Monday, February 27, 2012

Karma: coming full circle

Thirty years ago, when I was working on an adult health education project in India, I decided I'd like to become a teacher of children.  Since then I've worked in 4 more countries as a teacher, both in state and international schools.  I've moved from being a secondary teacher to being a primary teacher, from being a single subject teacher to being a homeroom teacher and then back to being a (different) single subject teacher again.  Along the way I've taken on various positions of responsibility and been involved in tremendous professional development myself, as well as providing support, coaching, mentoring and PD to other teachers I've worked with.  Now I feel I've come full circle:  I'm returning to the country where it all started as I've accepted an exciting new job on a wonderful new campus of ASB that is being constructed in Mumbai.  I am thrilled by this new opportunity to completely redefine 21st century education, but above all I have a profound feeling of karma - I have gone full circle and come back to where I started.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Project Based Learning and the PYP

Over the past week or so I've thought a lot about Project Based Learning (PBL) as a way of having students focus on the core concepts and central ideas of a Unit of Inquiry.  The PYP is a curriculum framework, therefore it's up to the teachers to meet together in collaborative planning sessions and decide what the important things are that students should know and understand after studying the unit.  This is very different from the traditional curriculum taught in many countries based on national content standards.  In the ISTE book Reinventing Project-Based Learning by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss the difference between a project-based and a traditional curriculum are explained:
When you teach from published curriculum, judgments about what is important have been made for you.  This can be an efficient system, but students learn no more than what the textbook publisher imagined for them.  The results are predictable and, often, generic.  Published curriculum and content standards dive straightaway into a sequence of learning objectives.  In textbooks the material is broken into digestible bits.  Synthesis for understanding important, overarching "big ideas" is left to the masterful teacher and very insightful learner.  Projects on the other hand are highly contextual .... designed for students by their teachers  ...  Good projects connect directly to the students' frames of reference, interests and experiences. Teachers who use the project approach might also use textbooks.  But instead of being the foundation of a course, the textbook becomes a reference book rich with illustrations and supplying information written at the reading and conceptual level of students.
There are a lot of links between PBL and the PYP and this week I read a tweet from Cristina Milos (@sureallyno) that I think sums it up in a nutshell:
The main difference between the PBL approach and PYP is the focus- not on the product,but on the process. A lot of conceptual thinking, too.
Just as PBL needs to be rigorous, When teachers meet for their weekly planning meetings they constantly discuss the rigor of the programme.  The Written Curriculum of the PYP makes sure that each unit of inquiry has to be:
At these collaborative planning meetings I'm also very conscious of the need to discuss how the units will be developing 21st century skills.  Skills are already included as one of the five essential elements of the PYP, and are further defined by the 5 sets of transdisciplinary skills (thinking, social, communication, self-management and research).  The new document from the IBO on the role of ICT in the PYP also defines strands that students should be developing in each unit of inquiry:  investigate, organize, communicate, collaborate, create and emphasizes the importance of becoming responsible digital citizens.  From my point of view there are many Web 2.0 tools that can be used to transform the learning in both PBL and the PYP units of inquiry.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Collaboration, Content and Choice (part 2)

Earlier this week I wrote a post about what motivates teachers, based on Alfie Kohn's book Punished by Rewards.  Today I've been considering how these same 3 things also motivate their students too.

Collaboration:  Traditionally schools have been characterized by students competing against each other working at separate desks on individual tasks.  However to be honest most of the international schools I've worked at have not been set up like this and there has been a great deal of collaboration among students.   An American teacher I worked with in Bangkok used to have a "three before me" policy, which was that students had to ask at least 3 other students in the class  before asking the teacher something.  Alfie Kohn explains "learning at its best is a result of sharing information and ideas, challenging someone else's interpretation and having to rethink your own".  Numerous studies have pointed to cooperative group work encouraging students to feel more positive about themselves and others in the class, as well as about the curriculum.

Content:  After doing the Harvard Project Zero summer school over 10 years ago I went back to work and ditched about 70% of the tasks I'd been doing up till then, having looked at these tasks in a new light and found that they were engaging, perhaps, but in fact not really worth doing as they weren't contributing to the learning, didn't involve much creativity or critical thinking and didn't have much connection with what the students were interested in learning.  Students are definitely more motivated if the work is relevant and appropriately challenging (not too easy as to make it boring, not too hard as to make the students feel anxious and helpless).  Students are never "off task" if the task is interesting to them and if they are constructing their own knowledge.

Choice:  Just as teachers welcome choice, students also appreciate being given alternatives.  With the classes I'm supporting I'm trying to make sure that the students always have choice in their summative assignments - choices in what they do and in what tools they use to do it.  If everyone in the class is working in groups that are doing different things the element of competition is likely to decrease.   I'm happy if students choose NOT to use IT for these assignments if they can find better ways of showing their understanding.

Photo Credit:  Cooperation by Ernst Vikne AttributionShare Alike

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Removing rewards, getting rid of grades

