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Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom | [Daniel T. Willingham]

Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom

Kids are naturally curious, but when it comes to school it seems like their minds are turned off. Why is it that they can remember the smallest details from their favorite television programs, yet miss the most obvious questions on their history test? Cognitive scientist Dan Willingham has focused his acclaimed research on the biological and cognitive basis of learning and has a deep understanding of the daily challenges faced by classroom teachers.
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Publisher's Summary

Kids are naturally curious, but when it comes to school it seems like their minds are turned off. Why is it that they can remember the smallest details from their favorite television programs, yet miss the most obvious questions on their history test? Cognitive scientist Dan Willingham has focused his acclaimed research on the biological and cognitive basis of learning and has a deep understanding of the daily challenges faced by classroom teachers. This book will help teachers improve their practice by explaining how they and their students think and learn - revealing the importance of story, emotion, memory, context, and routine in building knowledge and creating lasting learning experiences.

In this breakthrough book, Willingham has distilled his knowledge of cognitive science into a set of nine principles that are easy to understand and have clear applications for the classroom. Some examples of his surprising findings are:

  • "Learning styles" don't exist. The processes by which different children think and learn are more similar than different.
  • Intelligence is malleable. Intelligence contributes to school performance and children do differ, but intelligence can be increased through sustained hard work.

You cannot develop "thinking skills" in the absence of facts. We encourage students to think critically, not just memorize facts. However, thinking skills depend on factual knowledge for their operation. Why Don't Students Like School is a basic primer for every teacher who wants to know how their brains and their students' brains work and how that knowledge can help them hone their teaching skills.

©2009 Daniel T. Willingham (P)2011 Tantor

What the Critics Say

"Corporate trainers, marketers and, not least, parents---anyone who cares about how we learn---should find his book valuable reading." (The Wall Street Journal)

What Members Say

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  • Lynn
    BEAUMONT, TX, United States
    03/11/11
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Informative Stimulating"

    If you are a teacher seeking to engage students or a parent with a child in school, Why Don’t Students Like School? is a very helpful book. It is widely applicable to students in K-12 or in college. A cognitive scientist, Dan Willingham brings his discipline and its insights to this very needy area. He lays out the fact that before students can be taught to think critically, they must have mastered basic information. Essentially, Willingham posits that the more students commit details to long-term memory, the better able they will be prepared to use their short-term memory and frontal lobe to deal with more pressing problems. Along the way he debunks popular concepts such as the “learning styles” line of thinking (auditory, visual, kinesthetic…) which has little support in the empirical literature. This is not an education bashing book, but the work of an individual genuinely interested in how we best teach students and engage them in thoughtful activity on a day-to-day basis. You may not like the book, but Willingham is persuasive. The reading of Paul Costanzo is excellent.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Deidre
    rockwood, ON, Canada
    23/11/11
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "a manual for working with student brains"

    I would buy for all my new teachers and parents who say "i just don't understand why he/she is like this". Lots of insight to how the brain works and why students do what they do. A good summary of the latest research and how to use it to help get better engagement in the classroom.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Jeffrey
    Kuanshi, Taiwan
    28/05/12
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    Story
    "Absolutel Awful:misleading title, pseudo-academic."

    This is quite easily one of the most disappointing works in the social sciences or education that I have ever read or listened to. It has no redeemable qualities, the title is wholly inaccurate, the author under-qualified for some of the subjects he takes on, and the book bizarrely undershoots its audience. There is no reason to buy this book.

    The implication of the title is that this book is written from the perspective of cognitive science. It is not. This book has nothing to do with cognitive science. It is a summary of basic pedagogy. I can only guess that somewhere along the editing process someone noticed the title wasn’t testing well but fared better with the expanded “cognitive science” tag. It’s not inaccurate, the editors must claim, because the title doesn’t say the book entertains the perspectives of cognitive science. It says it is the perspective of a cognitive scientist who happens to talk about basic pedagogy and not consider it from the perspective of cognitive science. This is misleading and dishonest.

    I found some of the analysis so stunningly bad that I had to look up the author’s credentials and find out if he was a real Ph.D, or, as I suspected, maybe he ordered it in the mail or something. Turns out it is real. A quick click on a link takes me to his CV. At first glance, it looks impressive. There sure are a lot of titles here, but a few clicks reveal almost all of them are self-published blog style papers written for the AFT website rather than real research publications. The rest were published by American Educator, a publication that is pseudo-academic at best. Under submission guidelines you will-- I am not kidding-- find the phrase “We do not publish research papers”. They publish only essays, refuse all research, and claim to be peer reviewed. But it gets better. American Educator, it turns out, is operated by the same AFT website that published the authors blog papers. So in short, we have a “cognitive scientist” who seems incapable of publishing research in true peer reviewed journals, so instead he wrote a book. The author is a failed academic writing a sub-basic book in a field he is unqualified in with a completely misleading title.

    And I can’t even figure out who this hack-job attempt at research is aimed at. The book contains no citations, not even in-text references. For example, we are bombarded with generalizations like “One research experiment found that....” You can’t complete the sentence with the names of the authors of the research, or the university, or the year, decade, or century? It’s not like that is any harder to write. That makes the book less academic than an introductory education 101 textbook. Now I suppose the author and editor would say they want to improve readability. But at the expense of all credibility and usefulness to the reader? The audience here is primarily educators, who all have at least a college degree, and anyone picking up a book with the words “cognitive science” in the title is prepared to hear a reference or two dropped. Authors in the social sciences like Steven Pinker, Daniel Kahneman, and Charles Mann all managed to make the best sellers list writing to intelligent people and providing reasonable documentation which made the books more compelling not less so.

    In one particularly comical analysis the author takes on nature vs nurture and takes an anti-biology stance so naive that we are left to wonder if he even reviewed a high-school biology textbook before writing it. He “supports” the tabula rasa argument with straw man arguments of complete biological determinism so absurd no one could possibly believe them, and he even fails to understand that when evolutionary psychology uses the phrase “a gene for X” they mean the effect is probabilistic not literal causation. No one in the world believes you have a single physical gene for liking tomato soup, a gene for basketball skill, and a gene or enjoying purple more than blue. The author is in way over his head, is unread, unqualified, and has an insufficient understanding of probability theory to take on the subject. And this is one among many. They are all equally bad.

    Do not buy this book. Do not give this book to anyone you care about. Do not bother reading this book if it is given to you for free. Please, do not support the scamming of the public by financially rewarding pseudo-academic dribble.

    19 of 26 people found this review helpful
  • Fazal
    Brampton, ON, Canada
    16/01/12
    Overall
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    "Spectacular"

    I finished the book excited at the possibilities to dramatically improve education for students. As a parent, I also have valuable tools to guide my own kids.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Diane
    Levittown, PA, United States
    17/02/12
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "no duh!"
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    Unless you are completely out of touch with your students or this is your first day in the classroom there is nothing here for you.

    In part of the book the author talks about using stories to keep kids attn. The story was so dull that he lost my attention! Don't waste your time or money.


    Would you ever listen to anything by Daniel T. Willingham again?

    doubtful


    7 of 12 people found this review helpful
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