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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

3.97  ·  Rating Details ·  2,228 Ratings  ·  252 Reviews
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, ...more
ebook, 240 pages
Published June 10th 2009 by Wiley (first published March 16th 2009)
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Apr 24, 2009 MCOH rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lars Guthrie
Feb 28, 2011 Lars Guthrie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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,
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of you who know me as a student will understand that this is uncharacteristic behaviour and might even suspect I’ve been replaced by a school-hating doppelgänger.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
May 21, 2010 Nathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.).
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
Sep 30, 2011 Caroline rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: education-books
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
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
May 01, 2015 Taka rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: popular-science, 2015

Granted, this book has some insights—the importance of background knowledge in reading comprehension and creative thinking, the qualitative difference in thinking between novices and experts, and structuring your lesson plan like a story to keep the attention of the students—but it unfortunately suffers from, well, failing to grab the attention of the reader. As one Audible reviewer said, "The story was so dull that he lost my attention!" It's true, he advocates asking questions and NOT ans
Frank Stein
Jan 04, 2015 Frank Stein rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Not just for teachers or students, this book is a near perfect explanation of the contemporary consensus on learning, one that will change how you read, write, and think.

Daniel Willingham, a cognitive scientist and K-12 expert at the University of Virginia, uses nine questions to illuminate why it is difficult for people to learn new things, and what can be done about it. In the process of answering those questions, he dispels a lot mythology that has arisen around learning.

One myth is that stu
Nov 16, 2009 edh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jeff Bush
Jun 14, 2012 Jeff Bush rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredible. Blows pop-psychology education myths out of the water. A must read for every educator.
Mar 06, 2012 Gabriel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 21, 2011 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-teaching
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
Feb 03, 2014 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 22, 2009 Sara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 25, 2009 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: must-reads, education
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
William Filimoehala
I decided to read this book because I think that this question is worth thinking about because some kids would rather sit at home, focus on television. But when it comes to a history test on single question...most of them are all confused. I like this book because it shows an actual reason for why kids don't like school. However I think that if they focused more on asking kids why they don't like school rather then assuming it. I think that most kids would say it's boring or it's too hard or som ...more
May 13, 2012 Michael rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 25, 2015 Drew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like the entire premise behind this book, which is simply a cognitive scientist explaining what we know about how the brain works and how it relates to the classroom. The author sticks to things that are well researched, explains in a clear manner, and anticipates what questions/qualms the reader might raise.
I particularly liked this book as I have long wished for a book on learning that wasn't tailored to the classroom teacher. This book would be interesting and useful to virtually anyone.
Jun 29, 2016 Ellen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall a very good read with a clear presentation and engaging examples. Gave me some new things to think about, confirmed some previously-held beliefs about learning, and gave some good practical in-the-classroom advice! I'd be interested to read more about teaching & learning from the standpoint of cognitive psychology.
Will be using this for a professional development review. I enjoyed this book in the beginning, but as it went on, it lost some luster. (Maybe I just don't have enough working memory in this area. :))
I really appreciated the emphases on creating background knowledge, drilling, the importance of distinguishing between mental ability and talents/preferences.
Sep 27, 2012 Jordan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book never really answers the question posed in the title. It also fails to outline many solutions that would push the needle on how students experience school.

I'm shocked that teachers (apparently the intended audience) aren't taught this basic cognitive science material, and would recommend it for them....but for people interested in the answer to this question...look elsewhere.
Mar 09, 2010 Janice rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: professional
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.
Aleksei  Ivanovskiy
Feb 01, 2016 Aleksei Ivanovskiy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: eductaion
Короткая и емкая книга, собирает тезисно довольно большой массив исследований в области когнитивных наук и образования. Ценна помимо всего прочего очень стройной структурой и длинными списками ссылок на другие книги и конкретные исследования
Steven Spangenberg
This book was alright. I found the first chapters a lot more beneficial than the ending chapters. I think I learned a lot, but I was bothered that every time a teacher was mentioned, he used female pronouns. Just irksome to me.
Aug 20, 2013 Daniel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 07, 2017 Citlalli rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of my favorite books of all time. Definitely an informative yet easy and HIGHLY entertaining read.
Feb 16, 2012 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not what you might expect. A very useful investigation of learning cognition and instructional practices.
Jun 20, 2009 Roger rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book basically reaffirms everything I believe about teaching, and runs counter to all of the educational gobblegook that is out there.
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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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“People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking.” 2 likes
“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.” 1 likes
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