If we accept the argument that rewards and grades are extrinsic motivators and therefore serve to demotivate students, the teachers may well ask how students will react if they are removed.  In a comment to an earlier blog post about awards and rewards Mr G. (@educatoral) wrote:
Students are saying that they would be angry if we got rid of awards! They've been ingrained to believe that awards is how we show appreciation. They feel like we would not be showing appreciation if we get rid of awards. 
In general students shouldn't need to be motivated if the environment at school is a stimulating and  encouraging one, and if the focus is on what students are doing as opposed to how they are doing.  I suppose if a school has relied on awards to extrinsically motivate students, then simply removing them without putting other factors in place that contribute to motivation (curriculum and climate) may cause anger.  This is simply because students have spent years receiving awards for good work, and if the awards or rewards are appealing the students may well resist the sudden withdrawal of them.  Alfie Kohn response to this situation is:
If they're that far gone, we haven't got a minute to waste in trying to undo the damage that rewards have done!
OK, so we get rid of awards and rewards, how about grades?  Many teachers would be reluctant to give up grades because they think that students perform better if they hope for a good grade.  It also allows teachers to sort students based on their performance (for example placing students into the appropriate level of foreign language class at school is currently based on a written assignment that the students do).  Grades also give feedback to students about how they are doing, although I've read many other books and articles about how giving a grade is not helpful when compared to giving a comment (in fact studies show that giving a grade and a comment makes the comment less effective).  Alfie Kohn argues that comments should replace grades altogether:
The problem is not just that grades don't say enough about people's performance; it's that the process of grading fixes their attention on their performance.
Kohn writes that competent teachers don't need tests and grade to tell them how a student is doing, and that tests can make students feel unsafe and unwilling to take risks:
Grades and test, punishments and rewards, are the enemies of safety; they therefore reduce the probability that students will speak up and that truly productive evaluation can take place.  Actually some students - the most self-confident - will speak up  ... to impress the teacher and improve their standing.  This has nothing to do with speaking up to try out new ideas about which they may feel tentative, to ask a question in order to learn, or to let teachers know when they are struggling.
Kohn recognises that there is a lot of pressure on teachers to grade.  Parent as well as teachers need to be educated about the demotivating effects of grades.  He writes, "We will have to reconsider what learning is about, where it comes from, and whether we are serious about promoting it."  A better way for parents to assess how well their children are doing is to look at their interest in learning.

In an earlier post I wrote about the 3 things that Kohn says motivate workers:  collaboration, content and choice.  These factors are just as motivating for students as they are for employees - more about these in an upcoming blog post.

Photo Credit:  Red Pen by Mad African! AttributionNoncommercial

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sharing the Passion

In the past few days I've started reading a new book:  Reinventing Project Based Learning by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss.  Chapter 2 is about creating a professional learning community/network (PLC/PLN).  I've often taken these terms to mean slightly different things, for example a PLC I take to mean members of my school community, perhaps also including other teachers in local schools with whom it's possible to meet face-to-face.  A good example of this would be the Project Zero cohort I worked with while at the International School of Amsterdam, where a group of us met for lunch biweekly for a year to discuss things we read and how we implemented new ideas in our classes.  A PLN, on the other hand,  I tend to think of in terms of a group of online educators that I don't meet with face-to-face (many of whom I've never actually met at all) but with whom I communicate on a daily basis.  However the important thing about both a PLC or a PLN is that working together in this way brings immeasurable benefits, yet it costs us nothing at all except for our time.

One of the best things about being a member of a PLC or PLN is that as an individual I can draw on the wisdom of the group.  Any question I have is answered (usually within hours) by someone in my online community who knows more than me.  For example yesterday I got really frustrated with TweetDeck which crashed constantly.  Fortunately I received 2 suggestions for other apps that would work well (Tweetbot for the iPhone, Hootsuite for the iPad) from my PLN (one suggestion was from someone who does actually know me as I used to work with her at a previous school, another is from someone whom I have never met as she lives in Australia).  Everyone is happy to help - it's free to share the passion.

Advantages of having a PLN/PLC:

  • No cost (except time)
  • Learning how to learn together - the focus is shifted from what you teach to what you learn
  • The focus can be on improving what you are already doing rather than adding on something new
  • Valuable peer review for your new ideas - before you try them out at school
  • Professional development - you want to learn something new, someone can always help you
  • Your professional life becomes more satisfying - even if you are working in a place that doesn't value change you can be part of the change that is happening elsewhere.  You (and your ideas) don't have to stand still.
  • Your PLN can improve your self-esteem and support you during tough times when it might be hard for one of your face-to-face colleagues to go "out on a limb" for you.
  • The joy of sharing the passion.
Now, if we see how many advantages can come from being part of a PLN/PLC ourselves as teachers, surely we can see the same advantages of students being part of such a group.  Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss write, "A project-based learning collaboration among students is a lot like a professional learning community among teachers." If we are passionate about learning and collaborating with our peers, it's a sure bet that our students will be too.

Photo Credit:  Sharing by Josh Harper AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

