As I settled in to start this book I looked over the front cover and back cover. The title made me first respond “I know why students don’t like school. That seems obvious to everyone”. But that is not what this book turned out to be. Not at all! This is the kind of book that you are glad you read and is now in your professional library for reference and reminder.
It takes only a few of the authors well written and well documented paragraphs to convince you that you have a lot to learn. One quote from chapter one stayed with me throughout the book and that is: “People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking.” His examples to back this up are not easily arguable.
He gives several examples of short term memory, working memory and long term memory. True learning happens as we make connections to what we already know. New material must be presented in such a way as to not overload our working memory and quickly moved to make some connections that we will remember.
During my own reflection of how I conduct many of my HS classes I realized that I might be expecting too much of my students. I believe I may have exceeded their working memory. That is certainly true with my SPED students, which further required more accommodation than expected.
The background of each student is not something that I have tried to gain as well as I should. And then to think of just how much of new content in say, Personal Finance, would be abstract for my Jr and Sr students. Most of them don’t have a checking account and none of them have established any credit. Understanding this “stuff” is hard. In fact many of their parents don’t understand this stuff.
Building background knowledge is one of the tough parts to learning. For a short time in the book I was fearful of how new terms and new processes would be recommended by the author. Even though drill still has its place, a greater effort in quickly making sense will reward the student much quicker.
The idea of early cognition and late cognition was very interesting. Since I teach K-12, this made sense although I had never thought of it like the author presented.
Showing student that you have confidence in them is something that I don’t think about but I believe is natural for me. I like to comment on assignments and when possible highlight a job well done. Quality feedback is essential to all of us and certainly to the struggling student. When things have gone wrong for the student they should never be discouraged by your comments but encouraged to try again. Isn’t that what we do in life? This is teaching a valuable life skill. Get up, dust off, and try again.
Willingham says that we as teachers need to: consciously work on improving, seek feedback from someone in the field and participate in activities for the sake of improvement. The only thing that I would add is to routinely reflect (daily if possible) on what and how you taught each lesson.
This was a great book and the Willingham did an outstanding job of documenting support for his ideas. This book is will change you. It will change your students and that is what it is all about.