What to look for in a classroom and other essays

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What to look for in a classroom and other essays

It was not my only teaching experience but it was far and away my favorite.

What to look for in a classroom and other essays

Between terms, I fine-tuned the reading list and perfected the lectures, looking forward to the next year when I could teach it again — rather as one might tinker with a new car in the garage before proudly bringing it out.

The idea of a teacher with a ready-made course just waiting to be taught to students makes about as much sense as a young, single person with a ready-made marriage who needs nothing more than a partner to have it with. I was trying to find the most efficient way of giving students the knowledge and skills I already had, which meant that I was treating the students as interchangeable receptacles — rows of wide-open bird beaks waiting for worms, if you will.

They spring from watching teachers who are better than I ever was, from reading remarkable research, from talking and listening and thinking.

My own classroom experience serves mostly to make me wince in retrospect. When I look at these essays together, the strongest impression they leave me with is the diversity of topics.

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Unlike people who devote their entire careers to a single issue such as discipline or assessment, I have pursued whatever questions seemed compelling to me. There was no Ten-Year Plan informing this process, no calculated decision to write on specific topics in pursuit of a grand unifying theory, no predictable linear sequence laid out in advance.

After all, children rarely learn that way although they are often taught as if they didand evolution, too, is more a conglomeration of accidental connections and dead-ends — more a bush than a ladder, as Stephen Jay Gould likes to say. So, too, is this collection.

Although some of these articles led to others, the whole is identifiable primarily in the sense that the parts were all written by the same person. Yet when I try to look at this book as a reader, I think that one can discern an agenda, a sensibility, that runs through it.

It offers an invitation to reconsider some of our most basic practices and premises as educators and, incidentally, as parents. Thus, the chapters ask such questions as: Will kids really act better if we teach them social skills?

Is the very act of watching television really bad for you?

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How sure are we of what we have assumed? A week or so after my visit, a batch of thank-you letters and reflections from the students arrived in the mail.

Only the articles in the last section explicitly talk about what I think we should do as opposed to what we should stop doing: Though I will own up to having something of a contrarian streak, I rail against a lot of what goes on in schools chiefly because those practices threaten to eclipse the values I am trying to affirm.

The Case Against CompetitionI was led off in three separate directions, all of which had the effect of pulling me toward the field of education as opposed to social criticism and human behavior more generally, where I had dwelled to that point. First, the search for practical alternatives to competitive structures led me to cooperative learning, which just happens to take place in schools.

Beginning with a common-sense recognition that students are likely to benefit if they can exchange their insights and information, I eventually realized that collaboration is even more important as a means of facilitating how people think, and that took me off in the direction of constructivism.

In the late s, if you had told me that cooperative learning was a big part of your classroom, I would have grinned and congratulated you.

One reason that competition typically backfires is its status as an extrinsic motivator, an attempt to use something outside a task namely, the possibility of winning a contest to get people to try harder. All three arenas interested me, but I was particularly drawn to what I was finding out about schools — and to the alternatives to using rewards or punishments to get students to work harder or behave themselves.

I came to see the problems of traditional grades as well as the promise of some alternative forms of assessment if used sparingly and for the right reasons. But again, an answer triggers more questions: Is there good evidence to support our casual belief that competitiveness, aggression, selfishness, and laziness are more natural than cooperativeness, nurturance, generosity, and curiosity?

But again, the practical side of me was unsatisfied.Introduction to What to Look for in a Classroom and Other Essays By Alfie Kohn. From until , I taught a course on existentialism to high school students. It was not my only teaching experience but it was far and away my favorite.

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INTRODUCTION. In , when the author of the essays here assembled was elected professor of political and social science in Yale College, he was, to use his own words, “a young and untried man.” He was selected for his position, not as a specialist, but because he was what he was.

Someone in those days must have been an excellent judge of men.

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