I just finished reading Dan Willingham’s “Why Don’t Students Like School”. I have to admit throughout the book, I just felt as though I was missing something and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then as I reflected on the title “Why Don’t Students Like School” and believe it was much more provocative than the content. In my opinion Dr. Willingham wrote about how to use what has been learned about cognitive psychology in practical ways, focusing on the educational aspects. While he did briefly discuss why don’t students like school, it really was not the main idea of this book in my opinion. I guess my perceived disconnect between the title and the content was what threw me.
I did enjoy reading and found many of the ideas and possible solutions that he discussed to be practical and useable.
Something that Dr. Willingham states that will stick with me is the following quote:
“Sometimes I think that we, as teachers, are so eager to get to the answers that we do not devote sufficient time to developing the question.”, [Willingham, Daniel T., Why Don’t Students Like School]
This is one of my problem areas, I try too hard to get the students to the answer that sometimes I do not give them enough to to think about what questions they should be asking. I understand that I should be slowing down more in the classroom and allow more time for reflective questioning. I may need to teach this skill as many of my students do not know how to do it, but it is an important part of the learning process.
Dr. Willingham discusses the importance of background knowledge
“I’ve listed four ways that background knowledge is important to reading comprehension: (1) it provides vocabulary; (2) it allows you to bridge logical gaps that writers leave; (3) it allows chunking, which increases room in working memory and thereby makes it easier to tie ideas together; and (4) it guides “the interpretation of ambiguous sentences.”, [Willingham, Daniel T., Why Don’t Students Like School]
I have alway understood the need for background knowledge but did not fully grasp how important it was for comprehension of any/all subjects and how the lack of it negatively impacted my students. This book has given me a great deal more insight into the need for background knowledge that I didn’t have before.
“Children do differ in intelligence, but intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work.”, [Willingham, Daniel T., Why Don’t Students Like School]
I really agree with his premise that intelligence can be increased and that it is not a static thing, especially in my working with Special Education students who can and do dramatically increase what they can accomplish. I don’t downplay their disabilities, but I do believe that sometimes a condition of learned helplessness exists and students don’t know their actual capacity, if they applied themselves much more i.e. put more effort into their work.
Dr. Willingham has the following comments regarding teaching and/or teachers:
“Teaching, like any complex cognitive skill, must be practiced to be improved.”, [Willingham, Daniel T., Why Don’t Students Like School]
“First, we need to define practice. We’ve said that it’s more than engaging in the activity; you also have to try to improve. But how? First, practice entails getting feedback from knowledgeable people.”, [Willingham, Daniel T., Why Don’t Students Like School]
This is a huge item that many teachers do not understand or misunderstand that in order to continue to be a good teacher, but that we must practice in order improve our skills as teachers and I do like his definition of practice. I also believe very strongly that teachers need to stay current in both their content knowledge, but also in their pedagogy which from quickly looking into other teacher’s rooms may need some work as far as currency is concerned. What they did 10 years ago may not be as effective with today’s students.
There are many other items that Dr. Willingham discusses that are very pertinent to teaching and I recommend that other teachers read Dr. Willingham’s book. This book has a lot of great information in it and he cites a lot of research to support and defend his positions. I don’t know if I will take and/or use all of his ideas or suggestions, but there are quite a few that I will attempt to incorporate them into my teaching style and practice.
In closing I will leave you with the following quote from Dr. Willingham.
“Education is the passing on of the accumulated wisdom of generations to children, and we passionately believe in its importance because we know that it holds the promise of a “better life for each child, and for us all, collectively.”, [Willingham, Daniel T., Why Don’t Students Like School]
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