Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reflection on "Why Don't Students Like School."

Reflection on Daniel T. Willingham’s Book
“Why Don’t Students Like School?”

As a cognitive scientist Mr. Wellington spent the majority of the book helping his readers understand how students think and how we can use that information to help our teaching. He fooled me into thinking that’s what the book was really about. When you reach Chapter 9 you begin to realize where he is leading us. A teacher’s mind is exactly like those of his/her students. His statement on page 189 says “Teaching, like any complex cognitive skill, must be practiced to be improved.” Wellington wanted us to understand how a person’s mind works so we can put this information to work helping our own brain work better as we teach.

When he explained that we most often retrieve from our memory what we have done in the past, working on “autopilot,” it hit a nerve. After teaching for over 30 years I know how often I do just that. It is simply easier. Like my students I’m curious, but I’d rather avoid thinking (page 3.) The fact that I’m taking this class, though, is a good example of my curiosity getting me to think about wanting to improve my teaching. It is easy to see that I’m not a digital native. But I do want to use 21st century skills to improve my teaching. I’m out of my comfort zone, but I want to be a teacher that uses current best practices and tools. This class is also helping me get that practice Willington says we must have.

To help our teaching improve we must: consciously try to improve; seek feedback on our own teaching; and undertake activities for the sake of improvement, even when it doesn’t directly contribute to our own classroom (page 197.) Again, I find that our class assignments don’t always directly relate to my kindergarten classroom, but they are important for me to see the whole picture and how similar things can improve my own teaching. Relating our class to this final chapter made me feel a little better about my teaching. I have strived to keep current and even find solutions to problems that were difficult and time-consuming. Mr. Willingham’s step-by-step suggestions at the end of the book (pages 195 to 201) are the gold standard for self-improvement. I appreciated that he gave some smaller steps (pages 202-204) to take and respected the business of the world we live in. Since taking this class adds to my commitments I feel it could be considered one of those smaller steps. Eventually, though, I want to use his original suggestion to find a partner to work with and do the taping, commenting and following up. Daniel Willingham accomplished his mission. He got me to think about my own thinking and how I can use it to improve my teaching, so that my students will learn and enjoy school more!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Reflection on: Why Students Don’t Like School by Daniel T. Willingham

In his book Willingham gave us numerous examples to get his points across. All that was good, but at times tedious reading…especially if you are not a “House” fan. However, when I got to the final two chapters in the book, I was ready to read and remember.
Technically I have been teaching for thirty years….technically. After reading the last two chapters, I am not so sure. Yes, I show up every day, do lesson plans, help students before or after school, touch base with parents, plan “exciting” activities, and attend all the meetings. But, is that all there is to teaching? Most of the time all of our preparing and presenting is done in isolation; no one is there to give us feedback regarding the effectiveness of the lesson. Willingham states that “Teaching, like any complex cognitive skill, must be practiced to be improved.” (p. 189) I want my students to improve and that requires practice. So, if I want “me” to improve as a teacher, I, too, must practice.
Willingham also gave three suggestions to become a better teacher: 1. Work on improving, 2. Seek feedback from someone in the field, and 3. Participate in activities for the sake of improvement, even when they don’t contribute to your job (p.195). This school year, I have a certified teacher coming into my classroom for two classes. I have been reviewing my plans with them, and getting feedback regarding content, presentation, and the success of the lesson. This is very enlightening. It has also brought back to focus valuable information from a class that I had taken 20 years ago called “TESA: Teacher Expectation Student Achievement.” Through a well thought out lesson, we can draw in the students regardless of ability, keep them interested, and guide them to success. Using "small" steps also helps. I use teacher editions to make notations regarding what worked and what did not, just like keeping a diary. Observing students while working is also enlightening. This does help you get to know your students better.
Over all, this was an interesting book that has made me stop and think about “Why Don’t Students Like School?” and what I can do to change that in my classroom.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Consistent practice helps in memory retention (reflection of key concept)

One of the concepts presented in this book on numerous occasions was the one of "Practice Improves Transfer". The idea behind it seems simple. The more we do something the easier it is to build that base of knowledge that we can use to relate or solve problems that are new to us. They give an example of going on a trip to Mexico and you can save money by exchanging US dollars for Mexican pesos. As adults we know that we need other information to find out what amount to bring in money.

