Nov 3, 2009

Fun in the classroom

Has anybody ever read anything by Alfie Kohn? He's somewhat of a radical. His research suggests that homework is actually detrimental to students' acquisition of the material. And then there's this article about having fun in the classroom.

Why is it that our classrooms are filled with such quiet desperation?

1 comment:

  1. Oh, goodness, a constructivist neo-hippy idiot.

    The problem is the confusion between joy and fun. If teachers dress up all knowledge is costumes and festoon it with frills and treats, children will look for the treat before undertaking any endeavor.

    If, on the other hand, teachers scrupulously avoid hair-shirt methods ("this is worthy because it is boring, repetitive, routine, grueling, etc.") but teach instead both the knowledge *and the joy in knowledge*, students will grow to seek out truly rewarding experiences.

    We must train our children's educational palates on the finest food, not on cheap mental equivalents of french fries, chicken fingers, cookies and candy--and not on a monotonous diet of gruel and pallid vegetables. They must become gourmands of learning, not gluttons of self-gratification or self-denying monks.

    The pity is that we are no longer giving children the tools with which many need to succeed out of the fear that it isn't "fun" or "creative" enough. We don't teach children systematic penmanship. Isn't it so much nicer just to tell students who write poorly to "do better"? Only talented children ever write competently anymore, and most children never diagram a sentence in their entire educational career, meaning that those who don't have an instinctive grasp of English structure never master punctuation. Mathematics education is now laughably bad. With programs like Everyday Math and TERC, children are denied the power of the fundamental algorithms, assuring that only the smartest will achieve any level of basic mathematical skills. We teach spelling lists, not spelling, and we throw out phonics as "too dull," creating dyslexia where it would not otherwise exist in many of our children and shutting them away from the joys of being a skilled reader. Even the briefest comparison of the foreign language reading skills of today's children in honors classes compared to that expected in high schools 70 years and more ago are ridiculous. The Easy Spanish Reader that's now used typically in 3rd or even 4th year Spanish classes is many times simpler than the first-year First Spanish Reader that my grandfather used. (There were certainly some painfully awful techniques used at the time, but a quick survey of most Spanish curricula of the time found approaches far superior to that of most modern classrooms.) Most students, after two to four years of high-school level Spanish, can neither speak nor read in Spanish. Obviously, you're doing much better, but many teachers don't "make" students speak for fear that they will be "embarrassed" or made unhappy. Memorizing lists of vocabulary is so much less intimidating.

    BTW, all but one of the countries that out-performs us has high-stakes testing--usually much higher-stakes than ours. The problem isn't the test; it's what's tested and how pests are prepared for. If drilling the test masters the material, it's a bad test.

    Real interest and real joy are very different than that which the likes of Kohn imagine.


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