Yesterday, at Teacher’s Convention in Calgary, I heard Alfie Kohn speak. Although I’ve read articles he has written I had never seen him in person. If you ever get the chance to attend one of his lectures don’t walk, run, to see him!
He is passionate about children and teachers. He wants to keep classroom tasks authentic and connected to students’ lives. He is anti-grades and anti-testing but he doesn’t just leave it at that. He supports teachers as knowledgeable professionals who know their students best. He asserts that the research says, and I’ve been at several assessment sessions that support this position, that before high school there is no need to give grades or tests. A case can be made for high school simply because that is how colleges still admit students: partially on the basis of their grades. However, before grade 9 it is more beneficial to students’ learning if they aren’t given grades but are provided with timely and specific feedback. Although we need to assess and evaluate children we don’t need to do it at the expense of learning; there are other tools we can use to determine what students know, have learned, and where they might need to go next.
Kohn claims that the purpose of standardized testing, in the U.S. and Canada, is to control teachers and students. I couldn’t agree with him more. The threat of standardized tests looms over teachers and students like a heavy cloud. Since we know we have to administer these tests and that the scores are publicized we often end up teaching to the test. As a result, we end up compromising what is important and appropriate for children to learn based on their needs and interests at any given time.
I felt validated in what I do in my classroom and was one in an audience of over 1,000 people who stood up and gave him a standing ovation.