( Carol Midgley, Martin Maen)

Effects of getting kids too focused on how well they are doing:

1. Less interested in learning itself
2. Preoccupied with their ability ( There are four reasons kids do well: effort, ability, luck, task difficulty)
3. Prefer easy tasks and quick completion
4. Devastated by failure
5. Quality of learning suffers
Research says giving grades will cause 1, 3 and 5

Other interesting notes from Alfie:
Good way to communicate to parents: Narrative reports
Great way to provide info: Conference with parents

Kids should collect information and share info with parents at conferences

Not the amount of motivation that’s important, it’s the type:

Intrinsic ( I like doing it) Extrinsic ( I am doing it for a reward e.g. grade)

-Extrinsic motivation erodes intrinsic motivation
-The more you reward students the more intrinsic motivation goes down
-Rewards lead to less generosity among peers

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