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Author Alfie Kohn Gives San Roque School Symposium a Learning Lesson

Keynote speaker touts benefits of project-based learning to energize and excite students

San Roque School’s Garden Street Academy echoed with laughter and was illuminated with enthusiasm last week as educators united for a common concern — education. The independent school welcomed renowned author Alfie Kohn in its first educational forum, the Symposium on Authentic Learning.

Kohn, the author of 10 books on education and family relationships, voiced a paramount need to overturn traditional education, which he said is responsible for an anemic zest for knowledge and dry absorption of facts.

He emphasized that, in a time when conveniently administered standardized tests are relied upon to assess a student’s aptitude or progress, the nation’s school systems are in desperate need of a wakeup call. Kohn said he believes these “inauthentic assessments” are only placing students at a disadvantage. What the school system needs, he said, is a redirection to progressive education. This encompasses “learning by doing” — learning in which Kohn stated, “the process is valued, not just the product.”

Kohn encouraged teachers to implement progressive learning, or project-based learning, in their classrooms. He describes this as learning “in a context and for a purpose.”

He also attests that teachers must honor “spaciousness,” or allow enough time for information to sink in.

“One of the things I look for or listen for,” when visiting a classroom, he said, is “how many of the things that are being said are from one kid directly to the other kid ... as opposed to the teacher asking for an answer.”

As it turns out, the latter dominates classroom dialogue. Kohn passionately affirmed, “That’s a teacher-centered classroom ... therefore not really a learning-centered classroom.”

Moreover, Kohn assured that small groups must be the “default arrangement in classes” as they allow students to draw their own conclusions from fellow classmates’ viewpoints. This fosters what he called an “active construction of knowledge” unlike “mindless repetition of definitions.” This facilitates fact retention through the creation of a memorable learning experience, he said.

Even more, however, authentic learning requires both curriculum alignment and integration, he said, adding that curriculum must be harmonious with what students are interested in.

Kohn said he believes the way in which a lesson affects students’ desire to learn is “what matters most to progressive educators,” as children do better when they are excited about the subject matter.

He affirmed that this means teachers must be willing to “share power with the kids” and let them decide what to study because “the more control you have over your classroom, the less really learning is happening there.” Moreover, curriculum integration, or studying the same unit in different subjects, is key, he said. By relating different subjects through a shared topic, this enables students to make connections and grasp subjects more deeply.

Click here for more information on the nonprofit PK-12 San Roque School, or call 805.687.3717. San Roque School has two campuses, the Lower School at 3214 Calle Cedro and the Garden Street Academy at 2300 Garden St.

Noozhawk intern Victoria Kahmann will be a sophomore at the University of San Diego in the fall. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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