Invest in Children, Not Testing. It’s That Simple.

“The best schools keep their eye on the prize—the kids—not just whether they are pleasing higher civil authorities. They see the job of adults as one of nurturing intelligence and empathy, op…

Source: Invest in Children, Not Testing. It’s That Simple.

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The Bonus Effect – Alfie Kohn

The Bonus Effect

One Kind of Interest that Rewards Don’t Kill

By Alfie Kohn

For nearly half a century, research has raised troubling questions about the practice of dangling rewards in front of people to get them to do what we want. It doesn’t matter whether the people in question are male or female, children or adults. It doesn’t matter whether the rewards are stickers, food, grades, or money. It doesn’t matter whether the goal is to get them to work harder, learn better, act nicely, or lose weight. What the studies keep telling us is that rewards, like punishments, tend not only to be ineffective — particularly over the long haul — but often to undermine the very thing we’re trying to promote.

Since I reviewed the first wave of research on the counterproductive effects of rewards, new studies have confirmed and extended the original findings. By now, with the exception of economists and a diehard group of orthodox behaviorists (who have restyled themselves “behavior analysts”), most social scientists acknowledge that incentives tend to backfire. Moreover, the problem isn’t limited to particular kinds of incentives or ways of using them. The trouble is inherent to the very idea of incentives. Extrinsic motivators (rewards) tend to reduce intrinsic motivation (people’s interest in, or commitment to, what they’re doing).

Alas, too many parents, teachers, and managers persist in treating people like pets, offering the equivalent of a doggie biscuit to children, students, and employees in an effort to get them to jump through hoops. (Rewards are tools used by people with more power on those with less.) The more familiar you are with the mountain of research on this topic, the more depressed you’ll be to find, for example, that schools continue to rely on Skinnerian programs such as PBIS, Class Dojo, Accelerated Reader, and the like. It’s not just that they’re manipulative, or even that they’re ultimately unsuccessful. It’s that they’re actively harmful.

The early research on rewards investigated some intriguing subsidiary questions that stemmed from the central finding. To wit: What if the reward is really large and luscious? (That tends to compound the damage to intrinsic motivation.) Are rewards damaging mostly because they distract people from the task? (Apparently not, because other distractors don’t have the same negative effects.) What about verbal rewards? (Praise can be just as controlling and destructive as tangible rewards.) Which is worse, giving people a set reward for doing a task or making the reward contingent on how well they do it? (The latter, by a long shot.)[1]

And here’s one of my favorite spin-off questions: If saying “Do this, and you’ll get that” makes people less interested in the “this,” might it also make them more interested in the “that”? The late educational psychologist John Nicholls once quipped that the predictable result of “Book It!” — Pizza Hut’s edible reward-for-reading program — is to produce “a lot of fat kids who don’t like to read.” Too true: Children have been led to see reading not as something desirable in its own right, but as a means to an end, something you have to slog through to get the pepperoni payoff. But might the program also have the effect of enhancing the appeal of pizza just by virtue of framing it as a reward?

This was dubbed the “bonus effect” by a couple of researchers at the University of Colorado who tested the idea in four studies with kids of different ages.[2] They found limited support for the idea that an activity comes to seem more desirable to children who were allowed to engage in it as a reward: It depended on their age and on how familiar they already were with that activity. Two experiments by other researchers — which were focused mostly on whether rewards reduced interest in the target activity — also happened to look at what happened to interest in the reward itself. They found no effect.

Which brings us to what, as far as I know, is the first attempt to revisit this phenomenon in a long time. In a series of seven studies published just this month[3] — exactly 30 years after the same journal featured the Colorado researchers’ findings — two psychologists at Northwestern University’s School of Management used adults as subjects and money as the reward (in six of the seven experiments).

What they found was both straightforward and remarkably consistent: When people are promised a monetary reward for doing a task well, the primary outcome is that they get more excited about money. This happens even when they don’t meet the standard for getting paid. And when a reward other than money is used — raffle tickets for a gift box, in this case — the effect is the same: more enthusiasm about what was used as an incentive.

The researchers also discovered that financial rewards for good performance boosted interest in money more than financial rewards just for participating in the experiment. The more closely a reward is conditioned on how well one has done something, the more that people come to desire the reward and, as earlier research has shown, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward. One of the new studies proved this was true not only in laboratory simulations but also in a real workplace: Monitoring salespeople at a car dealership convinced the researchers that people subjected to performance-based pay “may become more materialistic and less charitable over time.”

Other research has shown that rewards not only reduce people’s interest in what they’re doing but also adversely affect the quality of their performance. When we’re led to focus on getting an A, a bonus, or some other payoff for doing well, we tend to do more poorly on the task — a finding that holds true regardless of age, type of reward, or what we we’re doing (although rewards’ destructive effect on performance is most pronounced for tasks that require creativity or sophisticated problem solving). It’s long been assumed that quality drops because interest drops. But the Northwestern researchers speculated that quality may also suffer from the enhanced interest in, and attention to, the grade or money being dangled in front of people.

