Thanks to you… Daniel Willingham

5546957638_da2391076a_mThis is the second part of an ongoing series of posts where I would like to say “Thank you” to someone who has made me aware of something interesting, opened my eyes to an error in my reasoning, made me question my views or simply inspired me to do something different.

The second post is for Daniel Willingham and his book “Why don’t students like school?”.

I’ve wanted to write this post for a while as I’ve used a lot of Daniel’s writing when talking to others in my school. The first time I encountered his ideas was whilst in a discussion about why Learning Styles were not a proven scientific theory and we shouldn’t be basing our approach in the classroom on the notion that we could classify students like this. I was looking for a more succinct way to explain what was going through my head and finding this page about Learning styles was a godsend and seemed to end the discussion.

Since then I’ve used sections of “When can you trust the experts?” in school PD sessions with colleagues and this is hopefully going to form the basis of a more ‘evidence based’ approach to what we do at school. The teachers also now have access to this book (and others) as part of our ‘PD Resources’ in the library.

The inspiration for the writing the post now is due to several sections I have just read in “Why don’t students like school?”, this is not a really new book (published 2010) and many will have probably read it (late to the party again I know, I certainly won’t get invited back).  These sections seemed particularly prescient given our schools current focus on the MYPNC (the IB Middle Years Programme Next Chapter). They are prescient as what we are asking of the students is more demanding in terms of working memory, especially the focus on ‘conceptual based learning’, ‘inquiry learning’ and the desire for ‘transfer of conceptual ideas’. Recently, I’ve also had some questions regarding the Theory of Knowledge element of the IBDP and these points are relevant here as well.

Some of the many useful points that Daniel makes about memory for example are:

  • Working memory is limited and set, the less you have the less able you are to process new information.
  • Working memory is limited but it can be ‘gamed’ through improved ‘background knowledge’ and ‘practice’ which leads to automation of certain skills or actions
  • “Compared to novices, experts are better able to single out important details, produce sensible solutions, and transfer their knowledge to similar domains. These abilities are seen not only in doctors but also in writers, mathematicians, chess players—and teachers” (Therefore, it stands to reason we can’t then expect students to accomplish the same as experts and we need to be realistic about this)
  • The importance of spacing of revision and repetition to aid retention of important information is going to help us develop our revision programmes with our Diploma Programme students.

The book is clearly written and very well explained; the lessons are worth remembering and taking on board when we teach our students.

Certainly well worth a read!



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