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Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What it Means for the Classroom Hardcover – 7 Apr 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey Bass; 1 edition (7 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470279303
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470279304
  • Product Dimensions: 16.4 x 2.1 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,043,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


"Drilling often conjures up images of late–19th–century schoolhouses, with students singsonging state capitals in unison without much comprehension of what they have learned," ( New York Times , 2010) "But Mr. Willingham′s answers apply just as well outside the classroom. Corporate trainers, marketers and, not least, parents –– anyone who cares about how we learn –– should find his book valuable reading." ( Wall Street Journal , April 29, 2009)


"Just like his Ask the Cognitive Scientist column, Dan Willingham′s book makes fascinating but complicated research from cognitive science accessible to teachers. It is jam packed with ideas that teachers willfind both intellectually rich and useful in their classroom work." —Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers "This readable, practical book by a distinguished cognitivescientist explains the universal roots of effective teaching and learning. With great wit and authority it practices the principles it preaches. It is the best teachers′ guide I know of—a classic that belongs in the book bag of every teacher from preschool to grad school." —E. D. Hirsch, Jr., university professor emeritus, University of Virginia "Dan Willingham, rare among cognitive scientists for also being awonderful writer, has produced a book about learning in school that readslike a trip through a wild and thrilling new country. For teachers and parents, even students, there are surprises on every page. Did you know, for instance,that our brains are not really made for thinking?" —Jay Mathews, education columnist, The Washington Post "Educators will love this wonderful book—in clear and compelling language, Willingham shows how the most important discoveries from the cognitive revolution can be used to improve teaching and inspire students in the classroom." —John Gabrieli, Grover Hermann Professor of Health Sciences,Technology and Cognitive Neuroscience, Massachusetts Institute of Technology "Scientists know so much more than we knew thirty years ago about how children learn. This book offers you the research, and the arguments,that will help you become a more effective teacher." —Joe Riener, English teacher, Wilson High School, Washington, D.C. “A must read for those wishing to improve their classroom and those looking for ways to help their students be successful.” —G.L. Willhite, University of Wisconsin – La Crosse—Highly Recommended

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ever since New Labour came to power in 1997, professional educators and administrators have been assiduously promoting radical changes designed to renew the progressive agenda which was thoroughly discredited in the 1980s and 1990s. They've dressed up tired old ideas with new slogans: our children are now supposed to be learning '21st century skills' and 'learning to learn'. Instead of child-centred learning, we now have 'personalised learning'--in their fantasy world, these people really seem to believe that teachers have the time to design lessons which match each child's 'learning style'. High school teachers often have to teach over 200 pupils--one can only wonder what fantasy world our educators (and New Labour) live in.

Of course, our progressive educators make it sound very convincing, citing numerous studies conducted at the Institute of Education and other prestigous institutions. However, educators live in a hermetically-sealed world, where other serious disciplines are generally ignored. Dan Willingham, a distinguished American cognitive scientist, exposes the fraudulent nature of progressive mythology. Children cannot learn all-purpose 'critical thinking skills'--why anyone supposed they could is a complete mystery. If you want to master any serious academic discipline, there aren't any shortcuts: you really do need to know a lot. The web won't help you--if you don't know a lot about a subject already, the information you find won't mean much to you.

This book is superbly written. Willingham makes his points with well-chosen examples. It is written at the level of the educated lay reader--it's a good introduction to a complex subject, and it deals with learning at a level that parents and teachers will be able to understand. If you have any interest at all in education, buy this book--it will open your eyes.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There are three reasons why, despite having read hundreds of books on how to teach, I've used this one the most in two years teaching in inner-city London.

First, it's packed full of practical ideas. If you want to know how to improve the way you use stories, knowledge or problems, examples, practice or mnemonics, there's no better author than Dan Willingham.

Second, it distills three decades of scientific research into how the brain works. Thirty years of evidence is crystalised at your fingertips: all of it tailored to the classroom.

Third, it opens your eyes as to why certain things aren't working. For instance, why don't they remember anything I tell them? Because I'm starving them of stories and mnemonics that make content memorable. Why can't they understand the concepts? Because I've starved them of concrete examples. Why can't they interpret critically? Because they don't have a sufficiently secure foundation of background knowledge of the text. Willingham's brilliant diagnosis sheds light onto why students struggle at school.

This link explains why:
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I delayed reading this book for some time. I didn’t like the title (my students love school, don’t they?), and experiences with modestly qualified presenters peddling “brain-based learning” make me suspicious of those claiming to apply “brain research” to teaching. I need not have worried. The title is a hook to raise curiosity (much closer to the content - but less provocative - would be “Why don’t students learn as much at school as they could?”). And Willingham writes with knowledge and wisdom, backing his points with evidence. Soon after starting the book I realized that underlining key passages would not work. The book is packed with interesting insights, too many to underline. He presents his ideas in a lively style as answers to questions, modelling the cognitive principles he advocates. The result is a very enjoyable read. But how will it influence my teaching? Here, briefly, is what could result from implementing the cognitive principles Willingham identifies:

“Curriculum content - geologic history, moon phases, cellular respiration etc. - is presented as answers to questions, solutions to problems. There is extensive use of storytelling both through stories of real individuals (scientists in my case) and through making stories around natural phenomena. There is a recognition of the importance of practice to enable learners to have key knowledge and skills in their long term memory. Students are not expected to have expertise in tasks such as carrying out full investigations to create new knowledge. The role of the students is that of novice developing appropriate skills and, over time, deep understandings. The teacher is careful to evaluate lessons by considering what it is that the students will think about during the lesson.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I will only add one thing to what has already been said in favour of this book (much in demand in my school library by staff, I may add) - Prof Willingham practises what he preaches. He starts the book off with an explanation of why we find problem solving satisfying and how this is important for teaching, and then uses lots of little puzzles to get his points across through the rest of the book, making it a most enjoyable read.
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