The most obvious practical significance of this new research concerns pay-for-performance schemes in the workplace, including bonuses and merit pay. Earlier studies had already shown that compensating people this way makes them less excited about the work they do every day. But it also apparently creates a greater focus on money (compared to other goals and values). And the studies may also be relevant to education. If we try to justify certain instructional approaches by saying they’ll raise test scores, we’re devaluing those approaches while simultaneously elevating the importance of test scores. The same is true of education research that uses test results as the dependent variable.

Also, as I argued not long ago, the same double whammy applies when education itself is justified in economic terms: Students’ engagement declines and their materialistic values — already a dominant feature of our acquisitive culture — may rise. At one stroke we’re teaching them to hate learning and to love money.

The more general conclusion from the new research might be summarized as follows: If the question is “Do rewards motivate people?” the answer is “Sure — they motivate people to get rewards.”

______________________________________________________________

NOTES

1. I discuss, and provide citations to, all of this research in my book Punished by Rewards (Houghton Mifflin, rev. ed. 1992).

2. Ann K. Boggiano and Deborah S. Main, “Enhancing Children’s Interest in Activities Used as Rewards: The Bonus Effect,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 51 (1986): 1116-26.

3. Julia D. Hur and Loran F. Nordgren, “Paying for Performance: Performance Incentives Increase Desire for the Reward Object,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 111 (2016): 301-16.

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A 68-word story

And there was the day Tyler asked me if he could ‘do a play’. Sure, I’ll just go and get my writing book and a pen.  Tyler fetched a large sheet of drawing paper, and the red, blue, green, black, a…

Source: A 68-word story

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Starting school

This morning I  chatted with a dad whose 3-year-old child was about to board a school bus to go to his preschool in a public school district. The little boy had never set eyes on his new teacher, nor had the parents.

Why would a school think this is okay? First of all, this little boy had the advantage of having taken the bus to the same school for the summer (not the same teacher however). So that helped. But what about other children, who have never been on a bus? What about the teacher and parents?

As a teacher, I felt that meeting and getting to know parents was a crucial part of my practice and benefited the children immeasurably. I wanted to see parents each day, to chat with them, to share a story about something their child discovered or created. I was also available to parents so that they could keep me posted on any concerns or about happy family news. As a parent of a preschooler and kindergartner, I wanted to know the teacher, be familiar with the classroom, the school’s philosophy and to meet other parents. We were lucky to find a preschool that made a point of embracing parents and fostering strong relationships among children, families and staff. The children knew that the teachers and families were “friends.”

I understand that parents are working and cannot always be at the school for pick up, but what sort of culture is it that says 3-year-old children are “on their own” and relationships are not important? Have we completely lost sight of how young these children are and how important the family is? I just feel sad.

In contrast, an article about Finland.

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/08/how-finland-starts-the-school-year/497306/

 

 

 

 

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Failing Still to Address Poverty Directly: Growth Mindset as Deficit Ideology

Reporting in Education Week, Evie Blad explains: Having a growth mindset may help buffer students from low-income families from the effects of poverty on academic achievement, researchers found in …

Source: Failing Still to Address Poverty Directly: Growth Mindset as Deficit Ideology

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The “Should” and Should Not” of School

Ordinarily I avoid the use of the auxiliary verb “should.”  Somehow, during a stream of consciousness moment, I fell into this. Perhaps it’s a chant or a slam poetry piece.

School – It Should Not Be

 It should not be that

Children are made to feel embarrassed, humiliated, or shamed.

 It should not be that

Children fear making mistakes.

 It should not be that

Children have little time to talk and move.

It should not be that

Children sit for long periods of time.

 It should not be that

Children get only tiny bits of outdoor time in nature (if at all).

It should not be that

Children learn to respond, robot-like, to loud buzzers.

It should not be that

Children are deprived of art and music.

It should not be that

Children are fed unhealthy, unappetizing food.

It should not be that

Children eat their meals in a hurry or in silence.

It should not be that

Children are seen as receivers and not sharers of information.

It should not be that

Children’s ideas are not taken seriously.

It should not be that

Children are treated like numbers, rather than young human beings.

It should not be that

Children feel hungry, tired and restless.

It should not be that

Children are made to feel incompetent.

It should not be that

Children are told that learning must be hard.

It should not be that

Children are isolated or ignored.

 It should not be that

Children spend hours preparing for tests.

 It should not be that

Children are given standardized tests.

 It should not be that

Children are required to do homework.

It should not be that

Children are trained to learn in unnatural ways.

It should not be that

Children’s play is removed from learning.

