Alfie Kohn in Australia


On Monday 14th November, I had the pleasure of attending an event hosted by Templestowe College in Melbourne that featured US author, lecturer and controversial education thought leader and change maker Alfie Kohn.

This was the first time Alfie had been to Australia to personally share his wealth of knowledge on human behaviour, education and parenting. Aflie has written 14 books including:

The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing


The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools


The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards”


Some of the key (research based) statements/points Alfie made during his presentations that really took my attention included …

  • Rewards are counterproductive in learning
  • The best teachers do a lot of active listening rather than talking
  • The average US Classroom is excellent preparation for the really world, if you are planning to live in Nth Korea
  • Students need more of say in what they learn andhow they learn
  • Standardises testing is cramming forgettable facts into a test with little educational benefit.
  • Students learn to make good decisions by making decisions not by following directions.
  • Engagement is not being really compliant
  • One of the primary barriers to giving students a voice in their learning is the teacher’s need to be in control
  • Curriculum should be based around the individual students in your class and learning should be organised around the students own questions
  • An interdisciplinary approach in the classroom that features the Arts and effective Technology is always preferred.
  • Formal assessment criteria and rubrics are boring. Stuents should have a say over theior assement.
  • The best teachers have teethmarks on tehir tong.
  • More than cover the curriculum it’s about discovering ideas.
  • The opposite to a collaborative classroom is a competitive classroom
  • Praise and reward can be a thinking stopper
  • Praising & criticising is about judging
  • Being a facilitator, doesn’t mean making things easier
  • You are going to need to know this for the test/exam/the future, is not a valid context or purpose for learning
  • Memorising the definition of terms doesn’t encourage thinking.
  • The best classrooms we interested in meaning not rigour
  • The best teachers rarely need to use tests
  • Text books should only be used as a resource, not as the curriculum
  • Reducing a student to a letter grade or number is actively descructive to all age groups
  • Students will choose the more challenge task if no grade is the outcome
  • No research has ever found any benefit to any kind of homework prior to High School
  • Homework may be the greatest extinguisher of the love of learning that exists


Alfie says progressive schools do:

  • navigate by student’s interests;
  • focus on deep understanding, not just knowing facts & figures;
  • encourage student to spend their time making meaning around ideas;
  • focused on interdisciplinary learning, based on projects, emphasis community not just self, look after others, cooperative and cross age opportunities are the norm; &
  • give students a lot of say about what is happening in the school and play a role in the design of the curriculum.

Alfie says progressive schools do not:

  • focus on standardised testing;
  • use text books, excepts as a resource like a dictionary;
  • use grades or marks;
  • use punishments, rewards and awards; &
  • do homework.

Tempelstowe College’s Co-Principals introducing Alfie Kohr

Special thank you to Templestowe College which is standing out in Australia as a progressive school which proudly aims to follow much of Alfie’s researched based philosophies. Check out the Ted Talk by Templestowe College’s Principal Peter Hutton.