In Why Don’t Students Like School? Daniel T. Willingham bridges the gap between isolated, laboratory research and busy, chaotic classrooms. He takes a systematic and sympathetic approach to addressing educators’ concerns about daily classroom activities. He sees the responsibilities that educators have to undertake and directly speaks to today’s realities of standardized testing, time constraints, and varying levels of ability in the classroom. Willingham not only provides teachers with current findings in neuroscience, but also validates their own activities and lesson plans. Additionally, there are real action plans that educators can apply in the Implications for the Classroom segment provided at the end of every chapter.
Each section begins with a relevant question that could be asked by teachers, principals, school psychologists, specialists, and classroom aides, for example: “Why Is It So Hard for Students to Understand Abstract Ideas?” (Chapter 4), “How Can I Help Slow Learners? (Chapter 8).” He then links the neuroscience research with the question at hand providing a multitude of examples and explanations.
Willingham introduces Working Memory and Long-term Memory and, like an effective teacher, he scaffolds these ideas into more complex concepts over the course of the book. He discusses how the mind is not made for thinking because the connections are not yet in the brain to solve a problem presented to a student. So each child must think and connect the dots, and therefore the neurons! The next few chapters build upon each other to explain how introducing factual knowledge is necessary for building a foundation before higher order thinking skills can be asked of students.
Willingham goes on to reveal why background knowledge, a.k.a. prior knowledge, is fundamental to critical thinking, reading comprehension, and improving memory by connecting new material with prior knowledge. He covers a multitude of important topics such as forgetting, mnemonic devices, discovery or group learning, teachers’ personal style, practicing drills, and transfer to underscore a few. Particularly useful is the discussion of the visual-auditory-kinesthesia theory as it addresses the ever-popular multiple intelligences from a cognitive viewpoint.
While Daniel Willingham does not have years of personal K-12 classroom experience, his analyses and suggestions for educators are pragmatic and profound. He successfully reaches his goal of providing fundamental cognitive principles that are true in the laboratory and the classroom. Additional resources on a plethora of topics from Daniel Willingham can be found online at: http://www.danielwillingham.com/daniel-willingham-science-and-education-blog.html.
Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel T. Willingham, published by Jossey-Bass, 2009.