Quad blogging - an inquiry into teaching writing

I'm excited to be at the start of an action research project with three other schools - our aim, over the next five weeks or so, is to inquire into whether we can use quad blogging to improve student writing.   Quad blogging is something new, it was started last year by a David Mitchell, a Deputy Head in the UK, whom I first met at the Google Teacher Academy in London in 2010.  A teacher at our school heard about this initiative  and was keen to join a "quad".  She contacted a school in the UK who were also interested in blogging, and I found her other classes around the world in Japan, Hong Kong, China and Chile who wanted to join in too.  Her class was involved in two rounds of quad blogging during March last year.
Quad blogging, which has been called the most interesting development in the last 20 years of education, is basically a group of four classes with blogs.  Each week one of the classes is a focus for the others - to visit their blogs and to leave comments for the students.  Recently I was contacted by Silvia Tolisano who wanted to use quad blogging to investigate the benefits of blogging on 3 different levels: for the students, the teachers and the curriculum - of course I was keen to join in with the inquiry.  Our quad is made up of four schools in four different countries:  the USA, the Czech Republic, Thailand and Switzerland.
Last week we had a Skype conference call where we talked through the form our action research will take.  We talked about the fact that good blogging starts with reading other blogs and so it would be necessary to set aside time during the four weeks of the quad blogging to focus on reading each others' blogs.  We discussed different ways we could do this, for example have a Drop Everything And Read a Blog time each day.  We decided that it is important to set up a routine for reading the blogs, before we start to think about how to reply by writing comments and we all felt that this should be part of the normal reading and writing lessons not an add-on.  We discussed the way that students read blog posts now and about the fact that some students don't really read a post in depth but just jump around in it.  To encourage students to read in more depth, we thought it might be valuable for us to set aside time for student to talk about and share what they have read.
Our quad is made up of students from three different grades - one class of Grade 3s, two clases of Grade 4s and one of Grade 5s.  In addition there are students who are learning English as an additional language in all these classes, and in one school the students are bilingual English/Hebrew speakers.  We felt it important to let the students know that we don't expect all the writing and commenting to be at the same level.
We talked about the fact that we should make sure that each student in the class is assigned one student to post a comment on, but that after that we can encourage them to respond to as many others as they like.  We think it could be a good learning activity to reflect on why some students' posts get more comments than others.  Perhaps if a student only gets one comment this might provide us with an opportunity to teach about improving the quality of their writing or how students can increase the amount of comments they receive – for example they might need to network more and perhaps leave more comments on other students' blog posts asking students to get back to them.  We can teach students how to add a link back to their blog post into their comments.  Above all we thought it really important to ensure that in the week that is focused on their blog, the students reply to the comments they have received.
In order to know if quad blogging can improve student writing we need to do a pre-assessment so we know what level the students are already writing at.  Silvia developed rubrics for writing and for commenting.  We decided we would ask each student to choose a blog post that they have already published this year so that as teachers we could use this to pre-assess the writing using the rubric.  Then we will ask them to choose a comment that they have written on someone else's post and self-assess their comment based on the comments rubric.  This way we will have both a teacher- and a self-assessment before we start the quad.  At the end of the quad blogging we will use the same rubrics to see if they have improved on the posts and comments they are making.
Our action research is focused on 3 main areas:
  • Students – how can they improve blog comments and posts?
  • Teachers – how can we become better writing teachers using blogging as the genre of writing?
  • Coaches – how can we best support teachers?
We are also looking at the impact this has on the reading and writing curriculum.  As we go through the four weeks of the quad blogging we decided we'd video interviews with our students - all four teachers will be asking their students the same questions.  We will also make anecdotal records about what we observe. We're particularly interested in how quad blogging is working with reluctant readers and writers and with our EAL students.  At the end of the quad we will measure our success or otherwise in improving student writing of blog posts and comments using the same rubrics and will discuss how this process has impacted on our own teaching and learning.  

Why not follow along with our action research yourself and share your findings as to how blogging can impact student writing.

This post is cross-posted on Inquire Within


Some months ago I wrote a blog post about democracy.  At the time I tried to answer the question that was in my mind: what is the opposite of dictatorship if it isn't democracy.  Today, reading Chapter 10 of Alfie Kohn's Punished by Rewards, I think I've found the word I'm looking for:  self-determination.  Chapter 10 is all about motivation and midway through this chapter is a section about how important choice is in motivating people.  Alfie questions why so many people become burned out and bitter - he says it's not because of how much work they do, but because they feel controlled and powerless.  My mother used to talk about this too:  "hard work doesn't kill you, it's stress that does that" she used to say to us.

Apart from leading to stress, burn out and illness, being controlled or lacking the freedom to decide what to do and how to do it, or lacking a sense of control over one's own work and ideas, is likely to kill creativity.  Being stressed leads to absenteeism;  in contrast places where employees are able to participate in decision making about important issues (not just token ones) have lower rates of absenteeism.  Alfie Kohn writes that people only moan about change "not because it is a change, but because it is announced - that is, imposed on them".  He writes that "participation in decision making has a positive effect on both productivity and job satisfaction, regardless of the kind of work people did."

If this is the case, why are so many organizations characterized by micro-management?  First of all Kohn has found a correlation between the amount of control in middle management and that higher up.  He writes:
Which middle managers are most likely to act in an autocratic fashion towards those below them in the hierarchy?  Very likely those who are restricted and controlled themselves.
Later he elaborates on this:
Giving people responsibility for, and control of, their own work is tantamount to introducing democracy to the workplace, and democracy in any arena is profoundly threatening to those who exert undemocratic control.
The PYP believes in the idea of sustainable leadership and therefore encourages a devolved or distributed leadership model (with the aim of developing the talents of the teachers within the school).  This is also because implementing the PYP depends on a culture of collaboration - see previous blog post.   Despite this there are still too many people for whom shared decision making is simply taken to mean sharing the decisions that they have already made.  People sit on committees that have no clout at all while the important decision are made behind "closed doors", or even worse they spend time researching and giving input into a decision, only to find that this input counts for nothing.  In such situations they are not likely to be motivated to volunteer again for such committees, so the employer can easily claim that nobody much is interested in participating.

Are the factors that sap teacher motivation the same as those that sap student motivation?  Let's read on and find out what Alfie Kohn has to say about this.

Photo by MyThoughtsOn AttributionShare Alike 

Collaboration, Content and Choice

Alfie Kohn defines the 3 Cs of motivation as being collaboration, content and choice.  How do these affect our motivation?

Collaboration:  most people prefer and are able to do a better job in groups than alone - this is especially true if the tasks are complex and require originality and creativity.  People working together are pooling their talents and resources and also provide other group members with emotional support.  People are more enthusiastic about working in places where they feel they belong or are part of a community.

Content: people want an interesting and enjoying job that is also worthwhile - they like to feel they are making a difference and that they are committed to a job that is an important one (I think this is certainly true of teachers).  Other factors about a job's content that increase motivation are learning new skills so that employees can acquire and demonstrate competence, and variety in the tasks they have to do.  People prefer challenging work to "easy" work.   From a personal point of view the times in my life when I've upped my motivation, are when I have made a choice to change job, which has involved acquiring new skills and has increased the variety in what I've been doing.  This hasn't always involved changing school, for example I moved from being a secondary social studies teacher to being a primary homeroom teacher and then a few years later I moved from being a homeroom teacher to being a specialist teacher again when I started teaching IT - and all of this was in the same school.  Later, at a different school I taught IT in the primary and then went back to teaching Geography in secondary.  On the other hand being denied opportunities to move in new directions has certainly been a demotivating factor for me now, as at a different school again I have been criticized for applying for different "internal" jobs and asking for PD in areas that are not directly related to IT in my attempt to acquire new skills and develop more variety in my job.  This led to the feeling that the only way to grow as a professional was to move on somewhere else.

