I recently finished reading the book, “Why Don’t Students Like School?” by cognitive psychologist, Daniel Willingham.  This book details the many findings that cognitive psychology has made about how learning occurs in the human brain and how it applies to the classroom.   Dr. Willingham describes nine principles that can be readily applied to the classroom.

This is a very well-written book and I found it extremely inspirational and informative.  I get jazzed by books that are not only informative of current research, but give practical applications for the work.  A good example is when Dr. Willingham discusses how the brain works.  A basic model of memory holds that the brain takes information in from the environment, stores it for a short time in working memory, and sometimes that information gets stored in long-term memory.  That info can be pulled out of long-term memory back into working memory if it is needed (like when I day dream during long-winded blog posts, oh wait!).  Anyways, the insight that Dr. Willingham offers is that to increase students’ memory of lectures, for instance, we need to challenge students to think about the information.  If they are compelled to think about the information, it is far more likely to be encoded into long-term memory, and therefore pull it out later in life when it is needed, for an examination or while playing Trivial Pursuit, for instance.  This isn’t a huge epiphany, but that’s the magic of this book.  Dr. Willingham lays the argument out elegantly and provides many unique and thought-provoking examples or anecdotes to help drive his point home.

The chapter that I was most inspired and struck by was chapter 8 on ‘slow learners’.  While I don’t like the term ‘slow’ learners (I use struggling learners if I’m trying to be all-inclusive.  I am usually more specific to the conditions that are causing a student to struggle), I appreciate his sensitivity in addressing the concern and how he lays out his argument.  He provides a deep biological context for understanding why some learners are ‘fast’ and some are ‘slow’.  He also discusses how intelligence is malleable.  This was huge news when it was first discovered by researchers!  It still is in the educational setting.  At any rate, he then describes how a school can remediate students who are behind their peers and help provide avenues for student success.  I was very inspired by this chapter and believe that it’s worth purchasing the book alone!

Dr. Willingham’s book is outstanding, thought-provoking, and a very good read for educators of all levels of students (preK-16).  Happy reading!!

~Ed

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