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."