Choice:  we are most likely to be motivated when we are free to make decisions about how we carry out our work.  This is what Daniel Pink refers to as autonomy.  Alfie Kohn describes the loss of autonomy as something that saps our motivation.

What happens to people who go for long periods of time being demotivated.  Alfie Kohn says this feeling of being powerless or being controlled is what leads to burn-out.  More about this in another blog post.

Photo Credit:  Warp jump by Ryan Gallagher AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike

Friday, February 17, 2012


Why do so many people say "Thank goodness it's Friday"?  It's almost as if the time they have spent working during the week is over with and they can get on with the part of their life that they find enjoyable.  Recently I've also heard people say "I work to live, I don't live to work", which is similar in a way. Yet if you have a job you love, aren't you also thinking "Thank goodness it's Monday"? When I lived in both Amsterdam and Thailand I worked in schools where I looked forward to going in to work on Monday just as much as I looked forward to the weekend on Fridays.  These schools were vibrant and exciting places where every day was different, where I was continually learning new things and where I knew I was doing a good job which was valued and where the people I worked with were innovative educators and leaders on the cutting edge of education.  I feel blessed that I spent over 20 years working in such dynamic places.

I'm now at Chapter 10 of Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn, which deals with workplace motivation.  The first part of this chapter is about how compensations systems can act as barriers to quality, productivity and motivation.  Daniel Pink has said the best use of money is to "pay people enough to get the issue of money off the table ... so they are not thinking about the money, they are thinking about the work." and that what really motivates people is autonomy, mastery and purpose.  Alfie Kohn also writes the same thing:  "Pay people generously and equitably.  Do your best to make sure they don't feel exploited.  Then do everything in your power to help them put money out of their minds."  Kohn writes that the big problem with money is the way it is used to control people.

Further on in the chapter Kohn writes about evaluation and how this too can be a demotivator.  At one school I remember we changed the term "teacher evaluation" (which implied making a value judgement about someone's performance) to "teacher appraisal" which apparently was a more positive term to use because it contained the word "praise" instead of the word "value".  In this school we were appraised on our goals, most of which we set ourselves.  I've never worked in a place where evaluation or appraisal has been linked to pay, but I have worked in places where it has been suggested that such a compensation scheme might be introduced.  However what I have noticed is that any evaluation or appraisal scheme, regardless of what it is called, seems to generate a climate of anxiety and fear among teachers being appraised, which could indicate that it is being used for the wrong purpose.

Alfie Kohn addresses some of the reasons why schools and companies have such systems:  some are used to determine pay, awards etc.  Some may be introduced to try to make employees perform better (fear or negative evaluation, hope of positive evaluation), some may be to decide who is doing a good job so that they can be promoted to something better, some may be to provide feedback, discuss problems and help employees to do a better job.  Of those, it seems only the last reason is likely to be useful.  In the case of promotion, Kohn argues that employees are made to feel like failures if they are not upwardly mobile - or perhaps if they choose not to be.  Kohn argues that appraisals of someone's performance in their current job are no real indicator of how they will perform in a different position and he also writes that performance is best judged by the evaluation of one's peers and not one's superiors.

Evaluations and appraisals can be useful ways of helping someone to do better work, however, especially when this involves a dialogue and not a judgment.  They are also useful when they are ongoing, rather than just a once or twice a year observation.  However the most interesting part of the chapter that I've read so far relates to the relationship between the two people involved - and this is the very reason why I feel it necessary as a facilitator or coach to avoid being in a position where I have to judge or assess a teacher's IT skills.  Kohn writes that it is foolish to have someone "serving in the self-conflicting role as a counselor (helping someone improve performance) when at the same time, he or she is presiding as a judge."

The crux of this part of the book is that it is changing the way that employees are treated (as opposed to paid) that boosts productivity and motivation, which brings me back to the title of this post.  As a teacher I have worked in a number of different schools in different countries and I have definitely worked in situations where teachers had more of a TGIF attitude than a TGIM one.  To combat this, Alfie Kohn gives 4 guidelines as to how people in administrative positions can encourage more motivation in the workplace:
Watch - look for problems that need to be solved and help people solve them.
Listen - listen to people's concerns, imagine how the situation looks from their point of view.
Talk - provide feedback, encourage people to reflect on what is going well, what needs to improve and how this can change.
Think - about whether the current climate is based on extrinsic motivators and controlling people's behaviors.
Kohn goes on to write about the 3Cs of motivation - collaboration, content and choice.  I'm going to reflect on these in an upcoming blog post.

What do you think?  Does your school have a TGIF or a TGIM mentality?  How does your school motivate teachers?

Photo Credit:  TGIF by Amarand Agasi AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Good behavior -v- good values

Over the past few days I've been reading Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn.  There is a lot to think about in this book, so I'm reflecting on it chapter by chapter.  Up to now I've been thinking about how rewards and punishments affect motivation and achievement, however the chapter I read today delves deeper into how these affect not just behavior, but also a person's deeper values.

As teachers we talk about the necessity of students developing 21st century skills.  These are things like creativity and critical thinking, questioning, collaboration and so on.  We also talk a lot about students developing responsibility, becoming caring, developing self-confidence, being open-minded and so on.  In the PYP these attributes are embedded in the learner profile and in the attitudes that we want students to  demonstrate.  Alfie Kohn writes that rewards and punishments are worthless for helping students develop these values and skills because all they do is produce temporary compliance, rather than building good values.  He writes:
A child who complies in the hope of getting a reward or avoiding a punishment is not, as we sometimes say, "behaving himself."  It would be more accurate to say the reward or punishment is behaving him.
It's interesting that when students are asked what they think good behavior is, they mention things such as following the rules, keeping quiet, not moving around too much, keeping busy with their work and sticking to the schedule.  They see the teacher's role as maintaining discipline, rather than helping students to be reflective or caring.  However Kohn writes, "children do not learn to be moral by learning to obey roles that others make for them."

