Tag Archives: Alfie Kohn

The Big 5: Ken Lindblom on the Professional Books That Got Him to Where He is Today

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Every so often we like to ask our authors about the books that most affected their teaching, the books that served as turning points in their practice or opened their eyes to a new way of approaching their work, thinking about education, or seeing children. In this installment, we bring you the professional book top five of Ken Lindblom, Associate Professor of English and Associate Dean for Academic Programs in the School of Professional Development at Stony Brook University (SUNY), and former high school English teacher. Ken has also served as the editor of English Journal and is on the Executive Board of the Conference on English Education (NCTE). Ken is a co-author of the Heinemann book Making the Journey, fourth edition, which published in the fall of 2016.

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The Teacher You Want to Be: Stephanie Jones On The Movement of Students

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One fall afternoon when the sun dropped just enough to cool the air, I watched a four- year-old boy climb to the top of the playground apparatus and act as if he were readying himself to slide through the cylinder chute. But he didn’t.

Instead of sliding down, he struggled to get himself on top of the cylinder, grunting and pushing his small arms to their limit until he managed to get one foot in place and finally the other. 

In that moment I was able to see how one expectation of how the playground equipment is “supposed” to be used could restrict imaginative being—and therefore thought and possibility. Come to think of it, how fun is it really to continually, day in and day out, climb up the steps in the same way, already knowing what the outcome will be? Even a four- year-old masters the expected use of the material playground equipment and boredom starts to set in.

Standing on top of the slide, arms stretched wide, he achieved something. He was standing on top of the world, looking out over the playground, the swings, the picnic tables, the tree-trunk seats, and the modest homes of South Woods. He smiled. Then jumped.

My heart stopped, my eyes widened, and my mouth fell open in this moment of witnessing. Yes, as a researcher I question and challenge the ways adults restrict children’s bodies (and therefore minds), but I still struggle in these moments of whether and how to respond to a young person in action.

He landed, hard, and jumped up, laughing and smiling, and ran to the other side of the playground.

He struggled to do and be something he didn’t know for sure he was capable of, yet without my interference, he was confident enough to give it a try. It wasn’t pretty or graceful or effortless, but it was evidence of creativity, perseverance, risk taking toward the outer range of predictability, and success.

Yes, I struggled to pause, witness, and not intervene.

Each of our struggles produced something new and valuable for us both. He learned something about himself and that it was possible for him to accomplish the task, and perhaps he also learned something about me as an adult who will keep my distance as he tries something new. I learned something about myself too: that I am not immune to the dominant discourses of safety and the constant need for children to be supervised and protected, as it was incredibly difficult for me to not intervene and ask him to use the slide “appropriately.” And yet, I also learned something about him: he is much braver and much more capable than I had imagined, and at least in this case, he did not take a risk beyond his capability.

The struggle over the control of bodies shapes much of the relationship that exists between educators and students every day, all day long. How bodies move through the physical spaces of classrooms, hallways, front offices, and playgrounds produces a lot of uneasiness and conflict. Admittedly, so many of the body-related controls are ritualized so that adults may not sense uneasiness and conflict every day, but that doesn’t mean that children don’t experience it.

Should children be allowed to jump from slides and swings, lie down to do classwork, leave for the bathroom whenever they need to, line up in the classroom without being directed how to do so? These are relatively benign questions about controlling bodies in schools, and more radical ones might include the following: Can children move from class to class without adult escorts, play fight or wrestle on the playground, move in the lunchroom to sit by a neighbor, wear costumes to school, wiggle around while listening to a read-aloud, dance and sing, show their anger and frustration, share their disagreements with adults, or choose to sit at a table when everyone else is gathered on the floor?

Our responses to these questions reveal where we stand in political debates over children, their inherent value and rights as people, or their presumed future role in society

—Stephanie Jones

The Teacher You Want To Be: Essays About Children, Learning, and Teaching, edited by Matt Glover and Ellin Oliver Keene, is out now.

JOIN US for a Twitter chat on Wednesday, November 18 at 8:00 p.m. ET / 7:00 p.m. CT. Use the hashtag #TUWant2Be.

The Teacher You Want to Be: Alfie Kohn on Creativity

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Creativity—in education and in general—might be defined as the capacity to look at one thing and see something else. You observe a classroom, for example, in which students get to decide whether it’s really necessary to do a school assignment at home, and what you see is a respect for kids that could extend to giving them responsibility for any number of other decisions that, like homework, are usually the sole prerogative of teachers.

Or you’re introduced to an approach to teaching math that has students actively constructing meaning around fundamental concepts, and what you see is a truth about learning no less relevant to the social and moral realm: children need to make sense of ideas like fairness and honesty (rather than being exhorted to accept prepackaged virtues) exactly as they need to make sense of ideas like equivalence or place value (rather than just being taught procedures to practice and memorize).

Or you visit a remarkable program in northern Italy designed for young children—one that led the influential early childhood educator Lilian Katz on her first trip there to remark that she thought she had died and gone to heaven—and what you see are principles just as applicable to educating older students.

—Alfie Kohn

The Teacher You Want To Be: Essays About Children, Learning, and Teaching, edited by Matt Glover and Ellin Oliver Keene, is out now.

Revisiting “Schooling Beyond Measure” with Alfie Kohn

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Before he departs as Education Secretary this winter, Arne Duncan has revealed a "Testing Action Plan," which seeks to reduce the amount of testing in schools. The plan states that testing should take up no more than 2% of instructional time.

Today on the blog, we return to an essay from Alfie Kohn, who writes of testing, "You’ve heard it said that tests and other measures are, like technology, merely neutral tools, and all that matters is what we do with the information? Baloney."

Revisit "Schooling Beyond Measure" below.

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Fall 2015 Professional Book Preview, Part Two

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There are some great titles and projects coming this fall from Heinemann. Today in part two of our fall preview, we look at some of our professional books coming later this year, just when the leaves are about to turn and descend. Release dates are subject to change!

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