Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Alfie Kohn's talk on Performance vs. Learning

I wanted to embed this video, but didn't have permission. Here's the link, followed by my notes.


  • Focusing on “Performance” is not the same as focusing on “Learning”.
  • The educational structure affects the parents’, as well as the students’, approach to education.
  • When it’s all about “achievement” and “excellence”, that’s all at the expense of learning.
  • When we get kids to focus on “Performance/Achievement/Higher Standards”, a number of negative things can happen:
    • Kids who are constantly thinking about how well they’re doing in school become less interested in what they’re doing in school.
      • Any strategy, or policy, or program in a classroom or at a school wide level that sets kids against each other in a contest to see who’s best is possibly the most powerful technique we have yet come across to destroy children’s interest in learning.  And it destroys the winner’s interest in learning as surely as it destroys the loser’s interest in learning.  Everyone loses in a race to win.
    • What predicts to excellence later is not the behavior the kid engages in now, but the REASONS he thinks he did what he did.
      • The behavior you can measure, and collect data on, is not what’s most important.
      • The four ways we can make sense of success:
        • effort (I tried really hard.)
        • ability (I’m really smart.)
        • task difficulty (the task was easy.)
        • luck (I got lucky.)
          • Most people say that effort is the most important one to believe in.
          • the more you get kids focused on how well they’re doing in school, the more likely they are to attribute those results to factors over which they think they have no control.
    • Kids pick the easiest possible task, if you give them the choice.  They avoid challenge not because they’re lazy, but because they’re rational.
    • Negative emotional effects.
      • The problem isn’t where we draw the line between “ok performance” and “not good enough”; the problem is the line itself.
      • These emotional effects manifest themselves when achievement-oriented kids are put into situations (college?) where the challenges are greater, and the competition stronger.  The often implode.
    • Negative effects on social interaction.
      • Performance goals lead students to perceive one another as obstacles to their own success.
    • When you overemphasize learning, you paradoxically get lower quality learning.
    • The more ambitious your outcome measure, in terms of thinking, the more shallow the students’ thinking tends to be.
  • If these are the effects of overemphasizing achievement, what are the causes?
    • What specific practices and policies, at a classroom or school-wide level, are likely to lead kids to constantly be thinking about how good they are at school?
      • grades?
      • competition (the only thing worse than a re-ward is an a-ward).
        • an award is a reward that’s been made artificially scarce
      • you show me a list of what creates performance-oriented, achievement-based, excellence-demanding schools, and I’ll show you a hit-list of practices and policies that we ought to spend every day of our career trying to undo in order to rescue learning.

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