Some years ago I read a book called "Grounded for Life" which was about how to communicate better with teenagers.  This book proposes that young people who misbehave suffer the logical or natural consequences of their behavior.  For example if a teenager doesn't do homework, the natural consequence is that they receive a lower grade, if the teenager forgets to bring in a permission slip for a trip, the natural consequence is that the student misses the trip.  One of the things I liked about this book is that it clearly asks:  whose problem is this?  It recommends stepping back and being interested and understanding, but not anxious - don't try to lessen the results the negative consequences bring.  The argument here is that as adults we learn by the natural consequences of what we do and these consequences can be used to teach children too.

Ultimately we would like students to be ethical and to avoid doing certain things because they know these actions will have a negative or hurtful affect on themselves or others.  Kohn argues that punishment doesn't contribute to such values, because it just teaches that if students are caught doing something forbidden they will suffer the consequences.  He argues:
Teaching children to think about the consequences (to themselves) of doing something wrong does nothing to nurture a lasting commitment to good values.
In the same way we would like students to be caring towards others, however Kohn shows that the evidence is that students who are rewarded for being caring are less likely to think of themselves as caring or compassionate people.  This is because rewards punish:
It is no less controlling to offer goodies for a desired behavior than to threaten sanctions for its absence.
Good behavior and good values, it seems, are two completely different things.  Rewards and punishments may in the short term encourage good behavior, but Kohn writes that they will never encourage good values.

Photo Credit:  Attitude: Joy by Michael Dreves Beier  AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike

Motivate and Achieve

I was interested to read a comment on my first post this week about awards and rewards from @educatoral.  Mr G commented that when he asked students what they felt about doing away with awards at assemblies, the students were angry because they felt that they would not be appreciated if they did not get awards.  It's an interesting idea that in some cases it's the students themselves who want to continue with the awards.

Reading further in Punished by Rewards, I've come to Chapter 8 which is all about why behaviorism doesn't work in the classroom.  Alfie Kohn starts by writing that students when they first arrive at school are enthusiastic and fascinated by learning, however after some years they come to see learning as a chore.  He writes that "if children's enthusiasm is smothered, it is a direct result of something that happens in our schools."

In every school I've worked at I've seen rewards used in one form or another.  The idea behind them is that this motivates the students and improves their performance.  I've also worked at schools where the idea of rewarding teachers for their performance has been suggested.  I left the UK in the 1980s, thankfully, before the 1990s system of inspecting schools was introduced  - OFSTED.  Friends of mine who were still teaching there told me stories of OFSTED visits and how the schools were assessed and then graded on a scale.  League tables of schools were published.  Schools which were judged as "inadequate" were then put into "special measures" - something that it seemed should be avoided at all costs as it allowed teachers, head teachers and the governing body to be dismissed.  I was interested to read the results after almost 20 years of OFSTED visits to schools:  the number of outstanding schools has decreased from 19% to 9% and the number of schools judged to be inadequate has risen from 4% to 10% (figures from March 2010).  Clearly rewarding the "best" schools and "punishing" the worst does not seem to have achieved very much! (In the meantime every single one of my friends who started teaching with me has now left the profession so clearly this wasn't very motivating for them either.)

Getting back to the main topic of this blog post, it's clear that students don't need a lot of artificial incentives in order to motivate them.  Alfie Kohn points out 3 facts about motivation:
  1. Young children don't need to be rewarded to learn - the desire to learn itself is natural.  Pre-schoolers and kindergartners have a great deal of intrinsic motivation, though as they move through elementary school their approach to learning becomes increasingly extrinsic.
  2. At any age, rewards are less effective than intrinsic motivation for promoting effective learning - there is a positive correlation between intrinsic motivation and academic achievement.  Students who are interested and engaged will generally succeed academically.  Our aim is that students will move from being excited about their learning at school to following these interests outside of school - children's attitudes towards learning are the most important indicators of success.
  3. Rewards for learning undermine intrinsic motivation - rewards lead to a decline of interest.
Kohn goes on to write about what demotivates students.  Studies have shown that being controlled and forced into a pre-established curriculum works against motivation (which is good news for PYP schools that focus on student inquiry as a way of constructing knowledge - this approach must be more motivating for students).   Kohn writes:
Telling students exactly what they have to do, or using extrinsic incentives to get them to do it, often contributes to feelings of anxiety and even helplessness ... [which] are associated with lower-quality performance.
Now this is the interesting part, which brings me back to Mr G's findings when he asked his students about their feelings on getting rid of awards:  a student's need for rewards "is a reflection of how much s/he has been controlled by rewards and punishments in the past."

Studies of both special education and gifted programmes have shown that rewards lead to lower achievements:  "students led to think mostly about how well they are doing - or even worse, how well they are doing compared to everyone else - are less likely to do well."  Focusing on performance also increases a student's fear of failure:  "Anything that gets children to think primarily about their performance will undermine their interest in learning, their desire to be challenged, and ultimately the extent of their achievement."

I called this post "Motivate and Achieve" because these are two key words in our school's mission statement.  I think these are both wonderful ideals to be working towards and think it's great that we are reading Alfie Kohn's Punished by Rewards so that we can discuss how to effectively motivate students in order that they can achieve their true potential.

Photo Credit:  Make it happen by  Jennifer  Attribution 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Public or private praise

Alfie Kohn writes that positive comments should be offered in private.  Often, however, public award ceremonies are held as a way of "recognizing excellence".  Over the years as a parent I've been to many such ceremonies for my children, both to reward excellence in sporting as well as academic achievements.  Kohn asks:  why is it importance that excellence be recognized?

