Speaking of motivation, clearly I've been a little unmotivated to write lately. It's embarassing when you post your goals for all the world to see and you still don't achieve them. Luckily, there's Alfie Kohn; no matter how uninspired I might feel to write, he always piques a reaction from me.
This article, "How to Create Nonreaders: Reflections on Motiavtion, Learning, and Sharing Power", presents the thesis that schools squelch students motivation to read by offering incentive and punishment, by assigning finite amounts of reading, by focusing on reading skill, and by assigning particular texts, among other things. Any English teacher can read those items and see the counter argument to Kohn's thesis, but I'll get to that momentarily. Let's start with the positives: I love the idea of giving, and Kohn's article served as a reminder about a trap I'm prone to fall into: "It takes insight and guts to catch oneself at what amounts to an exercise in pseudodemoncracy. Keeping hold of power--overtly for traditionalists, and perhaps more subtly fr those of us who thin oruselves as enlightened progressives--is a [heck] of a lot easier than giving it away". I joke with students that my classroom is "my dictatorship" (quoth a colleague of mine), but this statement is, of course, in jest and is always accompanied by a large smile and a chuckle; I want my students to feel empowered and that I value their ideas and opinions. I am sure I don't always do as well as I could communicating this value, and appreciate Kohn's reminder. I especially love the idea of students generating ideas for texts. Practical questions, such as who is purchasing these books my students choose, enter my mind, but I love the philosophy. I also find tremendous value in free reading, but struggle with its implementation (more on this later). Conversely, I struggled with the idea of assigning pagination as a de-motivator; Kohn postulates that giving students a finite number of pages or amount of time to read takes away from reading's joy. Although I certainly understand why this might be true, I wonder what my class time looks like if I don't assign students a certain number of pages to read as the pages I assign drive the next day's instruction and learning goals. Further, Kohn argues that teaching literary terms is a purposeless and, moreover, demotivating exercise and that assessing students' learning also hinders students love of reading. So I can't assign a certain number of pages to read and that cannot be my lesson plan, nor can assessing their learning--discussing, writing, activities, etc.--, nor can teaching literary terms. So do we just do free reading every day? Beyond just this practical level where I contest Kohn's thesis, I also struggle to understand WHY all of these are demotivators. I know that not every student was like me when I was in high school, nor is my schooling experience comparable with that of students now, but I was a "victim" of this so-called demotiavting system, and I relish in the study of literary terms, I absolutely love to read. I end, then, with 3 questions: who are these students who were not motivated without choice, but are now--without being assigned or assessed--going to voraciously read? what am I doing in class each day when I cannot discuss literature, nor teach skill, nor can I assess? How do we know all of these are, in fact, demotivators?