They point out that not everything can be practiced. This can be based on past practices or what is related to things that we do or teach to our students. Teachers in different fields may feel that there is a need to teach certain knowledge in regards to the subject matter and the more we practice this the better background for occasions later that arise.

Practice also does not have to occur over a short span but can be spaced out to get better results. Students need time to be able to think through how they will apply what they know.

We base our interpretations on our past associations with similar topics. They pointed out that we don't have to make the selection conciously, thinking what meaning does it have but it just pops up and you know which is t he correct way to interpret it. It is like I used on my blabberize activity - practice practice practice. This helps to build that base which can be used for understanding new topics. The book itself overall stressed this same thing each chapter about past associations are needed to build a strong interpretation skill.

This practice concept is already used in the classroom. The book basically re-enforced that what we do as teachers is correct and best for our students to learn. The more we expose them to and practice will give them a great base of knowledge to use as a tool to figure to key elements out. We as teachers need to continue to build upon what the teacher before us has done so we give our students the best possible chance at being successful.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Section 6 Super Summary

Chapter 9 and Conclusion

In chapter nine the focus changes from the minds of our students to our own. Mr. Willingham reviews that thinking takes place in working memory. The information used in working memory comes from either the environment or from background knowledge, both facts and procedures. So, to apply this to improving our teaching, he says we must have long-term practice. Willingham sums this up by stating, “Teaching, like any complex cognitive skill, must be practiced to be improved.” (p. 189).
He emphasized that experience is not synonymous with practice. I liked his example of being an experienced driver, but not well practiced. To really become a better teacher he suggests we must do three things during our practice: (1) consciously work on improving, (2) seek feedback from someone in the field, and (3) participate in activities for the sake of improvement, even when they don’t directly contribute to your job. (p. 195).
Willingham’s method for getting and giving feedback as a form of practice for teachers is rigorous. He states that you need to work with someone else and that “working on your teaching will be a threat to your ego.” (p. 195). It can be scary! He gives five main steps to achieve improvement. (1) Find another teacher to work with that you can trust and who is also committed to the project. (2) Tape yourself teaching and watch them alone. (3) With your partner, watch tapes of other teachers. Practice observing and commenting. (4) With your partner, watch and comment on each other’s tapes. He reminds us to “be supportive, be concrete, and focus on behaviors.” (p. 199). (5) Bring it back to the classroom and follow up. Make a plan to practice one specific thing in the classroom, and then do it.
The final section of chapter nine gives some smaller steps to improve teaching that take less time. He suggests keeping a daily teaching diary, starting a discussion group with other teachers, or observing children in other settings to notice how students of that age think and interact.
In his conclusion Mr. Willingham sums it up this way. “Thus, to ensure that your students follow you, you must keep them interested; to ensure their interest, you must anticipate their reactions; and to anticipate their reactions, you must know them. ‘Know your students’ is a fair summary of the content of this book.” (p. 209). He says that cognitive science elaborates on this basic premise. There is a very useful table on pages 210 and 211 that summarizes the nine principles of the mind he chose to define, along with the knowledge needed to deploy them, and the most important implication of each. Below are the principles from each chapter.
Chapter 1 People are naturally curious, but they are not naturally good thinkers.
Chapter 2 Factual knowledge precedes skill.
Chapter 3 Memory is the residue of thought.
Chapter 4 We understand new things in the context of things we already know.
Chapter 5 Proficiency requires practice.
Chapter 6 Cognition is fundamentally different early and late in training.
Chapter 7 Children are more alike than different in terms of learning.
Chapter 8 Intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work.
Chapter 9 Teaching, like any complex cognitive skill, must be practiced to be improved.
There are more than these, but the author chose these because they are true all the time, they are based on many studies, and using the principles can make a big difference in student performance. His final thought sums up the purpose for his book. “Education makes better minds, and knowledge of the mind can make better education.” (p. 213).

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Super Summary, Chapter 8

How can I help slow learners?

Willingham spent a lot of time debating whether intelligence is genetic or environmental in this chapter. He explained "Americans, like other Westerners, view intelligence as a fixed attribute... In China, Japan, and other Eastern countries, intelligence is more often viewed as malleable." (pg. 169) He asks which is correct? Both has some truth, he explained how our genetics do play a small role in our intelligence but our environment does as well.

