Why Don’t Students Like School – Daniel T. Willingham



I’m going to apply each and every advice given in this book. The book is well written and straight forward. It’s easy to understand and fully informative nothing is vague.

Let me explain, Author shows that there are few generalizable skills about critical thinking across all disciplines.
To understand a topic, one needs to have the sort of “deep knowledge” in long-term memory that allows you to interpret the facts at hand critically. That could be procedural type knowledge (like how to multiply ) or mere facts (like who was the first President). With these facts, it becomes easier to “think critically” by using them to identify subtexts and connecting causes. This kind of deep knowledge is also important because the main bottleneck to critical thinking is one’s “working memory,” or the six or seven things one can keep at the forefront of one’s thought at the same time. This too is little subject to general training, but in any one subject, more long-term memory allows you to “chunk” pieces of information together and therefore keep more things in your mind at once, which makes them easier to compare and contrast.

This may sound like Willingham is a mere advocate for rote memorization, and though he does defend knowing some basic facts that require mere memory, he knows that rote learning is a bad way to learn. As he says, memory is the residue of thought. Whatever gets a person thinking more about a subject makes them more likely to remember it, and thinking more about a subject, especially across different situations, allows one to identify where else that subject information could apply. Willingham attributes the ability to generalize ideas across some related fields the very essence of “expert” thought, and he shows that this demands practice and constant thinking (and therefore increasing memory about the subject) to acquire.

This book could be seen as a somewhat traditionalist. A defense of memorizing, subject-matter knowledge, and practicing in education instead of airy ideas about “critical thinking” and “whole learning.” It is somewhat traditional in that sense, though backed up by real citations and science.

Yet Willingham also explains how to make this all interesting. He also advocates shaping lessons as narratives, with a conflict and a resolution, which takes advantage of our natural bias for stories for thinking about a topic.

This book changed and, hopefully, clarified the way I think about learning. I won’t read another book without thinking about it.

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