Here are some of the motives he believes are behind public praise:

  • Letting someone know he or she has done a good job - however usually the person is already aware of it.
  • Encouraging the person to keep up the good work - however this can undermine motivation.
  • To motivate others by watching one of their peers get a reward - evidence shows that extrinsic motivators do not really encourage, and others watching may feel they have lost out in a competition which is actually demotivating.
  • To communicate what excellence looks like.
  • To show someone that you have noticed that they did a good job.
In all the above cases, Kohn argues, private comments that promote intrinsic motivation are more effective.

Further on in Chapter 6 Kohn writes about the work of Rudolf Dreikurs whose studies have shown that evaluative comments are often unnecessary.  He writes:
We can be less judgmental and controlling - and in the long run more effective at promoting self-determination and intrinsic motivation - by simply acknowledging what a child has done.  Just pointing out an aspect of a child's essay or drawing that seems interesting (without saying that it's nice or that you liked it) will be sufficient to encourage her efforts.
I have thought about this a lot this year as I have been posting comments on students' blogs.  Often I have tried to describe what the student has done and to show that I have noticed one of two aspects of it that make it special or different from the others.  Hopefully this lets students know that this is something very unique and individual that they have done and that I have noticed it and commented on it - and that this is more encouraging to them than cheap and easy praise.  Actually commenting on a blog post in some ways public praise - as anyone can read it - but it's done without a lot of "ceremony" and the student can read the comment by himself or herself privately.

Photo Credit:   Alex and Siena by Ballacorkish AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

The pitfalls of praise

Today I read Chapter 6 of Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn.  So far this was the most challenging chapter for me to read because while I have come to dislike giving awards and rewards as a teacher, I've always believed it is important to praise students to encourage them.  Even though I realize that describing what the student has done, the task and the process, is more effective as a feedback method than simply praising the student for doing it, I found it hard to accept that praise can stifle motivation.

Alfie Kohn refers to praise as "verbal rewards" and describes studies that show that students that receive praise sometimes feel controlled or dependent on someone else's approval - praise is therefore an extrinsic motivator.  The whole problem with praise, as Kohn sees it, is that the purpose of praise can be to benefit the giver rather than the recipient.  Praising people makes them more likely to do what we want, which gives us a sense of power.  The people who we praise may come to like us better as a result of the praise, which also works to our advantage.

Kohn explores the motives for praising such as trying to enhance a student's performance or learning, promoting positive values and appropriate behavior and helping the student feel good about himself or herself.  However he writes that praise is unlikely to achieve any of these objectives and can even be counterproductive.  It's strange for me to imagine that praising a student could negatively affect their achievement, but Kohn gives 4 reasons why this can happen:

  • If a student is praised for succeeding at easy tasks, this can lead him to feel he isn't very smart.  In the same way if a student is praised for the effort he or she is putting in, it could lead him to think he has to try hard because he isn't very good at what he is doing.  If a student is praised for his or her ability this can indicate that success is outside of his control, and so discourage him from working to improve.
  • At other times praise can increase the pressure a student feels to live up to the praise - leading to self-consciousness and a poorer performance.
  • Sometimes praise can set up expectations of continued success, leading to students avoiding difficult tasks so that they don't risk the possibility of failure.
  • Praise can undermine intrinsic motivation.
As well as praise being detrimental to performance, Kohn writes that it can also be detrimental to behavior.  Often children are praised for being caring or being helpful and this may improve behavior in the short-term.  However it probably won't lead to a permanent improvement, especially when nobody is around to observe (and praise) it.

I started to reflect on how we, as adults, respond to praise.  Kohn writes "the most notable aspect of positive judgment is not that it is positive but that it is a judgement".  Adults may find such praise condescending, and in any case it reinforces the greater power of the person giving the praise.  If the direction of praise is reversed (so a low-status person praises a high-status person), this is often seen as presumptuous or even insulting.  As I read this I could certainly bring to mind the comments of colleagues  who feel uneasy with their annual evaluations, even when these are positive.  For example I remember one teacher telling me how insulted she felt after feedback on a classroom observation when she was told she'd taught a good lesson, while she herself felt it was just mediocre.  I think she felt that as a professional with many successful years of teaching in good schools, she was able to evaluate for herself how well she was doing.  An interesting thing I read in this chapter was that praise is more likely to have undesirable consequences for females than for males, and that women are more likely than men to view positive feedback as controlling, rather than as providing them with information.

Phony praise is the worst of all - we can all tell when someone is being insincere and just trying to boost morale.  Phony praise is not spontaneous, but a deliberate strategy to reach some end.  Kohn describes the way we hear this as a "squeaky, saccharine voice that slides up and down the scale" and points out that a pause before praising suggests the praiser has decided to hand out a verbal reward and is now trying to find someone to whom this can be presented.  

Kohn writes about how important it is that we feel a sense of self-determination and control over our lives and our performances.  We need to know that we can make our own judgements, we don't simply have to conform to someone's else's criteria.  We need to know that we are working because it is something we want to do, not just working to win someone else's approval.  As teachers we are more likely to respond to useful feedback than to praise, therefore it should follow that our students will be more likely to respond to feedback too.  Kohn has therefore drawn up a set of suggestions for how to give good feedback:
  • Don't praise people, praise what they do
  • Make the praise as specific as possible
  • Avoid phony praise
  • Avoid praise that sets up a competition (comparing to someone else, encouraging the view of others as rivals)
If praise is given, should it be done in private or in public?  I'm going to think about this for my next blog post.

Photo Credit:  Welcomehands by Don and Tonya Christner Attribution

Turning play into work

The more I read of Alfie Kohn's book Punished by Rewards, the more challenging I see it to some of the practices that are simply taken for granted at school.  It's a good book for a book group as there are likely to be very many different opinions - especially from those teachers who are giving out awards, stars, golden time and so on.  Many of these will find it hard to accept that rewards smother interest and enthusiasm for activities that students already enjoy and hopefully the group will be a place where we can discuss all these different perspectives.