The cognitive principle that guides this chapter:
Children do differ in intelligence, but intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work. (pg. 170)

"Where does intelligence come from?... "all nature (that is, genetics) or all nurture (that is experience). Whenever the question Is it nature or is it nurture? is asked, the answer is almost always both." (pg. 173) Willingham goes on to describe how the thinking that one has more of a role in this than the other has made a shift to "thinking it's 'both, but probably mostly environmental'." (pg. 174) The Flynn Effect (described on pages 176-177) showed that IQ score went up dramatically over a 50 year period. "If intelligence is largely genetic, we would not expect IQ scores for a whole country to go up or down much over time, because the overall gene pool changes very slowly. But that's not what happened. There have been huge increases in IQ scores- increases that are much too large to have been caused by changes in genes." (pg. 177) He goes on to offer a couple other causes for an increase, but credits most of it to environment.

Implications for the Classroom
"The point of this chapter is to emphasize that slow learners are not dumb." (pg. 182) Here are some ways we can help slow learners catch up, "we must first be sure they believe they can improve and next we must try to persuade them that it will be worth it." (pg. 182-3)

- Praise Effort, Not Ability- we want our students to believe their intelligence is under their control, and that through hard work- it can be developed. He explained how dishonest praise can make you lose your credibility.

-Tell Them That Hard Work Pays Off- "tell your students how hard famous scientists, inventors, authors, and other 'geniuses' must work in order to be so smart, but even more important, make that lesson apply to the work your students do. If some students in your school brag about not studying, explode that myth; tell them that most students who do well in school work quite hard." (pg. 183) He gave an example of a football player that considered himself "a dumb jock". His conversation showed the student that school work is much like football practice.

-Treat Failure as a Natural Part of Learning- Our goal should be to create a classroom environment that the students can find that failure is not embarrassing or totally negative. The students should know that failure is not exactly desirable though. We should "model this attitude for your students. When you fail- and who doesn't- let them see you take a positive, learning attitude." (pg. 185) He gave two examples of people in places of power have this attitude, Michael Jordan and a member of Congress.

- Don't Take Study Skills for Granted- Willingham asks if "Do your slower students really know how to study?.... Students that are already behind will have that much more trouble doing work on their own at home, and they may be slower to learn these skills." (pg. 185) Maybe we need to take the time to teach our slower students the skills of self-discipline, time management, and what to do when they are having problems.

-Catching Up Is the Long-Term Goal- "To catch up, the slower students must work harder than the brighter students... When thinking about helping slower students catch up, it may be smart to set interim goals that are achievable and concrete. These goals might include such strategies as devoting a fixed time every day to homework, reading a weekly news magazine, or watching one educational DVD on science each week. Needless to say, enlisting parents in such efforts, if possible, will be an enormous help." (pg. 186)

-Show Students That You Have Confidence in Them- "Ask ten people you know, 'Who was the most important teacher in your life?'... People say things like 'She made me believe in myself' or 'She taught me to love knowledge.' In addition, people always tell me that their important teacher set high standards and believed that the student could meet those standards." (pg 186)

There was this note at the end of this chapter (pg. 187) "This is not to say that students don't have learning disabilities. Some do. My conclusions in this chapter do not apply to these students."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Section 4 pages 127-168

Why Students Don’t Like School, Chapters 6 & 7
Chapter 6: “The cognitive principle that guides this chapter is: Cognition early in training is fundamentally different from cognition late in training.” This whole chapter is a discussion of the differences between the way novices think (early cognition) and the way expert s think (late cognition). Novices or students think in terms of surface knowledge, where experts think in terms of functions, or deep structure (p133). Experts are able to transfer information and think in the abstract, where the novice does not have the background knowledge to make the connections. Experts create new knowledge where students or novice are able to comprehend but not able to create.
Novices have to put in their time to become experts. They may have learned the same information, but knowing how to apply and use it takes time and practice….”the importance of practice is that we can’t become experts until we put in our hours. (p.139).” Researchers also have what is known as the “ten-year rule”, stating that you can not be an expert with less than ten years of experience in that field regardless of the field. I could not agree more with this statement. Thinking is not easy, and it takes persistence, patience’s, and practice.
Ch7: “The cognitive principle guiding this chapter is: Children are more alike than different in terms of how they think and learn.” Many different styles of learning are sited in this chapter. However, …”students will learn better when instruction matches their cognitive style (p. 155).” He also states that regardless of the distinct learning style of the student, exposure to all different strategies and styles will benefit the learner. Wilingham does give the teacher credit. Using their expertise and choosing strategies wisely will reach all learners.

