This is the continuation from Part 1 of How to Create a Non-Reader. If you missed Part 1, you might want to go back and read it or my comments will not make a lot of sense!
I will be upfront and say that I think his ideas would play out well when there is academic accountability and similar philosophy of education between administration, parents, and students. However, you'd be hard pressed to find that rare combination in most classrooms. Here are my thoughts from my perspective as a former English teacher as to how his ideas would look in a regular classroom. A lot of my responses may seem like I am putting a lot (perhaps too much) responsibility on the teacher and little on students and parents, but that is unfortunately what's expected of a teacher these days so that is how my responses are couched; they are borne out of my own teaching experiences.
1. Quantify Their Reading Assignments -- I completely agree that reading should not be confined to page numbers (I have already discussed that here), but when you're teaching in a large classroom setting what choice do you have? How can a teacher realistically expect consistent reading from all students, especially from those who have already decided they are non-readers and whose parents don't encourage reading? How does a teacher have a discussion and give grades to students (as he/she is required to do) assuming they have all read? Some will sink and some will swim. Many parents will yell.
2. Make them write reports --I think unstructured reports that lack purpose can be deadly, but something that reinforces or expands on what you're learning in the book is not altogether harmful. Maybe the problem is in the semantics -- I would call them projects, not reports. A project can have a much wider scope in creativity than just getting up in front of the class like show and tell or plagiarizing several Amazon book reviews. I would think there's great potential for student innovation for certain projects because they offer something for each learning style. I think teachers have to critically evaluate how many projects they do in a given school year, the purpose behind them, and not let them overshadow other important areas in their subjects.
3. Isolate Them -- Literature circles tend to work well for books if you have people who have read the material, somewhat comprehend it, and generally have something of value to say when they say it (even if it's infrequently -- we aren't all extroverts). To read several novels in a public school year you can't do literature circles often unless your students are highly motivated. I'll give Kohn the benefit of the doubt and assume he doesn't mean it's an everyday option. Not all students want to both share their opinion and read the assigned material. Since teachers are forced to evaluate everyone equally, I fear that in typical large classrooms the literary circle(s) would devolve into setting a lot of parameters to make sure everyone made some kind of meaningful contribution, but never actually knowing what each student took away because you're busy trying to evaluate everyone. I won't say throw the baby out with the bath water (because it's certainly worth attempting), but I did think it was odd that he was comparing his reading group (i.e. adults who love to read) with a classroom of teenagers who may or may not want anything to do with reading. Not apples to apples.
4. Focus on Skills -- Justin says that the love of reading has to come before many of the technicals. Kind of like how you learn to speak. You learn to speak first by being immersed in language and THEN learn the rules of grammar. I agree. Again though, what if they're reading at a 6th grade reading level in high school? I'd love to see some practical ideas for remediation.
5. Offer Them Incentives --I imagine that a lot of elementary school teachers probably don't like #5. My initial thought was about those who would read lots of books even without incentive, but Kohn would say they already have intrinsic motivation so why muddle it with rewards. He says we over-praise and over-bribe our children in America. I agree with his psychological premise that we are sending the wrong message to students, but what to do for the non-readers? Logistically, the school needs everyone reading at a certain age (whether that's a good idea or not is a discussion for another day) and for many students who come from homes that don't enforce after-school reading, they will eventually get passed on whether or not they can actually read fluently. Sadly, I saw several of those students at the high school level. Do you just say you can't reach them all and let them sink?
6. Prepare Them For Tests --100% agree on this one. Teaching to a test is an atrocity. It's required by so many school districts when it's detrimental to both the teachers (sucks the joy out of teaching, stifles creativity) and the students (learning is only a means to an end).
7. Restrict Their Choices -Given the volume and specificity of curriculum standards, I think the only way for a teacher to do this is to try and incorporate student choices as he/she looks over the curriculum (Kohn would probably say even this is too "teacher-controlled"). I think every good teacher is constantly evaluating their curriculum and how they can draw student creativity and engagement.
As for his last points about student-teacher collaboration, I admit I am a little torn. When I think back on my high school the classes I enjoyed and inspired me the most were either:
1. My junior and senior honors classes where we had more of say in things (just as he suggests). Those classes really felt like "family" because they were smaller and everyone was more motivated. An introverted teacher can do well here because of the depth of content they can provide.
2. The classes where there was a seasoned extrovert in charge (note I said seasoned extrovert because a lazy extrovert = story time with Coach so-and-so). As teenagers, we didn't care that we didn't have as much of a say because everything we did we were actually learning and had fun; those teachers had it down to a science.
However, too many classrooms run solely top down which leads to some of the burnout he's talking about. I also take into consideration that all teachers have a worldview that inherently informs their teaching. In some cases that's definitely a good thing (consider a compassionate teacher who can be a witness to students with little stability at home and with peers), but in many others it's downright scary (a teacher who uses his position to spew his political views and calls it educational content). Parents have no control over what worldview any given teacher has and how that influences his class.
However, I think it blurs the authority line a little too much in a regular classroom to do as much student-teacher collaboration as he's calling for in his examples. Kohn would probably say it's because I'm stuck in a top down mentality, but I question how you can be a mentor if you don't establish some kind of authority and a purpose for your college degree (i.e. what makes you different from them) in large classroom settings which are generally the norm. Is he suggesting that students will automatically respect you and then you can ease right on into collaboration? I think if I, as a high school teacher at the age of 22, came in asking for that much collaboration from students, I would have gotten mowed over. How does it work when you have several classes of 30 kids all with different reading levels, abilities and backgrounds? It seems like there would be too many differing opinions and resistant attitudes to make it work all the time. Would a teacher receive support from his administration and parents to even implement his approach?
That being said, I think his ideas would be ideal for a small co-op class or perhaps a small honors class. In smaller groups you could reach consensus faster, have generally mature responses, and have more time to explore options. Obviously, his ideas could work well in homeschooling, too.
Summary: I think his ideas make great sense and have much merit (I plan to use them here at home) to try and implement, but I don't see how they can work well beyond small and/or motivated groups of students. Kohn, like a lot of theorists, seems to be better at diagnosing the problem than coming up with workable solutions for his audience.
Am I being overly cynical about his ideas as they apply in the typical classroom? Do I need to watch Dangerous Minds to snap out of it? Think back to your own education or teaching career and weigh in!