Alfie Kohn vs. Fred Jones

I found this email from Jim Tripp in the 2009 labyrinthe:
I’m reading Alfie Kohn’s book “Punished by Rewards” right now, and I just finished reading something that has left me unsure about the current Fred Jones craze that is sweeping some people off of their feet.
Perhaps it is the most effective practice that allows us to carry out our goals in the classroom. Perhaps not. I don’t really know. You have cited Kohn and it seems that you respect his integrity as a thinker.
I would like to copy a paragraph that condemns the practice of “collective rewards” and if you have any thoughts please share. Thanks!
“But competition is only one variation on the behaviorist theme that practically guarantees enmity. The other is the deployment of a collective reward. ‘If all of us stay on our very best behavior,’ intones the teacher… ‘we will have an ice cream party at the end of the day!’ (Insert here PAT at the end of the week in this case) …An excited murmur in the room soon fades with the realization that any troublemaker could spoil it for everyone else. This gambit is one of the most transparently manipulative strategies used by people in power. It calls forth a particularly noxious sort of peer pressure rather than encouraging genuine concern about the well-being of others. And pity the poor child whose behavior is cited that afternoon as the reason that ‘the party has been, I’m sorry to say, boys and girls, canceled.’ Will the others resent the teacher for tempting and then disappointing them, or for setting them against one another? Of course not. They will turn furiously on the designated demon. That, of course, is the whole idea: divide and conquer.” (pg. 56)
I responded to Jim:
Yes, it is about controlling them. Is it necessary? I would never call Kohn overly idealistic, but at what point do we address the practicality of his argument? Like Jim says, I really don’t know.
My reaction to this is that it goes a long way in explaining why  kids often hate, or, at best, merely put up with, their days in school. Is it because the teachers who can survive in school are often able to survive by adopting a veneer of control, which teaching style is very anti Alfie Kohn and very pro Fred Jones?
If making school classrooms work requires control via rewards as per Fred Jones, perhaps it is the most effective practice that allows us to carry out our goals in the classroom.
I do know that Fred Jones doesn’t work for me. All my attempts at control extrinsically have failed. All my attempts at staying in what might call the “simplicity of flow” have worked. Keeping them in the language all the time and talking about them in humorous and admiring ways all week is the secret ingredient in my strongly disciplined classroom. I did not go into teaching to learn to manipulate teenagers. I believe in their goodness.
I love this motto from St. Mary’s Hall in San Antonio, and it will be the key to my approach to teaching, the inner thought that will weave and inform all of my instruction next year:
…teach me delight in simple things….
Why have I decided to base all of my teaching next year on this one sentence? Because, as we all are, I am very tired from all of the mental warfare in all six of the buildings I have taught in in my career. I just can’t “figure things out” anymore. I have figured it out. The answer to all my questions about teaching and discipline and everything else in teaching is comprehensible input, which is a very, very simple thing. I’m with Alfie and Flow.
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11 thoughts on “Alfie Kohn vs. Fred Jones”

  1. I believe that my work as a teacher is not to control students but facilitate their learning process in order that they learn self control. When I give them rewards like Brownies on Friday for just doing what they are supposed to–acting sanely, I cannot expect that they really have behaved because of their own choice.
    I believe people do not actually want things–they want relationships. The classroom is a prime space for building relationships through the community that gathers. Giving young people honest compliments–“you struggled to learn how to ask for help today, Kate, but eventually Stephanie told you she’d help fold the laundry. Way to go!” One Stephanie by answering my request built my confidence, my struggle to get the words finally out right was a personal joy, and my teacher acknowledging it while my classmates cheered was better than any gold star or pack of M&Ms you could place in front of me.
    I have seen this work countless times with all ages. Relationships versus rewards is key! And TPRS/CI classrooms do that!

  2. I really like Fred Jones EXCEPT for the PAT. When I teach my classroom management workshop, I always say that I think that everything in Fred Jones is good except for PAT. I disapprove of PAT. It is flawed because it is simple behaviorism. Nevertheless, I required that my student teachers read his book and observe my teaching for the specific skills he advocates: room arrangement, teacher movement and posture– use of proximity, calm not speed, silence not arguing, giving choices, assigning responsibility to students, practicing appropriate behavior, assuring students can assume responsibility for their learning, etc. It is a fine book and it has many helpful tips for teachers.

      1. I was also wondering if you would include “pagames” in with “PAT” as not such a great idea?? I have heard a lot of teacher talk about using Pagames successfully.

      2. I thought that I had made up the Love Bank but evidently the germ of the idea came 35 years ago when I read Teaching with Love and Logic for the first time! Jim Fay was very influential in making me become more sensitive. Later when I re-read his book, I discovered that I must have stolen the concept from him and then adapted it and called it the love bank!

  3. I just purchased and have read the first few chapters of the book “The Homework Myth” by Alfie Kohn because Krashen mentioned it less than a week ago on his blog. Great book. I remember that at my first TPRS conference in 2007 Blaine Ray said that we should give homework if we want our students to get a lower grade. Another downside for foreign language instruction is that it usually means that there must be some significant class time devoted to checking the homework and this of course takes away from any time devoted to delivering comprehensible input.

  4. What I took away from The Homework Myth were the following:
    1. No homework should be the default setting
    2. Whenever homework is given, it needs to be justified, i.e. it accomplishes something that cannot be done in class
    3. “Homework” should be things that students are able to do on their own and can enjoy
    Here are some things I do as a result
    1. Rarely give homework
    2. Assign culture projects as “homework” – students can do them in English, they have a choice of projects, and they are doable alone
    3. Each year we inevitably get to likes, dislikes and favorite things in level 1 or 2. When we do, I assign a “worksheet” that asks in German for favorite music, favorite actor/actress, favorite class, favorite book, favorite film etc. The next day I read them in class in German (correcting and editing – and sometimes translating – as necessary), and the class tries to guess who it is. I always have a turn-in rate of nearly 100% on the due date, and those who didn’t get it in then quickly do so. We are, after all, talking about them. What I need to work on is using the answers more effectively as springboards to conversation. I don’t mind taking several days to go through these.
    (We also learn the Uwe Kind song “Was ist denn dein Lieblingsfach?” (What’s your favorite subject?)
    There is an old Shaker song that follows the theme of the quote in St. Mary’s Hall:
    ‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
    ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
    And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
    ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
    When true simplicity is gain’d,
    To bow and bend we shan’t be asham’d,
    To turn, turn will be our delight,
    Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

    A later, non-Shaker verse has been added. I think it powerfully reflects what many (most? all?) of us here are striving to attain in our classrooms:
    ‘Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,
    ‘Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,
    And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,
    Then we’ll all live together and we’ll all learn to say,
    ‘Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be,
    ‘Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of “me”,
    And when we hear what others really think and really feel,
    Then we’ll all live together with a love that is real.

  5. I know many teachers who offer collective rewards and collective punishments for student conduct–I myself have resorted to it (mostly the punishment part), but it has never sit well with me. I always end up thinking of the movie Full Metal Jacket, about basic training for Marines preparing for Vietnam. The sergeant would punish the whole group every time the overweight private could not complete a physical task (which. by the way, is impossible for him). Eventually they all conspire to beat him in the middle of the night while he sleeps. He ends up killing the sargeant and then himself. I see this as an extreme representation of Ben’s term “mental warfare.”

  6. I thought I would bump this post as it lines up with the discussion on SBG. Those who advocate SBG almost always agree with Alfie Kohn’s stance against homework, too.
    Again, SBG tries to separate grades from points and deadlines. The focus should be on what the kid knows and can do, not on how many days late the homework is and therefore how many points should be taken away.

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