Why Don’t Students Like School?
by Daniel T. Willingham
Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel T. Willingham is a book about the workings of the mind and how to be access students by knowing how the mind works. In each chapter he leads the reader through the questions that we ponder, the concrete of what that looks like, how the mind works around that question, the data the backs that up and then finishes with the implications for the classroom. In chapter one Willingham discusses thinking. He reminds us that thinking is hard but an enjoyable experience. We like it based on content and level of difficulty. If it is too easy or hard then we are bored or blown out. Thinking relies on four factors: the information received from the environment; the facts that are in the long term memory; the procedure that is in the long term memory; and the amount of space in the working memory. Students do like to think. We need to make sure that they have the background knowledge for them to be successful at it. In chapter 2 he discusses the statement that factual knowledge must precede skill to be able to critically think. Reading comprehension isn’t just how well you read. Students need background knowledge to comprehend. This background knowledge allows students to free up room in the working memory by providing vocabulary, allowing the bridging of logical gaps that writers leave, chunking of material, and interpretation of ambiguous sentences. Williamson speaks of the “4th grade slump.” Many underprivileged students are on grade level until the 4th grade and then never progress after that. The learning has focused on decoding—in 4th grade it becomes comprehension and these students don’t have the background knowledge to be successful. Having knowledge makes learning knowledge easier. Students need exposure to as much factual knowledge as they can. Reading a daily newspaper and books is the best way. Shallow knowledge is better than no knowledge at all. Chapter 3 tells us that what we think about, we remember. If you don’t pay attention, you won’t learn it. We can try to remember; we can try repetition; we can try attaching it to something emotional, but they don’t always work. What you think about is what you remember. 95% of what students learn about in school concerns meaning, so we need students to think about meaning and the right aspect of meaning. To get them to think the teacher must be organized and approachable. If the lesson is organized like a story, it is easier for them to understand and remember. Also make sure that the students understand the question so they know what they are supposed to be thinking about. Review plans to in terms of what are the students likely to think about. Use discovery learning with care—students need immediate feedback. Making it relevant doesn’t mean making it about the student. It can be the initial point of contact, but not the motivation. Chapter 4 brings together why background knowledge helps us think. Most of what we know is concrete and we understand things in the context of what we know. Shallow knowledge isn’t thinking, it is repeating. Deep knowledge takes time. We don’t transfer knowledge to new problems because we tend to look at surface structure. In order for students to think about deep structure, they need to see three examples and compare them. They will remember what they think about. Drill and kill has such a negative connotation but is so necessary to learning. It is better referred to as practice. You cannot become proficient at a mental task without it. This is the topic for chapter 5. The two main reasons for practice are the obvious: to gain competence and to improve proficiency. Three others are that they reinforce skills needed for more advanced skills/makes them automatic, protects against forgetting, and improves transfer. All people’s working memory is fixed. There are ways to cheat the limitation—having the...
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