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Why Don't Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom [Paperback]

Daniel T. Willingham
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 15 2010
Easy-to-apply, scientifically-based approaches for engaging students in the classroom

Cognitive scientist Dan Willingham focuses his acclaimed research on the biological and cognitive basis of learning. His book will help teachers improve their practice by explaining how they and their students think and learn. It reveals-the importance of story, emotion, memory, context, and routine in building knowledge and creating lasting learning experiences.

  • Nine, easy-to-understand principles with clear applications for the classroom
  • Includes surprising findings, such as that intelligence is malleable, and that you cannot develop "thinking skills" without facts
  • How an understanding of the brain's workings can help teachers hone their teaching skills

"Mr. Willingham's answers apply just as well outside the classroom. Corporate trainers, marketers and, not least, parents -anyone who cares about how we learn-should find his book valuable reading."
—Wall Street Journal


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Why Don't Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom + When Can You Trust the Experts: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education + Teacher Proof: Why research in education doesn't always mean what it claims, and what you can do about it
Price For All Three: CDN$ 58.47

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Review

"Corporate trainers, marketers and, not least, parents---anyone who cares about how we learn---should find his book valuable reading." ---The Wall Street Journal --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

Review

"Just like his Ask the Cognitive Scientist column, Dan Willingham's book makes fascinating but complicated research from cognitive science accessible to teachers. It is jam packed with ideas that teachers willfind both intellectually rich and useful in their classroom work."
—Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers

"This readable, practical book by a distinguished cognitivescientist explains the universal roots of effective teaching and learning. With great wit and authority it practices the principles it preaches. It is the best teachers' guide I know of—a classic that belongs in the book bag of every teacher from preschool to grad school."
—E. D. Hirsch, Jr., university professor emeritus, University of Virginia

"Dan Willingham, rare among cognitive scientists for also being awonderful writer, has produced a book about learning in school that readslike a trip through a wild and thrilling new country. For teachers and parents, even students, there are surprises on every page. Did you know, for instance,that our brains are not really made for thinking?"
—Jay Mathews, education columnist,The Washington Post

"Educators will love this wonderful book—in clear and compelling language, Willingham shows how the most important discoveries from the cognitive revolution can be used to improve teaching and inspire students in the classroom."
—John Gabrieli, Grover Hermann Professor of Health Sciences,Technology and Cognitive Neuroscience, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"Scientists know so much more than we knew thirty years ago about how children learn. This book offers you the research, and the arguments,that will help you become a more effective teacher."
—Joe Riener, English teacher, Wilson High School, Washington, D.C.


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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars An explanation of how memory works June 22 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book goes into many examples of how our memory works and how to consider the traditional learning practice and how they are impacted by memory. It is written in fairly basic terms that are easy to understand - as a teacher, I found it was a quick read that reviewed most of what I already knew. Nothing earth shadering - but important to remember as a teacher to engage students as effectively as possible.
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Daniel Willingham addresses several key questions regarding the validity of the educational experience. This book is an easy to read, yet academically sound, examination of current trends in education that dispels many common understandings about subjects like multiple intelligences and learning styles. Highly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Practical Guide to Teaching June 20 2009
By Coach C TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
I really enjoyed reading this book, Willingham is a Harvard trained psychologist but he avoids a lot of the jargon, spares us the psycho-babble, and instead provides practical pedagogy guidelines for us teachers on how to harness the potential cognition of our students.

I won't give them away, but as Willingham says himself, most of his conclusions and guidelines are more or less common knowledge, but the beauty of the book is in the way he is able to communicate it -- he does so in a very straightforward manner with good use of visuals. He uses good examples to illustrate his points.

Overall, I highly recommend this book for anyone studying educational psychology, or anyone in the K-12 teaching field.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for teachers Jan. 8 2011
Format:Paperback
As an educator I find this book to be an extremely important for my own professional development and I would go so far as to say it should be required reading for all teachers. The contents of this book, however, are not just for educators. This book, written in easy to read layman's terms, is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the way the human brain works and the implications of that on our daily lives.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  115 reviews
201 of 208 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Neceesary and Helfpful Shattering of Some Education Myths. April 21 2009
By Kevin Currie-Knight - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If you are a teacher, like myself, you have doubtless been inundated by advice about teaching to multiple intelligences, active (rather than passive) learning, teaching students to think rather than memorize facts, etc. If so, then you can't afford to pass up this book, which will provide a very helpful guide as to why some of these well-intentioned ideas are wrong, and what it means for you as a teacher.

