Recently Alfie Kohn wrote “Ten obvious truths that we shouldn’t be ignoring” He asks
If we all agree that a given principle is true, then why in the world do our schools still function as if it weren’t?
Here are the 10 truths, with a little blurb about the meaning of the truth.
1) Much of the material students are required to memorize is soon forgotten.
The more closely we inspect this model of teaching and testing, the more problematic it reveals itself to be. First, there’s the question of what students are made to learn, which often is more oriented to factual material than to a deep understanding of ideas. (See item 2, below.) Second, there’s the question of how students are taught, with a focus on passive absorption: listening to lectures, reading summaries in textbooks, and rehearsing material immediately before being required to cough it back up. Third, there’s the question of why a student has learned something: Knowledge is less likely to be retained if it has been acquired so that one will perform well on a test, as opposed to learning in the context of pursuing projects and solving problems that are personally meaningful.
2) Just knowing a lot of facts doesn’t mean you’re smart!
Even students who do manage to remember some of the material they were taught are not necessarily able to make sense of those bits of knowledge, to understand connections among them, or to apply them in inventive and persuasive ways to real-life problems.
3) Students are more likely to learn what they find interesting.
A group of researchers found that children’s level of interest in a passage they were reading was 30 times more useful than its difficulty level for predicting how much of it they would later remember.
4) Students are less interested in whatever they’re forced to do and more enthusiastic when they have some say.
If choice is related to interest, and interest is related to achievement, then it’s not much of a stretch to suggest that the learning environments in which kids get to make decisions about what they’re doing are likely to be the most effective, all else being equal.
5) Just because doing x raises standardized test scores doesn’t mean x should be done.
If a test result can’t be convincingly shown to be both valid and meaningful, then whatever we did to achieve that result -- say, a new curriculum or instructional strategy -- may well have no merit whatsoever. It may even prove to be destructive when assessed by better criteria. Indeed, a school or district might be getting worse even as its test scores rise.
6) Students are more likely to succeed in a place where they feel known and cared about.
As one group of researchers put it, “In order to promote students’ academic performance in the classroom, educators should also promote their social and emotional adjustment.” And yet, broadly speaking, we don’t. Teachers and schools are evaluated almost exclusively on academic achievement measures (which, to make matters worse, mostly consist of standardized test scores).
7) We want children to develop in many ways, not just academically.
If we acknowledge that academics is just one facet of a good education, why do so few conversations about improving our schools deal with -- and why are so few resources devoted to -- non-academic issues? And why do we assign children still more academic tasks after the school day is over, even when those tasks cut into the time children have to pursue interests that will help them develop in other ways?
8) Just because a lesson (or book, or class, or text) is harder doesn’t mean it’s better.
If it’s pointless to give students things to do that are too easy, it’s also counterproductive to give them things that they experience as too hard.
9) Kids aren’t short adults.
More generally, premature exposure to sit-still-and-listen instruction, homework, grades, tests, and competition -- practices that are clearly a bad match for younger children and of questionable value at any age -- is rationalized by invoking a notion I’ve called BGUTI: Better Get Used To It. The logic here is that we have to prepare you for the bad things that are going to be done to you later . . . by doing them to you now. When articulated explicitly, that principle sounds exactly as ridiculous as it is. Nevertheless, it’s the engine that continues to drive an awful lot of nonsense
10) Substance matters more than labels.
A skunk cabbage by any other name would smell just as putrid. But in education, as in other domains, we’re often seduced by appealing names when we should be demanding to know exactly what lies behind them. Most of us, for example, favor a sense of community, prefer that a job be done by professionals, and want to promote learning. So should we sign on to the work being done in the name of “Professional Learning Communities”? Not if it turns out that PLCs have less to do with helping children to think deeply about questions that matter than with boosting standardized test scores.