Tuesday, January 13, 2004

"There is no such whetstone, to sharpen a good wit and encourage a will to learning, as is praise." -Roger Ascham

A little challenge to Alfie Kohn. [Who was Roger Ascham?]

The aspect of Kohn's article that bothered me most was the idea that kids actually lose interest in the activity itself if doing well is rewarded & praised. I definitely do not want my students to lose interest in doing their work well, learning & practicing science, or being nice to each other!

Still, when I am grading papers and a kid gets all the questions right, what do I do? I record a grade of 100% in my gradebook - it would be silly not to write that number on the top. But isn't the number itself a form of praise? The kids know that it means, "good job!" And converting kilograms to grams is work with a correct answer. You're either right or wrong. And kids do need practice with these problems. Not everything can be embedded in the kind of context where no grade or score is necessary, just feedback. Constructivist or not, I firmly believe kids need some skill practice. Okay, so I put the 100% on the paper. Do I then leave it blank, not acknowledging the achievement? Will "nice job!" undermine the whole exercise by making the kids work only because they can get praise? I am experimenting with writing more "observational" comments that point out that I have noticed the child's progress: "You obviously understand this very well!" By this I am trying to redirect their attention to their own achievement, but I have the sneaking suspicion it will register just like "nice job!"

Perhaps I am overthinking this. Many of the readers at certain other blogs would call it all crap, the kind of indoctrination you get from schools of education. But, I think Alfie Kohn raises an interesting issue, worth considering. Certainly not the most important debate in education today, but interesting: How do you help kids develop intrinsic motivation? Do adults work hard because we are intrinsically motivated to, or for the $$$ ---? It's easy enough to train kids to follow the rules for rewards/punishments, but how do you get them to follow the rules because they know and understand them and think they are important? Do adults follow rules for these reasons, or because we know we could get in trouble if we don't? As long as you're working hard or following the rules, does the reason matter? Who leads a more fulfilling life, the intrinsically motivated individual, or the person who does what will earn them the most rewards?

Hmmm.... blogging after 10 pm is dangerous!


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