Dan Willingham's Why Don't Students Like School? is a book applying findings of cognitive psychology to the world of education. Sound a lot like Eric Jensen and his wildly popular book Teaching With the Brain in Mind? Well, unlike Jensen - who educators hear a lot about - Willingham is a PhD in cognitive psychology (while Jensen, who has a bachelors in English, is "working towards" a PhD from an online university, while making his real living as a motivational speaker). Long and short: Willingham is the real deal and I move to suggest that this book infinitely deserves more popularity amongst educators than anything Jensen has written.

Willingham's basic theme is that, despite everything you've heard, nothing works to increase student ability like factual learning and practice. In fact, one of his first ideas is to point out that what seperates the excellent student (or adult) from those performing less well is their ability to recall facts. The more facts you know about your subject, the more you can understand your subject because of significantly less energy spent on fact recall or retention. With facts learned to automaticity, more time can be spent on higher-order concept learning, and once that becomes automatic....etc.

While that may sound mundane, think of how many times you as a teacher have heard the idea of "rote memorization" and "regurgitation of fact" denegrated. Of course, Willingham is not advocating the strawman position that teachers do nothing but drill, drill, drill and enforce memorization of text passages. (No one actually holds that position!) What he reminds us, though, is that the critical thinking we hear so much about teaching our kids simply CANNOT happen without giving kids the requisite background info that must be employed to think critically. (One cannot critically reflect on whether the revolutionary war was justified without some big factual understanding of Colonial American and Empirial Britian, for example.)

Another big idea in educaiton that Willingham works to dispel is the idea that we all have different learning styles - auditory, visual, kinesthetic, etc. Cognitive science, in fact, has shown the opposite: with minor variation, we all learn very similarly. While I may have a better memory for visual phemonena than you (who may be better at remembering sounds), we remember IDEAS not through the media in which they were delivered, but by...thinking about them. When memorizing words and definitions, we are not being asked to memorize sounds or visuals, but ideas, and the fact that I am an auditory or visual learner does nothing to predict what presentation method will help me memorize the best. (The amount I studied, of course, will.)

I don't want to give the impression that Willingham's book is about bashing education icons and maxims. It is not It is a book for teachers designed to bring up ideas we may not have thought about, and to suggest how to apply these ideas to our classrooms. Each chapter is focused around a question ("Is Drilling Worth It?" "Why is it So Hard for Students to Understand Abstract Ideas?") and gives a detailed, but engaging, answer. At the end of each chapter, the author makes several concrete suggestions for how the answer can shape how we teach as well as reccomendations for further readings.

All in all, this is one of the single best education books I have read, and cannot wait to share it with fellow educators. As mentioned, I sincerely hope that this book becomes as widely devoured as those by Eric Jensen and Howard Gardner. Willingham offers a valuable and very constructive counterpoint, especially to Jensen's "brain based ways of learning."
219 of 229 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Don't They Teach This Stuff in Ed School? March 20 2009
By James J. OKeeffe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Factual knowledge must precede skill. Rote learning and memorization are valuable teaching strategies. Teaching to "multiple intelligences," "learning styles," and individual student interests is a waste of time. Is this really a cognitive psychologist talking?

The answer is yes, and Dr. Willingham should be knighted for flouting some of the most persistent lies about what constitutes "best practice" in the classroom these days. I just attended the ASCD's national conference in Florida last week, and while there was much blathering about brain research, teaching to the "whole child," and professional learning communities (the latest cult movement among education bureaucrats), there was precious little discussion about substantive teaching. In just 165 pages, Dr. Willingham presents more useful information than I've managed to glean in ten years of teacher-training, and he does so in a user-friendly, non-dogmatic style that can be read in one sitting.

Most useful are the nine organizing principles, which are both memorable and quotable (like any smart rhetorician, Willingham begins with his most startling fact: the brain is designed not to help us think, but rather to help us avoid thinking), the quick lists of classroom implications at the conclusion of each chapter, and the bibliographical citations categorized by "less technical" and "more technical." Rather than using cognitive research to justify some hotly promoted fad or gimmick, Dr. Willingham presents the most consistent research findings, all of which tend to confirm things that the best and most experienced teachers already know to be true--e.g. the effectiveness of using narratives to dramatize and illustrate important concepts, a "best practice" that's been around since at least the time of Christ.