The first few chapters of the book are all about how rewards (and punishments) are extrinsic motivators.  What we are trying to achieve in schools, however, is intrinsic motivation which is powerful because it means you are doing something for its own sake - simply because you enjoy doing it.  For example I spend quite a bit of my spare time reading blogs and writing posts on my own blogs.  Nobody rewards me for doing this (quite the opposite in fact) but I do it because I enjoy the connections I make with other educators and that is reward in itself.  In a similar way we want our students to be intrinsically motivated as this will lead to them doing well in school.  Alfie Kohn has demonstrated the many ways that extrinsic motivators such as rewards undermine intrinsic motivation and therefore undermine creativity and success.

Many psychological studies have reinforced Kohn's findings, but the real question is why?  Why do extrinsic motivators turn play into work?  It seems that this is because they are interfering with our choices, with the way we control our own destinies, or in another word, our autonomy.  Kohn writes:
When something interferes with this sense of self-determination - when, for example, we are simply told what we have to do (and how and when to do it), various undesirable consequences follow ... If we have very little discretion about what we do all day at work or school, there is a good chance we will spend the time wishing the weekend would arrive.
Kohn goes on to list a number of circumstances that erode intrinsic motivation.  As well as rewards, this list includes being threatened or warned about what will happen if we don't do something well enough, being watched and being evaluated.

It's interesting that I had a conversation about these very issues last week at school.  Studies of children and adults have shown that they lose interest in tasks when they are carefully monitored, especially when the surveillance is to check our performance or to evaluate how good a job we are doing.  This is more frequently called "accountability", but all that really happens is that intrinsic motivation, performance and creativity declines - even when the evaluation turns out positive.  Kohn writes:
Anytime we are encouraged to focus on how well we are doing at something (as opposed to concentrating on the process of actually doing it), it is less likely that we will like the activity and keep doing it when given a choice.
Other circumstances that have a detrimental effect on performance include being forced to work under deadlines, being ordered around and competing against other people:
When success is turned into winning .... the consequences include a drastic reduction in interest.  That doesn't mean we necessarily stop engaging in the activity... but typically we do so with less interest in the task itself.
Replacing intrinsic motivation with extrinsic motivation is detrimental to our mental health as it affects "our sense of ourselves  as basically competent and worthwhile, of being able to have an impact on the events that shape our lives."  Praise itself, it seems, makes us feel bad.  This is the subject of the next chapter of Punished by Rewards.

Photo Credit:  Childhood Toys by Rebecca Weaver  AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rewards -v- Relationships

In my last post, I was writing about how both rewards and punishments can have a negative effect of intrinsic motivation.  Alfie Kohn has written about other negative effects of rewards and this post is about their impact on relationships.

Kohn writes that rewards are basically mechanisms of control, and that the experience of being controlled impedes working or learning effectively and has a negative impact on relationships.  Rewards and punishments only work in asymmetrical relationships and they serve to tip the balance even more.  Kohn observes the negative effects of rewards in peer to peer relationships as well as they work against team spirit.  We know that excellence comes from "well-functioning teams in which resources are shared, skills and knowledge are exchanged, and each participant is encouraged to do his or her best."  Awards and rewards interfere with collaboration and can lead to jealousies, feelings of unfair or unequal treatment and accusations of cronyism or favoritism.  Awards and rewards therefore don't develop or maintain the positive relationships that lead to optimal learning or performance.  In competitive cultures, everyone else is a rival and an obstacle to your own success.

Last school year we had a visit from John Littleford who gave a workshop about different methods of remunerating teachers.  He suggested models which included knowledge and skills based pay and when he was questioned about whether all teachers could receive this, or move up to the highest levels of the salary scale, he said that the system worked best when the highest salaries were limited to 15% of the teachers.  As I was reading through Chapter 4 of Punished by Rewards yesterday this statement came back to me in the light of what Kohn writes about rewards:
Of all the ways by which people are led to seek rewards, I believe the most destructive possible arrangement is to limit the number that are available.  To do so is to replace the possibility that people will try to assist each other with the near certainty that they will try to defeat each other.
Another way rewards can punish is what Kohn refers to as the "collective reward", given to groups or teams based on their performance as a whole - for example giving a treat to the whole class (or possibly a salary bonus to the whole staff).  He writes:
This gambit is one of the most transparently manipulative strategies used by people in power.  It calls forth a particularly noxious sort of peer pressure rather than encouraging genuine concern about true well-being of others.
The bottom line is that as teachers we are trying to build positive and trusting relationships with our students, so that they feel they can approach us for help.  Looking at the larger picture of a school as a whole, good working relationships are characterized by trust, open communication and the willingness to ask for assistance.  Team and  curriculum leaders should be seen as people who will help you, not judge you.  Kohn writes:
This is precisely what rewards and punishments kill.  If your parent or teacher or manager is sitting in judgment of what you do, and if that judgement will determine whether good things or bad things happen to you, this cannot help but warp your relationship with that person.  You will not be working collaboratively in order to learn or grow, you will be trying to get him or her to approve of what you are doing.
Research has shown that people are less likely to ask for help when they need it in a "carrot and stick" type of climate where the people in charge are seen as those who have to be pleased or those who have to be feared.  Because of this performance inevitably suffers as people are reluctant to take risks or be open to exploring different possibilities.  In such relationships flattery replaces trust and evaluation replaces support reducing achievement and creativity.

