Wednesday, December 12, 2012

From a culture of performance to a culture of learning

Please consider taking 18 minutes and watch this video that features Alfie Kohn talking about the costs of overemphasizing achievement. I promise, you won't be disappointed.

ALFIE KOHN: "From a Culture of 'Performance' to a Culture of 'Learning'" | #PSP2012 (via @CurtisCFEE) from c f e e on Vimeo.

Here are a couple highlights:

  • There is a world of difference between getting kids to focus on their performance or achievement (how well they are doing) and getting them to focus on their learning (what they are doing).
  • Do we want children to get up in the morning and get excited about school because they want to learn something new or do we want them to get excited about getting an A and conquering their peers?
  • The questions teachers and parents ask children tells them what we consider to be most important. "What did you learn" and "did you ask any good questions today" are distinctly different than "what grade did you get on your project" or "is your homework done".
  • Do we want young children to focus on the cool stories and exciting characters or do we want them to focus on how good they are at reading?
  • Do we want to make a fetish out of meta-cognition where we have students obsessing over thinking about how well they are doing?
  • At what point are we overemphasizing performance and achievement?
  • An intense focus on achievement and performance comes at the expense of learning.
  • The purpose of education is more education.
  • Yes we want children to learn, but then that means we must care very deeply about whether children want to learn which means we must provide them with a learning environment that is worth learning.
  • Do we want kids to ask "am I better than I used to be" and "is this good enough" or do we want them to ask "how do things work that way" and "I wonder why the character acted that way"?
  • If you want to sabotage learning, we would not only get kids focused on how well they are doing, we would get kids to focus on how well they are doing compared to others.
  • Everyone loses in the raise to win.
  • The behaviour that we can measure and collect data on is not what matters most, and the more we focus on these behaviours that are easy to measure, the greater the chances we will miss what matters most in respect of learning.
  • How children rationalize their success matters more than their success.
  • Overemphasizing achievement and performance leads to neurotic perfectionism and an acute fear of failure.
Here are 6 consequences of an overemphasis on achievement and performance:
  1. Kids become less intrinsically interested in learning and learning becomes a chore.
  2. Children come to attribute their success and failure to ability rather than effort.
  3. Children will avoid challenging tasks to ensure higher achievement.
  4. Children crumble at the first sign of failure or setbacks.
  5. Children come to see their peers as obstacles to their own success.
  6. The more children are focused on their achievement the shallower their thinking.
If these are the effects of overemphasizing achievement what specific classroom practices and school policies would lead children to overemphasize achievement?


  1. It looks like the Vimeo video can't be embedded, Joe. You'll have to just link to it I guess.

  2. David, the link below the video will take you to Vimeo to view the video. Thanks.


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