Section 3 p. 87-126

Woops for some reason I though I had section 4.

This chapter dealt with the idea that understanding abstraction, is hard for students. The first example they gave, is of a student not knowing what to do with a certain math problem, they were trying to figure out a geometry problem dealing with the area of a tabletop. Which with the help or prodding of the teacher the student figured it out but when it came to doing the same for a soccer field, they struggled once again, why?

Is it because we don't have the background experience that enables us to relate in concrete thoughts to the problems we are presented? I get confused on the difference of thinking and knowing because of what we have been exposed to. Do we always have to have something from past experiences to relate to so we can think.

The use of the measurement scales to express what is concrete and what is abstract, definitely even seemed abstract to me.
On page 92 - it says "Every new idea must build on ideas that the student already knows".

How do we do this if we don't have the background knowledge? The chapter also says that memory is the key to being successful, as memory is built on experiences and background information.

On page 97 it goes on to talk about "why doesn't knowledge transfer". The paragraph points out that we may have the same problem but see it in a different way do to experiences of our past and the background information we have built up over the years.

I like the statement on p. 102 - "to help student comprehension, provide examples and ask students to compare them" I think as teachers this is one of the best ways to get our students to understand the material is relate it to past experiences that they may have had so they can relate to them.

Chapter 5 - explains about drilling is it good or bad - being an ex military man, I find that drilling has its place in certain situations. Math - learning the facts would be a good one as "repetition / repetition" worked well for me in learning my multiplication tables etc; The thought in this chapter stresses extended practice which builds that background once again.

The whole concept or point of the past pages is that one needs to develop background information so the thinking process becomes automatic.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Section 2

Ah! Finally a book dealing with education that acknowledges that "factual knowledge is necessary."It seems at times that we are bombarded with the idea of only developing critical thinking strategies that we neglect to include content in our lesson plans. Willingham goes on to state that background knowledge is essential to future learning, and in fact without this backdrop, confusion will occur.

On page 33, Willingham provides a great example of chunking. If you haven't checked it out yet, I highly recommend it. Later, (p.36) he states the four ways background knowledge is important to reading comprehension. Regardless of what we teach, reading comprehension is critical to the day's activity and/or the unit lesson. If the students do not understand what is asked of them, they will fail to learn how to solve the problem, no matter how creative they are or what technique they use.

Making connections to prior knowledge is what enables students to commit new information to long term memory with the ability to recall the information. Willingham goes on to say that this new knowledge then allows the student (or us) to gain insight at an ever-increasing faster rate. I visualized this as the cartoon snowball that grows quickly as it rolls down hill.

Willingham ends this section by stressing the importance reading at the appropriate level. This is a tall task for us as teachers and/or parents. Reading books, magazines, and newspapers are in direct competition versus Facebook, texting, and video games for the free time of today's youth. Our challenge is to make reading and learning as fulfilling as the short-lived fun of the competition.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Section 1: “Why Don’t Students Like School?”

Section 1: “Why Don’t Students Like School?” “Because the Mind is Not Designed for Thinking”