Photo Credit:  Starring Role by Pewari AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

Rewards and Punishments - the stick is contained in the carrot

One reaction to my blog post about awards and rewards yesterday was "Woah .... Heavy!"  I think this is a heavy subject especially as the assertions of Alfie Kohn are in direct contrast to what most people, including most teachers, believe about rewards and punishments.   At one time, I also gave out rewards and awards as a teacher and this was reinforced by the schools I taught at.   In one very extreme case with a girl who was an elective mute, all her teachers were encouraged to put a marble into a jar that she carried around with her every time she spoke a word. (The jar was never very full - even at the time I found that it seemed to be reinforcing the fact that she chose not to speak).

In Chapter 3 of Punished by Rewards, Alfie Kohn asks how effective it is to reward.  Although he agrees that rewards can increase the probability that we will do something, he argues that rewards also change the way we do it and our reasons for doing it, therefore they change the attitude we have towards what we are doing.  He also points to many studies that show that rewards do not lead to lasting change - which is presumably what we are trying to encourage by rewarding students.  There is certainly some heavy language here:
If your objective is to get people to obey an order, to show up on time and do what they're told, then bribing or threatening them may be sensible strategies.  But if your objective is to get long-term quality in the workplace, to help students become careful thinkers and self-directed learners, or to support children in developing good values, then rewards, like punishments, are absolutely useless.  In fact we are beginning to see they are worse than useless - they are actually counterproductive.
Later in the chapter, Kohn goes on to discuss how students who are extrinsically motivated use less sophisticated learning strategies and score lower on tests than children who are interested in learning for its own sake and in Chapter 4 Kohn goes on to use the term "rewards punish".   This is because both rewards and punishments use motivation as a way of manipulating behavior.  He writes that there is no real difference between someone who says "Do this and you'll get that" and someone who says "Do this or here's what will happen to you."

Kohn goes on to develop his theory about why rewards, in the end, create the same feelings as punishments:
If reward recipients feel controlled, it is likely that the experience will assume a punitive quality over the long run, even though obtaining the reward itself is usually pleasurable.
Reading this was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me as I finally came to understand why some teachers don't enjoy the "rewards" of being promoted to a leadership position, particularly in schools where they then just end up being even more controlled by those in senior leadership positions, as it becomes even more important that as leaders they "toe the party line".  Interestingly I've heard teachers who have said they have chosen to give up the extra money and status in order to reclaim more control over their own professional lives and to become more ethical and principled.   On the other hand Kohn also addresses what happens if people don't get the rewards they are hoping to get and writes, "the effect of this is, in practice, indistinguishable from punishment."

Kohn points out that unexpected rewards are less destructive than rewards that people know about beforehand and are deliberately trying to obtain.  However unexpected rewards are often quite rare:
The whole point is to control people's behavior, and the most effective way to do this is to describe what will be given to them if they comply - or done to them if they don't comply.  For this very reason, the possibility of ending up without the reward, which makes the process essentially punitive, is always present.  The stick is contained in the carrot.
Photo Credit:  Carrot + Stick < Love  by Libby Levi AttributionShare Alike

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Awards and Rewards

I don't attend the assemblies at school as I'm always teaching while they are taking place, but I was at a meeting earlier this year when it was announced that there was to be a new awards system and that each week a teacher could nominate a student in the class to receive a certificate that would be handed out by the Head of School during the weekly assemblies.  I believe the idea is that a different child from the class receives an award each week, so that during the course of the year every child receives an award for something.  Specialist teachers who want to give out an award therefore have to liaise with the homeroom teacher to find out if the child in question has already received one for something else.

The reason for this award system is that the school believes that students respond well to positive reinforcement.  It seems ironic then, that the first book chosen for the school's professional book group is Punished By Rewards by Alfie Kohn which, in the first few chapters that I've read, seems to be saying totally the opposite.  Kohn writes about the assumption that when a reward or reinforcement follows a behavior, that the behavior is likely to be repeated.  His conclusions are somewhat different - he writes that while manipulating students with incentives such as stickers, stars, certificates, awards, trophies and grades may seem to work in the short-term, it is a strategy that ultimately fails and even does lasting harm.  Kohn's studies are similar to those of Daniel Pink, and show that people actually do inferior work when they are enticed with rewards and other incentives - in fact the more we use artificial incentives to motivate students, the more they lose interest in what they are doing:  "Rewards turn play into work and work into drudgery".

In Chapter 1 of Punished by Rewards, Kohn also refers to the carrot-and-stick approach for teachers.  He challenges the theory behind performance-based pay:  "promise educators pay raises for success or threaten their job security for failure ... and it is assumed that educational excellence will follow."  In Chapter 2 he develops his argument by questioning what constitutes deservingness:
Do we reward on the basis of how much effort is expended?  What if the result of hard work is failure?  Does it make more sense, then, to reward on the basis of success?  But "do well" by whose standard?  And who is responsible for the success?  Excellence is often the product of cooperation and even individual achievement typically is built on the work of other people's earlier efforts.  So who "deserves" the reward when lots of people had a hand in the performance?
When we reward students and teachers by giving them awards, including money, we are assuming that they would not choose to act this way on their own, that they would not choose responsible action, that the love of learning is not enough, that they don't already desire to do good work.  Kohn argues that rewards and punishments are just two sides of the same coin - and that coin is all about one person controlling or manipulating another.  He writes that rewards are simply "control through seduction rather than by force" and that they are similar to punishments in that they are "used to pressure people to do things that they would not freely do".  He goes further by stating:
All rewards, by virtue of being rewards, are not attempts to influence or persuade or solve problems together, but simply to control.
The use of rewards is simply to benefit the more powerful party (the rewarder), yet they are justified by saying they are in the interest of those receiving the rewards.  There are some strong words here:
Behaviorism is fundamentally a means of controlling people, it is by its nature inimical to democracy, critical questioning, and the free exchange of ideas among equal participants.
I'm interested to know what other schools and other teachers do with awards and rewards and I'm curious to read on to Chapter 3 to find out more.

Photo Credit:  First by The Croft AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works