Review: Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel T. Willingham

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My copy from the library. Do you see all the post-its?

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

180 pages

Published in March 2009 by Jossey-Bass

Source: Public Library

In Why Don’t Students Like School?, psychologist Daniel T. Willingham shares with readers nine principles of cognitive science that can be applied to classrooms everywhere. From why thinking is hard for all of us – kids and adults alike – to the importance of repetition and motivation, to debunking the theory of multiple intelligences, Willingham’s book is one that should be in the hands of educators, parents, and administrators everywhere.

In each chapter, the author focuses on one of the principles and shares with readers the research behind the principle and gives examples. At the end of each chapter, there’s a summary and ways to implicate the research into the classroom.

One of the best chapters has to do with factual knowledge and critical thinking skills. Willingham argues that for students to critically think about a subject, they have to have background knowledge. That knowledge allows student to hold more information which means they can comprehend more. It also makes students better readers. The whole thing is a cycle.

It’s also why it’s important for parents to start early with their kids by reading to them. If a child doesn’t have the same background information as their classmates, they’re always going to play catch up, but they will always be behind.

Another one of the book’s principles has to do with intelligence being malleable. What’s just as important is a person’s mindset about intelligence. Intelligence can be changed through hard work but a person has to believe that they can get smarter. When a person believes they can become smarter, they seek out challenging opportunities that help them become that way. If a person believes intelligence is fixed, challenging opportunities are avoided as a way not to fail.

There is so much to learn and while I enjoyed reading this book, I had a few issues. This book is less than 180 pages and it is dense. There’s so much information coming at readers. It’s a book you have to work at but it’s well worth it. There’s also illustrations in each chapter to help with the examples given. Towards the end of the book, the illustrations became a distraction and weren’t needed.

If you’re an adult who’s interested in bringing out the best learning experiences for children, you can’t go wrong by reading this book. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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7 thoughts on “Review: Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel T. Willingham

  1. I would also recommend this book. It has lots of practical classroom advice for teachers. I read it a chapter at a time, because as you say, there is a lot to take in.

  2. This does sound interesting. My son liked school at first and then got where he didn’t. I think it had more to do with all the time teachers spend disciplining other students and all the busy work he was made to do. He got so he always carried a book with him because he had so much free time and he would read 2 or 3 books a week at school.

  3. That seems really really short for an amazingly large topic. I am interested in hearing his thoughts though – and I like any educational theory book which offers actual advice for instruction.

  4. I have to say, that from your description it doesn’t really sound like there is much new information here. Building background knowledge, for example, has been a staple of teacher training for decades, now. Multiple intelligences came and went a while ago, too.

    Still, while this doesn’t sound like anything new to me, it doesn’t sound wrong either.

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