My first reaction to the primary title of the book was: “Well that is obvious.” It was the secondary title of the book that really captured my attention. What do you mean “because the mind is not designed for thinking”?  I must admit, I almost skipped over reading this book because I thought this might be another of those authors who grabbed an obscure idea and ranted about some medical finding. After all, in all this time haven’t the scores of doctors and scientists thoroughly analyzed the brain!
Much to my surprise and delight, this author really does have some fresh ideas and can back them up.  I have only covered the first two chapters and realize that I would have been wrong not to read this book.  If the secondary title doesn’t prick your interest in reading the book, the introduction certainly will.
The author focuses this book on his extensive research on the biological and cognitive development of the human brain and what that translates to for the learning process.  He backs up every comment with very clear examples that everyone can connect with.
In the beginning of Chapter 1, Mr. Willingham states: “People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking.” Then he proceeds to back up his comment with the section on “The Mind Is Not Designed for Thinking” and his examples/reasoning clearly backs up his comment.  He even quotes Henry Ford “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why so few people engage in it”.    This section of the book contains more of this thought provoking comments such as:  Humans don’t think very often because tour brains are designed not for thought but for avoidance of thought.  Your brain serves many purposes and thinking is not the one it serves best.  It is no accident that most of your brain’s real estate is devoted to these activities (seeing and movement).  The answer is that when we can get away with it, we don’t think. Instead we rely on memory. Most of the problems we face are ones we’ve solved before, so we just do what we’ve done in the past.
One thing like about the way this author rights is that he includes a brief summary in each section. Here he summarizes two ways in which the brain is set up to “save you from thinking” is:
·         Some of the most important functions (for example, vision and movement) don’t require thought – you don’t have to reason about what your see.
·         You are biased to use memory to guide your actions rather than to think.
The next section of chapter 1 is: “People Are Naturally Curious, but Curiosity Is Fragile”
                Mr Willingham reasons that the brain, although not very efficient at thinking, enjoys mental activity in some circumstances.  He talks about different types of thinking and what most people enjoy or avoid.  Much of it depends on the level of difficulty.  Too hard and people will avoid; too easy and people will lose interest.  That middle ground or as he states it “find the sweet spot” that grabs the interest and maintains it.
                The section on “How Thinking Works” is not completely new in concept but new in the way to look at it. He goes into some detail about the environment, working memory, and long-term memory.  There are a couple example problems to illustrate how thinking and problem solving work.  There are direct connections made to student in a classroom and how the working memory is limited and the more it gets crowed with new information the more difficult the problem becomes.  This only leads to people feeling like the problem is too difficult for them to solve and the eventually give up. 
In the last section of this chapter he doesn’t brings the topic home to teachers with “Implications for the Classroom”. He recommends seven items that teachers should consider for fully engaging students in the learning process:
·         Be sure that there are problems to be solved – identify the challenges and outcomes (look for negative outcomes)
·         Respect Students’ Cognitive limits – develop effective mental challenges, bear in mind the cognitive limitations for each student
·         Clarify the problems to be solved – make the material relevant to students and develop key questions
·         Reconsider when to puzzle students – the goal is to puzzle students and make them curious
·         Accept and act on variation in student preparation – it is self-defeating to give all students that same work
·         Change the pace – change grabs attention, monitor student engagement
·         Keep a Diary – reflect on your classroom, students and on your teaching. Write down the lessons you learned so you can improve and not repeat the same error.

The most interesting quote from this chapter was: “People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking.”

At the end of this chapter, I asked myself if any of these seven suggestions were new to me.  I can say that none of them are new to me but I certainly didn’t incorporate and employ these strategies in the same way the author suggests.  It is a different way of looking at things. I’m curious and learning!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mixed signals

Some students are bored with school because of the mixed messages they receive. Teachers may expect a certain level of technological advancement that they do not possess. Other students are much further advanced and are annoyed by waiting for their classmates to catch up.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Black & White

Many kids are bored at school, and we are asking why. Technology is wonderful, and it makes the world interesting and fun. I think this black & white picture says it all. Technology is the “color” in our educational world, however, we need to start in black & white first by learning the basics.

Not Again!

The old blackboard and textbook, with the cell phone on her desk, seemed to be a great way to sum up today's students. She does seem to be putting forth effort, but it is a struggle. And we wonder why they don't like school!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I would rather text!

Todays students are far more engaged in electronic media and social communication. Their social connections trump anything teachers and parents have to offer. We need to find a better way to grab and keep their attention.

Friday, October 22, 2010

We have all had teachers like this!

This picture is so real for me! All of us have had teachers who lectured with their back to the class and in a mono tone voice. Kids in the class just hated to come and spend 60 minutes listening to the same thing over and over.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why students don't like school.

I chose this image for a cover because it is clear this student is frustrated. You can see there a computer in the background and would could be homework under him. He may be struggling to understand what is expected of him or just overwhelmed, both can be a cause for not liking school.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Welcome to Literature Circle Eleven!

Your Super Summarizer schedule is as follows:

Section One--Due October 28, Larry Broomfield
Section Two--Due November 4, Rick Meyerink
Section Three--Due November 11, Keven Morehart
Section Four--Due November 18, Virginia Schmunk
Section Five--Due December 2, Ashley Wiley
Section Six--Due December 9, Roxi Withee