Off the Shelf: Daniel T. Willingham

March 26, 2009 — Daniel T. Willingham, professor of psychology, "Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom." Jossey-Bass.

Children 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 program, yet miss the most obvious questions on their history test?

Willingham, a cognitive scientist, has focused his 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.

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 of 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.