Willingham D T (2009) Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom San Francisco; Jossey-Bass
The plain language of the title sets the tone for a refreshingly jargon-free book aimed at the general interested reader, principally parents and teachers, whom he addresses directly. So each chapter heading is a question, expanded upon in the opening paragraph, and followed by an answer. Selected sources and references are available as end-notes to each chapter (under the useful heading of “less technical” and “more technical”, but don't interrupt the flow. There are copious graphics and photographs (perhaps too many of those, some of debatable relevance) and box-outs which summarise major points. All this is the familiar apparatus of the text-book, but the book as a whole does not give that impression. On the contrary, it reads like the transcript of an animated (albeit one-sided) conversation.
In other words, within the confines of the book format, Willingham can practise what he preaches. But what is that?
In the introduction, he says that the book;
“began as a list of nine principles that are so fundamental to the mind's operation that they do not change as circumstances change. They are as true in the classroom as they are in the laboratory and therefore can be reliably applied to classroom situations.” (p.2)And that is what it is; an exploration of the nine principles. (from pp. 210-211)
Required Knowledge about Students
Most Important Classroom Implication
|1||People are naturally curious, but they are not naturally good thinkers||What is just beyond what my students know and can do?||Think of to-be-learned material as answers, and take the time necessary to explain to students the questions.|
|2||Factual knowledge precedes skill.||What do my students know?||It is not possible to think well on a topic in the absence of factual knowledge about the topic.|
|3||Memory is the residue of thought.||What will students think during this session?||The best barometer for every lesson plan is “Of what will it make students think?”|
|4||We understand new things in the context of things we already know.||What do students already know that will be a toehold on understanding this new material?||Always make deep knowledge your goal, spoken or unspoken but recognize that shallow knowledge will come first.|
|5||Proficiency requires practice||How can I get students to practice without boredom?||Think carefully about which material students need at their fingertips, and practice it over time.|
|6||Cognition is fundamentally different early and late in training.||What is the difference between my students and an expert?||Strive for deep understanding in your students, not the creation of new knowledge.|
|7||Children (and adults*) are more alike than different in terms of learning||Knowledge of students' learning styles is not necessary||Think of lesson content, not student differences, driving decisions about how you teach.|
|8||Intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work.||What do my students believe about intelligence?||Always talk about successes and failures in terms of effort, not ability.|
|9||Teaching, like any complex cognitive skill, must be practised in order to be improved.||What aspects of my teaching work well for my students, and what parts need improvement?||Improvement needs more than experience; it also requires constant effort and feedback.|
* my addition.
Willingham is not claiming novelty for any of these ideas—in fact directly the opposite. Many readers will find familiar references and names (although Ausubel does not appear to get a mention in ch.4—this does not pretend to provide a comprehensive survey of the work in the field).
The odd thing is that all this does not add up to an answer to the question in the title, but who cares? It's an excellent intorduction. This is not likely to be available at your local indy bookshop, so for once I'll post the Amazon link.