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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

ISBN: 978-0-470-73045-4
240 pages
June 2009
Why Don


Easy-to-apply, scientifically-based approaches for engaging students in the classroom

Cognitive scientist Dan Willingham focuses his acclaimed research on the biological and cognitive basis of learning. His book will help teachers improve their practice by explaining how they and their students think and learn. It reveals-the importance of story, emotion, memory, context, and routine in building knowledge and creating lasting learning experiences.

  • Nine, easy-to-understand principles with clear applications for the classroom
  • Includes surprising findings, such as that intelligence is malleable, and that you cannot develop "thinking skills" without facts
  • How an understanding of the brain's workings can help teachers hone their teaching skills

"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

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments v

The Author ix

Introduction 1

CHAPTER 1 Why Don’t Students Like School? 3

CHAPTER 2 How Can I Teach Students the Skills They Need When Standardized Tests Require Only Facts? 25

CHAPTER 3 Why Do Students Remember Everything That’s on Television and Forget Everything I Say? 53

CHAPTER 4 Why Is It So Hard for Students to Understand Abstract Ideas? 87

CHAPTER 5 Is Drilling Worth It?  107

CHAPTER 6 What’s the Secret to Getting Students to Think Like Real Scientists, Mathematicians, and Historians? 127

CHAPTER 7 How Should I Adjust My Teaching for Different Types of Learners? 147

CHAPTER 8 How Can I Help Slow Learners? 169

CHAPTER 9 What About My Mind? 189

Conclusion 207

End Notes 214

Index 217

Credit Lines 225

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Author Information

Daniel T. Willingham is professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, where he has taught since 1992. He writes the popular Ask the Cognitive Scientist column for American Educator magazine.
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The Wiley Advantage

  • Author with expert credentials.  Unlike most brain-learning authors on the market, Willingham is not a mere synthesizer of the research.  He has actually done the research.
  • Strong education platform.  Author has a regular column in the American Educator (circ: 850,000) and is closely allied with E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Foundation.
  • Need-to-Know Content:  While backed by scientific evidence, the information is practical and can be put to use by classroom teachers.


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"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.

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Related Websites / Extra

Daniel T. WillinghamVisit author Daniel T. Willingham's site for more information about his ongoing work.
Daniel Willingham's Blog on Britannica.comRead Daniel Willingham's blog on Britannica.com
American Federation of TeachersRead an article from Daniel Willingham in the Spring 2009 issue of American Educator
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