It should not be that

Children sit in crowded, cluttered, dilapidated classrooms.

It should not be that

Children’s days are removed from their lives and community.

 It should not be that

Children must “cover their answers.”

 It should not be that

Children compete with their classmates.

School – It Should Be

It should be that

Children feel worthy, secure and safe.

It should be that

Children see mistakes as learning opportunities.

It should be that

Children spend most of their day involved in conversations as they create, solve problems, and inquire.

It should be that

Children move about their classroom, freely and intentionally.

It should be that

Children spend long periods outdoors in nature.

It should be that

Children experience human voices, quiet and nature sounds throughout their day.

It should be that

Children experience music and art every day.

 It should be that

Children eat nutritious, delicious food.

It should be that

Children’s meal times are relaxed and are opportunities for them to be together.

It should be that

Children openly share their ideas.

 It should be that

Children’s ideas are taken seriously.

It should be that

Children’s health, both emotional and physical, is always considered.

It should be that

Children’s needs are what drive schedules and routines.

It should be that

Children understand that learning is a life-long process.

It should be that

Children love learning and see its value to their lives.

It should be that

Children feel that they belong and are trusted.

It should be that

Children spend hours digging deep into what interests them.

 It should be that

Children and teachers, together, assess their learning.

 It should be that

Children spend time at home with family and at play.

 It should be that

Children’s learning is geared to the way they learn naturally.

It should be that

Children play—a lot.

 It should be that

Children experience comfortable, beautiful classroom environments.

It should be that

Children experience their community and their lives as part of their every day curriculum.

It should be that

Children help each other in sharing information and ideas—and answers.

It should be that

Children view each other as friends, helpers, and partners in learning.

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Another thoughtful piece from Alfie Kohn

July 21, 2016

Choice

By Alfie Kohn

Here are two ways to abuse an idea: You can invoke it to pursue your own objectives, shamelessly exploiting the favorable associations it has accumulated over many years. Or you can create a caricature of the idea and then pretend you’ve shown it to be flawed.

This pair of strategies has been used in various contexts — for example, to disparage progressive education[1] — but here I’d like to explore its application to the idea of choice. You may already have noticed that this word provides cover to bigots – those intent on discrimination or segregation. Racism is recast as freedom (from federal regulation). Likewise, Tea Partyers march behind the banner of “liberty.”

In the field of education, efforts to privatize schools represent the most conspicuous example of how choice can be used to promote a very different agenda. Vouchers, having been decisively rejected by voters in several states, were rebranded as “school choice” to make the notion sound more palatable. Conservatives have been doing this for so long, in fact, that the primary association many of us now have with the word choice (in the context of schooling) is not, say, giving kids a chance to make decisions about what they do in their classrooms. Rather, it refers to turning schools into commodities, pitting them against one another in an education marketplace.[2]

Surprisingly, the same bait-and-switch strategy is sometimes on display within classrooms. Some teachers have appropriated the idea of choice to justify the use of punitive discipline. In one variant of what might be called “pseudochoice,” a student is asked something like this: “Would you like to finish your worksheet now, or would you prefer to do it during recess? It’s up to you.” (Since few kids want to miss out on recess, this is actually just a threat disguised as a choice: The teacher is saying, “Do what I tell you, or I’ll take away something you enjoy.”) In another version, students who act in a way the teacher doesn’t like are accused of having “chosen” to break a rule. (The operative word emphasizes the supposedly deliberate nature of whatever they did, the idea being to rationalize the teacher’s punitive response.) Even more egregiously, the adult may announce that such a student has, for example, “chosen a time-out” — the implication being that, by doing something defined as inappropriate, he or she has asked to be punished. (A truthful teacher would say, “I’ve chosen to punish you.”)

*

Most people think choice is a good thing, so it’s not surprising that this word would become the linguistic lipstick applied to pigs like privatization and punishment. But it’s also possible to call the value of choice itself into question, to cast aspersions on the concept by giving it a different and less wholesome meaning. The latter strategy shows up in connection with the work of psychologists who argue that having more options is actually worse than having fewer.

Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper published an influential paper in 2000 — based on Iyengar’s dissertation at Stanford, before she went on to teach at a business school — demonstrating that people were less satisfied when they had two dozen or more types of jam (or chocolate) from which to choose as compared to when they were offered only six varieties. The same basic idea, that lots of choice can be counterproductive, also features prominently in the work of psychologist Barry Schwartz.

Of course, the fact that some people are overwhelmed by having too many options doesn’t mean that choice, per se, is a bad thing. But the limits of this line of research — and the attendant warnings that choice isn’t always desirable — aren’t limited to that obvious reminder. A few other questions are also worth asking.

