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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

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  3,296 ratings  ·  344 reviews
Kids are naturally curious, but when it comes to school it seems like their minds are turned off. Why is it that they can remember the smallest details from their favorite television program, yet miss the most obvious questions on their history test?

Cognitive scientist Dan Willingham has focused his acclaimed research on the biological and cognitive basis of learning and h
Hardcover, 180 pages
Published March 16th 2009 by Jossey-Bass
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4.01  · 
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 ·  3,296 ratings  ·  344 reviews

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Lars Guthrie
Feb 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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,
Apr 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Ben Babcock
Aug 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Jonathan Chen
May 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Dec 15, 2018 rated it liked it
An excellent start but just seemed to get tied up in itself about two thirds of the way in and I found my attention dropping away (interestingly enough this is discussed in the conclusion).

It’s good, but rather too dry.

Arid. Dustbowl.
May 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.).
Mar 16, 2015 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
May 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Frank Stein
Jan 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing

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
Jan 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: education
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
Nov 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 02, 2012 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.
Jeff Bush
Jun 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Incredible. Blows pop-psychology education myths out of the water. A must read for every educator.
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Daniel Willingham's "Why Don't Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How The Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom" explains that much of the problem with lack of student interest lies not in extraneous excuses such as electronic distractions, but in a fundamental lack of understanding on the behalf of students and teachers as to how to align educational practice with the way we all learn.

The book presents nine principles that affect student learning, and
Nov 24, 2013 rated it it was ok
370.1523 WIL
CD 370.1523 WIL
Chapter 3: Why Do students remembers everything that's on Television and forget everything I say?
p61 Thinking about meaning helps memory.
Chapter 4: Why is it so hard for students to understand abstract ideas?
Chapter 5: Is drilling worth it?
Working memory is fixed(My words): ... make the contents of working memory smaller in two ways: by making facts take up less room through chunking, which requires knowledge in long term memory; and by shrinking the process we use to
Feb 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 Rhoda  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
Rachel Jackson
Oct 10, 2016 rated it did not like it
Why Don't Students Like School was a slog to get through. I went into it thinking it would help me understand why kids are so reluctant about going to school, even if they do actually enjoy going for different reasons. Isn't it still cool to say you hate school even if you like it?

The title of the book is misleading on its own: the book isn't so much about why kids don't like school, but why kids struggle academically in different ways. Okay, still an interesting topic. Except that Daniel T. Wil
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A remarkable book--its focus is on k12, but I'm going to recommend it for our faculty development reading group. Here are some of the notes I keep jolting down on scraps of paper while I listened to it:

Creative thinking is built on a basis of facts--you can't compose great music before you know how to hold the violin.

Learning requires two aspects: attention and practice, where practice is consciously doing things that you kind of know how to do. Attention is based in novelty, but practice is by
Marek Lisý
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. Even though I am quite positive about the alternative and new ways of education, this book rejects couple of commonly believed myths that are quite popular nowadays.

Two most memorable ideas I took:
1) Students can't acquire skills without knowing facts - it is essential to learn facts (with understanding of course), because if you don't have the facts to build upon, you cannot really focus on the problem itself. Therefore, the idea that in the age of Google it's useles
Jan 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jason Park
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reading-in-2017
This is the second book of Willingham's I have read this year, after "Raising Kids Who Read". I really enjoyed that book, so I expected as much out of this one, and it didn't disappoint! Willingham has a talent (or is it "intelligence"?...looking at you, Gardner) for distilling cognitive principles from the research. In this work, he sifts through the sense and nonsense of education principles and applies cognitive principles to see if they are valid. Learning styles? Not so much. Multiple intel ...more
Mochammad Yusni
Dec 17, 2017 rated it liked it
I disagree with some things that he proposed on this book, for example when he writes that in teaching teacher should focus on the content delivery not to the students themselves. This dichotomy can be dangerous, as both are also important. However, this disagreement is minor, as there are a lot of points that he delivers are so mind-opening. As a practicing teacher, i have done some of his suggestions, but mostly intuitively. And this book makes me think the reason behind them. Also the minus p ...more
Aug 29, 2009 rated it liked it
The font is annoyingly small and the writing a bit redundant, but some information may be of interest. As Willingham finishes with a sum-it-up chapter, you might check it out of the library, start there, then back track to the corresponding chapter of interest.

Most memorable for me? The importance of background knowledge over skills, and the science proving "learning styles" a sham. So much for all those fun tests identifying what type of learner we all are.
Sep 18, 2011 rated it liked it
Ch 1 People, while capable of thought will try to get out of thinking if they can. Thinking is not only time and energy consuming but there is not guarantee that the result will pay off, thus we usually simply do what we have done before. Obviously we still think, the key is posing problems just hard enough to be challenging (not too easy) and yet to not impossible which will give us the pleasurable feeling of accomplishment which, from a behavioral standpoint, will encourage future problem solv ...more
Feb 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a very good book for teachers - good enough that it ought to be regarded as required reading - that could fruitfully be paired with "Thinking: Fast and Slow". TFS is an incredible examination of the workings of the human mind, but Willingham's book takes the research and prescribes applications for teaching. The writing is not quite of the same caliber; Willingham writes a little more conversationally, and some of his analogies and self-quizzes are a bit clumsier. Additionally, the FAQ o ...more
Hadeel S. Rasheed
Teachers and students HAVE TO read this informative book.
Serena Turton
Very nonplussed by this book. A lot of it could have been written by my mentor, who was wise and had been a teacher for 30 years. Which is great and useful if you’ve never had such an experienced mentor I guess, but I had expected a bit more cognitive science from a cognitive scientist and was disappointed: his explanations were all very simple and accessible (again, great for access, but I found them a little too basic being hungry for more cognitive science) and I learnt little to very little ...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
“People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking.” 2 likes
“A great deal of research shows that the most successful diets are not diets. Rather, they are lifestyle changes that the person believes he could live with every day for years—for example, switching from regular milk to skim milk, or walking the dog instead of just letting her out in the morning, or drinking black coffee instead of lattes.” 2 likes
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