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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
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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

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  1,264 ratings  ·  188 reviews
Easy-to-apply, scientifically-based approaches for engaging students in the classroomCognitive 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, a ...more
ebook, 240 pages
Published June 10th 2009 by Wiley (first published March 16th 2009)
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Lars Guthrie
The titular question might appear an opening to a rant against our educational system. Rest assured that Daniel Willingham is hardly scribbling out some angry screed. He’s thoughtful, and avoids polemic.

In fact, I hope I’m not oversimplifying when I say his basic answer is that students don’t like school because it’s hard.

If that sounds awfully facile, be aware that Willingham goes on to a knottier problem: What can we do about it?

What Willingham is really writing about is not student anathema,
...more
MCOH
This book reminded me a bit of Outliers; the author actually cites some of the same studies, and makes some similar points. Here, the primary audience is clearly K-12 teachers. The author takes the body of current cognitive science research, and applies it to the classroom, in a very quick, easy-to-read format.

Here were some of the ideas that I found the most interesting:

-People actually really enjoy solving problems, as long as those problems aren't too easy or too hard for them. Otherwise, it
...more
Shelley
After making my way through two teacher ed programs, I've heard a lot of the following:

"Your job as the teacher is to be a facilitator of learning. Be 'the guide on the side' instead of 'the sage of the stage!'"

"Don't write in red pen; it hurts students' feelings."

"If a student isn't responding to your writing instruction, it's probably because he's a kinesthetic learner. Have him make up a dance for every comma, and he'll be just fine!"

"Treat students like the experts they already are!"

"If stud
...more
Ben Babcock
Drumroll of irony, please: I bought this book because it was the required textbook for one of my education courses, Educational Psychology, and this is the first time I’ve opened it. Those of you who know me as a student will understand that this is uncharacteristic behaviour and might even suspect I’ve been replaced by a school-hating doppelgänger. In fact, Educational Psychology was one of very few courses that I disliked during my time at university, and it was entirely due to the professor’s ...more
Nathan
It's good. His premise is that students learn when they think about the meaning of what they're supposed to learn. Lessons should be structured around that. Repetition and drills have a purpose, one means of transferring short to long-term memory. There's far more evidence for malleable intelligence (you can do better if you work at it) than there is for multimodal learning styles (aural, visual, kinaesthetic, etc.).
Caroline
I absolutely loved this book. I think it should be a must read in teacher-training programs all over the country. For decades, people have expected teachers to have a background in child development to help them understand how to meet students where they are. As of yet, there is not as much of an emphasis on understanding cognitive science. However, cognitive science is way ahead of what teachers tend to know in terms of how people learn, and applying those experiments in the classroom can only ...more
Nelson Zagalo
If you’re a teacher, read this. If you’re a parent of kids in school age, read this. And if you nurture any interest about improving your cognitive skills, read this also.

After having read “Outliers: The Story of Success” (2008), “Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else” (2008) and “The Talent Code: Genius Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.” (2009), “Why Don't Students Like School?” (2009) was the missing key. Most of the books on talent and experts
...more
Jonathan Chen
The first part of the title is a bit misleading. The author doesn't really answer the question of why students don't like school. It should've been "why do some students struggle with learning?"

One of the key arguments made by Willingham is that students can improve through meaningful practice. The idea is that rote practice (i.e. meaningless practice) does not lead to improvement, such as driving or teaching, since there is no incentive to improve after an adequate level of expertise is reache
...more
edh
This is a must-read, and one to pass on to administrators, decision-makers, etc. Willingham establishes that prior knowledge is essential to the learning & critical thinking processes taught in school today, so I saw a lot of evidence backing up early childhood literacy programs here. If kids aren't exposed to lots of information early on, then they can hardly be expected to manipulate information when they're busy soaking it all in for the first time.

And this is in large part creating that
...more
Katie
Eight principles of cognition, along with their implications for education, are discussed:

1. The brain is not designed for thinking--we are not naturally good at it.
2. Rote memorization of facts IS necessary before deeper skill/thinking can occur.
3. We remember what we think about the most.
4. We understand new things by relating them to our prior knowledge.
5. To be proficient, we must practice, not just experience a task.
6. Novices and experts do not think in the same way.
7. Children are more al
...more
Amy
LOVED IT!!! Although I suppose one reason I loved it is because it took things I already believed and expanded upon them, but he did it so well and so convincingly that I am sure many other types of educators would enjoy it as well. His nine principals are based on plenty of research, so I definitely find him credible. I really want to show my students the section on practice; I always tell them homework is not punishment and this chapter shows scientifically why this is the case. I especially a ...more
Elizabeth
A book aimed at K-12 educators about cognitive science and its effects on student learning and behavior. To be perfectly frank, I expected this to be dry and not entirely relevant to my work as an academic instruction librarian, but I was wrong on both counts.

It's clear that Willingham is both a scientist and a teacher; he's remarkably good at explaining dense material, frequently reviewing the most important concepts, and using visuals and examples to reinforce learning.