1. How meaningful are the choices? Iyengar’s study is about shopping. The array of options among products for sale is often due to trivial variations: how much pulp is in the orange juice, how much RAM is in the laptop. In fact, the choices offered to consumers may be even more of a charade in light of the fact that, to cite just one example, you can pick Tide, Gain, or Cheer laundry detergent but your money goes to the same company in all three cases. When we’re faced with distinctions without a difference (in commodities or, for that matter, in political candidates), Iyengar may have a point. But the idea that we’d do better with less choice is far less persuasive when our options differ in more substantive ways.

2. Are we talking only about individual choosers? The neoclassical economic model of rationality is based on solitary actors. It would be misleading to generalize from this to a discussion of choice in classrooms, workplaces, families, or political forums where democratic decision making can occur: the give-and-take of a community whose members must listen to one another’s reasons and consider one another’s perspectives, devise compromises and struggle to reach consensus. Perhaps what’s really problematic isn’t choice but individualism.

3. Why is the scenario limited to a list of “options”? Even if fewer possibilities can seem simpler and more appealing, the ultimate in extensive choice — and perhaps the ideal arrangement — is one that’s open-ended. Do students’ heads spin when you tell them to “pick one of these 30 topics to write about”? Maybe, but that doesn’t entitle us to give them only five possible topics (or to conclude that choice backfires). What if, instead, we invited them to write about whatever topic they find interesting? That would offer more freedom than a long list and would also likely be received more favorably. Educationally speaking, it’s more important for kids to have the chance to engage in construction (of possibilities) than in selection (of items from a menu prepared by someone else).

4. Might it be worthwhile to grapple with possibilities even if it’s also challenging? We may feel overwhelmed by the number of possible outcomes. In some cases, we may eventually regret the decision we made. But that doesn’t mean there was no value in the process of deciding, at least when doing something more important than buying stuff. “The choice may have been mistaken,” as Stephen Sondheim has one of his characters sing, but “the choosing was not.” In a broader sense, Kierkegaard and Sartre reminded us, we ought to embrace our capacity to make decisions despite the burden it entails. You want to artificially limit the number of jams or detergents? Fine. But don’t draw sweeping conclusions about “excessive choice.” To try to escape our freedom (in Erich Fromm’s phrase) by ceding it to authority figures, or by attributing moral precepts to supernatural forces in an effort to deny we have that freedom in the first place, is to live an inauthentic life.

5. Have we confused autonomy with selection? From a psychological perspective, the sort of choice that’s most beneficial — indeed, the sort whose absence causes real problems — is an experience of autonomy or volition: the capacity to steer your life and have a meaningful impact on what happens to you. The possibility of suffering cognitive overload when presented with too many options isn’t really an argument against choice in that more meaningful sense. Conversely, the provision of superficial choices can’t redeem an activity that fails to support, and may even dilute, real autonomy.[3]

Anyone who warns about the dangers of too much choice may be using the term in a truncated, trivial sense – rather like condemning progressive education after defining it as “letting children play all day in school.” Likewise, a questionable definition may explain why some researchers — including Iyengar and Lepper in another paper — argue that choice may be advantageous only in individualistic cultures. Sure, it’s always worth checking our assumptions for unexamined cultural biases. But in this case, if choice is understood as autonomy, researchers have shown that it doesn’t seem to matter whether we live in the West or the East. The benefits of autonomy — and the harms of being controlled — prove robust even in collectivist cultures.[4]

As long as we’re talking about choice in the most meaningful sense of the term, warnings about its undesired effects generally prove misconceived. And once we’ve rescued the idea, we have an obligation to make sure the word isn’t co-opted by people promoting entirely different practices.

 

NOTES

1. The first is employed by schools that are really quite conventional but find it advantageous to present themselves as progressive. The second is on display when, as I once described it, people “paint progressive education as a touchy-feely, loosey-goosey, fluffy, fuzzy, undemanding exercise in leftover hippie idealism — or Rousseauvian Romanticism.” That exercise makes a proud, research-backed tradition appear ridiculous in order that an unprogressive approach to education will appear to be the only sensible option.

2. “Choice” has also been used to frame a defense of teaching creationism alongside evolution, even in public schools. As one religious proponent put it, “Why not let people choose what they want their children to learn” regarding the history and diversity of life on earth? Moreover, these two examples appear to be related rather than simply parallel: The use of vouchers (“school choice”) seems to have facilitated efforts to teach theology posing as science.

3. Consider attempts to justify “gamification” – offering work or learning tasks in video game-like formats, complete with points, prizes, and contests — by claiming that players have control over which strategies to use or which levels of difficulty to attempt. In reality, this extremely circumscribed sort of choice mostly serves as a distraction from the reliance on extrinsic inducements and competition, which decades’ worth of research has shown to actively undermine meaningful autonomy (along with interest in the tasks themselves).

4. For a list of relevant studies, see my book The Myth of the Spoiled Child, p. 208n25.

 

 

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