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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

"Why Don't Students Like School" Willingham's Wisdom, Part 1

With the recommendation of a community member, I am reading Daniel T. Willingham's book, Why Don't Students Like School?  The book relays Willingham's cognitive research as it relates to teaching children well.

Since there's lots to take in, I thought I'd take a break midway through the book to write down some of the essential points I'll bring to my teaching in the year ahead. Overall, reading the book demonstrates to me how intricate and thoughtful our craft as teachers is--there's so much to know and apply when it comes to teaching well.

I'll bring these main points to my teaching next year.
  1. Student-teacher relationships matter a lot. Making time to build a good relationship with every child and family is essential.
  2. Deliberate, thoughtful, rich learning design is essential when it comes to teaching well. Start lessons with questions and conflict at just-right levels of challenge, provide scaffolded learning experiences with memory aids, foster lots of meaningful practice, focus on abstract, unifying concepts, and use the story structure for lesson design.
  3. Build automaticity with low-level skills such as math facts and keyboarding with targeted, steady practice. Don't worry if students are practicing skills they already know as this is actually creating a strong foundation for greater learning.
  4. Look for ways to build as much knowledge as possible because background knowledge is essential to learning well. With regard to the achievement gap, assess students' background knowledge and look for ways to build that knowledge in steady, engaging ways. Encourage all families to work to develop students' background knowledge through reading, educational video and shows, visiting museums, family conversations, and more. 
Specifically, the essential points from Willingham's book that I've listed below will inform my practice.
  • Surprisingly, "the brain is not designed for thinking," "people are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking." (p.3)
  • ". . .the conditions have to be right for this curiosity to thrive, or we quit thinking rather readily." (p.9)
  • "If it's too much or too little, we stop working on the problem if we can." (p.13)
  • ". . .successful thinking relies on four factors: information from the environment, facts in long-term memory, procedures in long-term memory, and the amount of space in working memory. If any of these factors is inadequate, thinking will likely fail." (p. 18)
  • "Working memory has limited space." (p.17) so "slow the pace, and use memory aids. . .that save students from keeping too much information in working memory." (p.20)
  • ". . .devote sufficient time to developing the question. . .it's the question that piques people's interest." (p.20)
  • ". . .the key is to puzzle students, to make them curious." (p.21)
  • ". . .comprehension depends on background knowledge." (p.37) "Increase the factual knowledge that the child has not picked up at home."
  • " . . .background knowledge allows chunking, which makes more room in the working memory, which makes it easier to relate ideas, and therefore to comprehend." (p. 35)
  • "When it comes to knowledge, those who have more gain." (p.42)
  • ". . .students must learn the concepts that come up again and again--the unifying ideas of each discipline." (p.48)
  • "Knowledge pays off when it is conceptual and the facts are related to one another, and that is not true of list-learning." (p. 50)
  • "Do whatever you can to get kids to read." (p.49)
  • ". . .memory is a product of . . . what you think about." (p.53)
  • "To teach well you must pay careful attention to what an assignment will actually make students think about. . . because that is what they will remember." (p.54)
  • ". . .a teacher's goal should almost always be to get students to think about meaning." (p.61)
  • "The emotional bond between students and teachers--for better or worse--accounts for whether students learn." (p.65)
  • "Effective teachers. . .are able to connect personally with students, and. . .organize material in a way that makes it interesting and easy to understand." (p.65)
  • ". . .organizing a lesson plan like a story is an effective way to help students comprehend and remember." ". . .often summarized as the four Cs."  (p.67)
  • "The first C is causality, which means the events are causally related to one another." (p.67)
  • "The second C is conflict. A story has a main character pursuing a goal, but he or she is unable to reach that goal." (p.67)
  • "The third C is complications. . .Complications are subproblems that arise from the main goal." (p.67)
  • "The final C is character. A good story is built around strong, interesting characters, and the key to those qualities is action."
  • ". . .stories are easy to remember." (p.68)
  • ". ..stories are easy to comprehend."(p.67-68)
  • ". . .stories are interesting." (p.68)
  • ". . .making the question clear is so important. . .sometimes. . .teachers are so focused on getting to the answer, we spend insufficient time making sure that students understand the question and appreciate its significance." (p.75)
  • "Discovery learning is probably most useful when the environment gives prompt feedback." (p.82)
  • "Start with the material you want your students to learn, and think backwards to the intellectual question it poses." (p.84)
  • ". . . structuring a lesson plan around conflict can be a real aid to student learning." (p.85)
  • "Abstraction is the goal of schooling." ". . .the mind does not care for abstraction." (p.87)
  • ". . .understanding is remembering in disguise. No one can pour new ideas into a student's head directly. Every new idea must be built on ideas that the student already knows."
  • "We can contrast shallow knowledge with deep knowledge. A student with deep knowledge knows more about the subject, and the pieces of knowledge are more richly interconnected." (p. 95)
  • ". . .practice in thinking about and using an abstract idea is critical to being able to apply it." (p.104)
  • "It is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extended practice." (p.107)
  • "Low--level processes. . . must become automatic leaving room for more high level concerns." (p.108)
  • With respect to practicing skills you already know: "Odd as it may seem, that sort of practice is essential to schooling. It yields three important benefits: it reinforces the basic skills that are required for the learning of more advanced skills, it protects against forgetting, an it improves transfer." (p.108)
  • "Thinking occurs when you combine information in new ways." (p.109)
  • ". . .the first way to cheat the limited size of your working memory is through factual knowledge. There is a second way: you can make the processes that manipulate information in working memory more efficient." Chunking with strategies such as mnemonics is another way. (p.110)
  • "Mental processes can become automatized." (p.111)
  • "Practice is another significant contributor to good transfer." (p.120)

Why Don't Students Like School Part 2 Notes
 Willingham's Work Article
Unifying Science Themes
Unifying Themes Examples
Story: Powerful Way to Activate our Brains
Education in Finland: Article