Reflections on the Alfie Kohn Live Chat

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This past Monday I was checking in at the Barcelona airport with my laptop open wearing headphones. The people at Swiss Air were great at checking me in and very understanding as I relayed, “I’m sorry but I’m online with a very important author.” How else could I explain the beauty of technology or the incredible feat of co-moderating a live discussion with 170 educators from around the world and author, Alfie Kohn? I marvel at the amazing way that our educator community uses online technologies daily to collaborate and improve our instructional methods. I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to Tom Whitby for asking Alfie Kohn to do this and Steven Anderson for being the lead moderator while I was at a conference in Barcelona. I am fortunate to be able to collaborate with these two incredible educator leaders who are as passionate as I am about changing education.
Alfie Kohn’s Responses
Questions were asked, which provided thought-provoking answers from Alfie Kohn. Here were some of the questions (some have been paraphrased during the live event) and snips of Alfie Kohn ‘s responses:Michael Josefowicz asked, “Given that test scores are bad feedback indicators of student learning, what thoughts do you have about unambiguous process metrics that could be useful for administrators and teachers.”Alfie Kohn quote:
I’m still getting that bandwidth exceeded message, but maybe it’s a metaphor for our cognitive bandwidth that’s exceeded by pushing people to think about these issues.
Amy Scales asked, “In my own experience I observed a student improve their math mark by 30% by simply completing daily homework. I heartily agree that homework is not a time for busy work, nor is it a time for learners to travel a path they have not traveled with their teacher; but, isn’t there some meaningful homework?”Alfie Kohn quote:
It’s not enough, I believe, to say I’ve found homework to be effective. I like it. I think what we have to say is I have a hypothesis that kids need to work a second shift after they get home from a full day in school in order to be good learners. Now, let’s look at what the research has to say and I am going to be open to questioning my hypothesis.
Dr. Tom King asked, “With over 16,000 school districts and Boards, over a 100,000 schools and a complement of millions of teachers, what can we do to sell them all on models that work and last?”Alfie Kohn quote:
As Peter Schultz said, “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed” so the challenge is to invite people in a respectful way to construct meaning in how kids learn and how schools function just as we as teachers have to invite students to learn rather than saying open wide, here comes the knowledge.
Scott Merrick asked, “Can we assume for a moment that change is not going to occur that as Alvin Tophner said in a recent interview the system needs to be broken then reinvented. Could you share your vision if that were the case?”Alfie Kohn quote:
Is this the sort of destruction creative paradigm that says we have to take active steps to break or destroy before we make change? You would have to say more before I could comment intelligently on what it would look like or how to do it?
Noah Geisel asked, “Most agree that quality teaching impacts student achievement but what makes for quality teaching and how to best prepare great teachers are quite contentious. This especially seems to be the case in looking at traditional teacher prep programs and the ‘alternative’ routes to licensure. What is your ideal teacher prep program?”Alfie Kohn quote:
The mentor-apprentice relationship as a way of helping people to acquire proficiency in any career is something that is underappreciated in teacher ed programs as is the failure to look at the goals we have. Most schools have Methods courses, but I haven’t seen very many that have Goals courses that invite teachers to look at what is it we are really looking to get here and what are long-term goals for our students. When you don’t address that explicitly and collectively, you end up by default with goals like doing well on a standardized test, which is the least ambitious educational goal I can think of.
The Nerdy Teacher asked, “What do you think about student created assessments and allowing students to show teachers what they learned without using the standard multiple choice questions?”Alfie Kohn quote:
Bruner’s law- we want students to regard their successes and failures as information, not as reward and punishment. The first implication of that is that we have to get rid of grades. The second implication is we now have a foundation upon which to construct a more authentic form of assessment.
B Merrill asked, “I’m interested in how you see the evolution of the report card. How does this reflect the type of evolution of teaching you’ve been speaking about?”Alfie Kohn quote:
Assessment boils down to a two-step dance. First, you have to gather information from the students and their learning. Second, we have to report back to the students and their parents what we have gleamed about the students and by implication that of our own teaching. My argument is that we never need tests for step one and we never need grades and conventional report cards for step two.
Marisa Constantinides asked, “Do you have any initial thoughts about the selection of people who go into education? Which people should be selected to be educators and what are the criterion?”Alfie Kohn quote:
The more we focus on this top-down, test-driven approach to school reform, the more we are driving out the best teachers and we are preventing some of the best teacher candidates from wanting to be part of the field in the first place, because they take a look around and say there is no opportunity to be a professional educator, they want me to be a test prep technician.
Jim Vanides asked, “If you had a chance to talk with President Obama about No Child Left Behind, what would you recommend to him so we could fix this?”Alfie Kohn quote:
Appoint somebody who has a clue about education and take your cue from real teachers in classrooms who can help you understand more than I can, because while I have been a classroom teacher, I haven’t done it for awhile. So they can let you know here’s what really helps to close the gap, not the achievement gap with respect to test scores, but the gap between getting a rich, meaningful education based on deep thinking that creates learners for life and on the other hand, the drill and skill crap that would turn anybody off to education, which is disproportionately being visited upon on kids of color. The gap is actually widening. If that frightens you Mr. President, it should and that’s why we need a radical change and we need to listen to the people actually working with the kids to see what that change should look like.
Video
To get the full impact of Alfie Kohn’s responses, please watch this video of the event, which I was able to edit to 52 minutes.

Alfie Kohn Live Chat from Shelly Terrell on Vimeo.
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