In the current professional culture of education, searching for honest information about cognitive psychology--that is, information free of commercial or ideological bias--is like searching for a fast-food restaurant that doesn't use trans-fat. Thanks to Dr. Willingham for delivering the goods.
45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Facts, Facts, Facts July 8 2009
By Katharine Beals - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Every once in a while, an empirical study comes along that provides solid evidence against one of those Constructivist practices that some of us whose thoughts on education come more from actual practice than from education theory have often been skeptical about. There is, for example, Jennifer Kaminski's Ohio State study, which suggests that too much of a focus on "real-world" math obscures the underlying mathematics, such that students are unable to transfer concepts to new problems.

Dan Willingham's book Why Don't Students Like School presents a whole bunch of these experimental results. Together, they challenge the notions that:

1. Students need to learn inquiry, argumentation, and higher-level thinking *rather than* tons of facts.
2. Integrating art into other subjects enhances learning; so does integrating computer technology.
3. Children learn best through self-guided discovery.
4. Drill is kill. Multiple strategies in a given lesson are better than a single strategy practiced multiple times.
5. Students learn best when constructing their own knowledge.
6. The best way to prepare students to become scientists and mathematicians is to teach them to solve problems the way scientists and mathematicians do.

The empirical data that Willingham cites show that, in fact:

1. Factual knowledge, lots of it, is a prerequisite to higher-level thinking.
2. Students are most likely to remember those aspects of a lesson that they end up thinking about the most. Corollary: Incorporating art or computer technology into another subject may sometimes cause students to think about the art or the technology more than the lesson content, such that they don't retain the latter.
3. Discovery learning should be reserved for environments where feedback about faulty strategies is immediate: "If students are left to explore ideas on their own," Willingham writes, they may "remember incorrect 'discoveries' as much as they will remember the correct ones."
4. In Willingham's words, "it is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task," or master underlying, abstract concepts, "without extended practice."
5. Unlike experts in a field, "students are ready to comprehend but not create knowledge."
6. Novices don't become experts by behaving like experts do. "Cognition early in training," Willingham writes, "is fundamentally different from cognition late in training."

Of course, Willingham could be making all this up. But consider just one of his empirical claims:
"Data from the last thirty years lead to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts... The very processes that teachers care about the most--critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving--are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is stored in long term memory..."

This is a strong statement that could easily be debunked by anyone who knows the empirical literature. There are plenty of highly articulate, outspoken people out there who don't like what Willingham has to say, but I haven't seen a single critical review that contradicts his empirical claims.

Of course, if all that matter in life are inquiry, argumentation, and "higher-level" thinking *rather than* lots and lots of facts, one can say whatever one wants to about Why Children Don't Like School.
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, practical book on how to optimize teaching April 8 2009
By P. Miller - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Teachers and parents: Imagine you could sit down with a cognitive scientist and ask him to explain how students' brains learn, so that you could better teach them. Dan Willingham has written a book which achieves that very effect.

In an engaging and conversational style, the author brings cognitive science results to bear on our "common knowledge" about teaching, and turns our common assumptions upside down. For instance, the brain is not designed to think. Furthermore, the popular concept of visual-auditory-kinesthetic learners has no basis in fact.

Dr. Willingham explains cognitive research findings, and discusses how teachers can practically apply these results in the classroom. He peppers his book with illustrations and real life examples, which prevent the material from coming across as dry.

Some of the most profound ideas come in the final chapters: we should not praise a child for being "smart", but rather praise effort. Why? Because intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work. Children who are slow learners can often overcome shortcomings through harder effort. This has important implications for both teachers and parents.

He also gives practical advice for improving your teaching [because, like intelligence, teaching skill--and performance--can be improved with practice]. A great example is to find another teacher to work with, and videotape yourselves in the classroom. Then, you can both analyze teaching performance (in a supportive way).

For anyone who is interested in becoming a better teacher, or for parents who are interested in having their children learn optimally, I highly recommend this book. I am already buying copies for friends!
52 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Read Book for Teachers and Parents March 9 2009
By Lisa Hansel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Dan Willingham's Why Don't Students Like School? is a terrific book. He makes the research on how students think and learn easy to understand. The chapter on memory would be helpful to anyone, and the chapter on increasing intelligence through hard work is heartening. He also settles an old debate in education about whether to teach content or skills by showing that we have to do both because critical thinking depends on knowledge.
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