As an instructor, I've
...more
Roger
This book basically reaffirms everything I believe about teaching, and runs counter to all of the educational gobblegook that is out there.
Jeff Bush
Incredible. Blows pop-psychology education myths out of the water. A must read for every educator.
David
1. People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking.
2. Factual knowledge must precede skill.
3. Memory is the residue of thought.
4. We understand new things in the context of things we already know, and most of what we know is concrete.
5. It is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extended practice.
6. Cognition early in training is fundamentally different from cognition late in tra
...more
Amy Brown
The title of this book is a bit of a mislead -- it's the title of the first of nine chapters, each dealing with a different lesson that cognitive science can offer to teachers. The criteria for each lesson's inclusion in the book is that the principle should be "fundamental to the mind's operation" -- they don't change with circumstances, age or socio-economic status; other criteria are that applying the principle has a significant impact, there is a large amount of research to back it up, and i ...more
Sara
Excellent book on how what we've learned recently in cognitive science can be applied practically in the classroom. There are nine cognitive lessons, one for each chapter. These are very useful and interesting with examples and research explained for the lay person. However, the type is tiny, and the book is very dense. It doesn't have that "learning is fun," breezy, accessible feeling of Malcolm Gladwell books. On the other hand, it is worth the effort. I particularly learned from the chapters ...more
Gabriel
Regarding writing/formatting/etc.

I was a little disappointed in how simplistic some of the writing and examples were. I was even more disappointed in the use of "figures" to illustrate his point. Most of the figures were akin to the pictures I see in my students' textbooks that had very little to do with the bulk of the text other than offer an example. The book felt like a compromise between a good excursion about the effects of cognitive science on teaching and a textbook written with younger
...more
Alex
Significance
Through the expertise of a cognitive scientists, this work dispels many of the myths surrounding how we learn (including remembering) and shows practical ways to improve learning. I haven't seen a book quite like it.

Artwork/Writing/Narrative/Organization
* Clear writing with many examples.
* Relevant and clear illustrations.
* Very well organized.
* Easy-going authorial voice organized in a story-like narrative (he practices what he preaches)

Personal Notes
As a parent of an elementary sch
...more
Henny
The book offered me one important insight: you can free up working memory if you have more background knowledge. The background knowledge already in place, you do not have to think about that, so you can use the space in your working memory to combine new information with background knowledge. This insight made it worthwhile to read the book.
The chapters on mindset and practice were to me too much of a summary of other peoples work, like Carol Dweck's on mindset and Doug Lemov's on practice. If
...more
Tyler
Another book where the title/sub-title really oversells it's premise. Especially the cover blurb. I really didn't see how the book's advice of "practice more" and "facts are good" translates to why students don't like school. I think the marketers invented this one because he never brings it up in that way in the book other than "thinking is hard". No kidding. It should be titled "Advice for teaching" or something. I was really hoping to read specific reasons why students don't like school and h ...more
Candice
This look at education by a cognitive scientist followed nine principles:

1. People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking.
2. Factual knowledge must precede skill.
3. Memory is the residue of thought.
4. We understand new things in the context of things we already know, and most of what we know is concrete.
5. It is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extended practice.
6. Cognitio
...more
Michael
What agitated me about this book was that all the author did was introduce ideas and then never explain or develop them into anything substantial. He offers no accessible solutions to any of the problems he identifies and instead goes on tangents, such as one that compares Dick Cheney and Joey from Friends. While I understood the analogy, it was not a novel concept. Overall, the book did not offer any valuable insight into education or pedagogy.
Janice
Just starting with a book club at school. Hoping to find ways to turn it around. I know the only person I can change is myself, but not sure how much I need to take responsibility for the attitudes of other people (students). I'll stay open to all I can learn.
Daniel
A simple and insightful perspective on how our minds work, with applications for students and teachers. After reading this and better understanding the cognitive process, I'm amazed any student has learned anything in my classes at all. Time to repent.
Michael
Not what you might expect. A very useful investigation of learning cognition and instructional practices.
jmjester
Daniel Willingham concludes Why Don't Students Like School? A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom by likening teaching to writing. He recollects a piece of advice from a creative writing teacher he had in college that most readers would rather watch television or grab a beer than read a book. His professor's point was to make your writing strong enough to constrain the impulse, to persuade your reader that what you have to say is bet ...more
John Martindale
Willingham covered a lot, sadly though, though I took notes, I can't claim to remember the half of it. But yeah, here is some of what I recall.
The book showed me the importance of organizing a teaching according to story structure (the setting, the conflicts, character development and resolution), even if we never share a story in the teaching. The idea is that we must bait the hook, spending time developing the mysteries, problems and complications, to help create in the students an interest i
...more
Theresa Leone Davidson
Willingham is a psychologist who has studied student behavior and knows what works (and what doesn't) in the classroom. I haven't had too many students who did NOT enjoy school, though they'd be hesitant to admit it; nevertheless, I get the point of the title. Willingham wrote this, I would expect, for new teachers as well as veterans; the problem with being a veteran teacher is that we've heard hundreds of times, beginning in grad school, that, for example, students should link new knowledge to ...more
Melanie
About how the brain works in order to teach children. Kind of dry. Luckily it's short. Written for educators. Contains nine major points.
I probably would have given it four stars, but parts of it were just dull enough that I skimmed some sections. I'd definitely recommend it for educators though.

1) The brain doesn't really like thinking because it is a slow process often fraught with error. People prefer to use memory instead of thought whenever possible.

2) Thinking isn't effective without backg
...more
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Daniel Willingham earned his B.A. from Duke University in 1983 and his Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Harvard University in 1990. He is currently Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, where he has taught since 1992. Until about 2000, his research focused solely on the brain basis of learning and memory. Today, all of his research concerns the application of cognitive psycholog ...more
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“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.” 0 likes
“Memory is the residue of thought.” 0 likes
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