I have homeschooled my kids for years. I have read more books on educational philosophy, psychology, trends, and methods than I care to remember. Most of them are completely useless.
The homeschooling world is absolutely over run by curriculum, programs, methods, gurus, and philosophies. You could spend a lifetime and a fortune sorting it all out. Believe me, a lot of homeschoolers have tried.
This book gives you a clear path through the claims and hyperbole. Even as I strive to teach critical thinking to my kids, I am aware that I need to constantly be working on that myself. This book is a fantastic exercise in applying critical thinking to educational theory.
Not everything in this book translates well to the homeschool world. But enough content does to make this a very worth while read before you get suckered in at the next curriculum fair or homeschool conference.
I would actually very much like the author to write an addendum or revised additions for homeschoolers. We spend more money on books than any other segment of the market. We could use his insight.
This book is specifically aimed at educators (teachers and administrators, but parents, too) who might be considering "educational software, games, workbooks or other programs" which claim to be "based on the latest research." While some of these products may be based on actual research, many are not. But how can you tell? Willingham discusses the history of science and the role it plays in persuading us and appeals to our biases (especially the "confirmation bias" where we look for "evidence" that supports what we already believe and discard what doesn't support it). Ultimately he outlines and explains four steps:
Strip it and Flip it. Strip the claim down to its essentials and promises: "If I do X, then there is a Y percent chance that Z will happen."
Trace it. Should you take statements by "authorities" at face value?
Analyze it. What evidence is offered? Is there any scientific evidence (from reliable studies) that support or refute the claims?
Should you do it? And how will you measure results, or when do you call it quits?
It's a rather straightforward process that can weed out a lot of programs and help you find (and understand) the kind of research for making better-informed decisions. And while it's geared more toward eduation professionals it's also written plainly enough that parents can use the same processes. I picked it up hoping it could apply to other areas where science is touted. Such issues are certainly beyond the scope of this book, but I think Willingham's method is a good place to start and can be applied in more areas than just education. It's not a long book and Willingham's writing style is easy to follow. But the main idea is to get people thinking for themselves and not be misled by emotional appeals or psuedo-science.
on April 13, 2013
Dan Willngham does great work when it comes to bringing science and education together. His previous book, "Why Students Don't Like School?" is a very accessible and very sensible look at how we teach, why many of the things of we do probably don't work very well, how this effects kids' view of their own schooling, and what science tells us about how we might change things. Now I think he's done us one better by giving us a book that helps us evaluate all the science and pseudo-science we hear about in education.
I think this is significant for two reason: (1) I'm not aware of any book for a non-scientist like me that provides tools I can use every day to evaluate scientific claims about teaching and learning; and (2) Dan is essentially giving us a powerful tool to investigate his own work as a scientist as well. His book, then, not only tells us something about educational research, it tells us something about Dan: that he is truly one of the experts we can trust because he is willing to not only willing to put his own work up for public scrutiny but also to give non-scientists like me the very tool we need to scrutinize his efforts.
I could tell you a ton of things I like about the book. It's full of useful ideas that I have incorporated easily into my own educational practice. But you can read the book and find those things out for yourself.
What I'd really like people to consider is the nature of the person who wrote this book. How many scientist have written books for non-scientists about how to evaluate scientific claims--including their own? I'm sure there are some. But I don't think there are many. And I certainly haven't found one in education that is as thoughtful, as practical, and as fair-minded as this book.
Whether you're a teacher, a principal, a parent, or a policy maker, this book is well worth having on your bookshelf (or in your Kindle if you're out of shelf space like I am). Dan's "Science and Education Blog" is also a great read. Much like his book, it brings to the lay person like me, brief and accessible interpretations of the very latest research on learning--with the same fair-minded and high-integrity approach he has brought to the writing of "When Can You Trust the Experts?"
I wish this were required reading for principals. The No Child Left Behind has left them desperate for anything which will improve student scores. I have a background in science and educational research and have spent many an hour explaining to principals that the newest "fad" in teaching (insert reading method, math program, "brain training" exercises) has no evidence to support effectiveness. They all sound good, and fling about authoritative scientific sounding or alternatively, flowery and romantic statements but lack proof.
Unfortunately, many educational research books delve into all sorts of statistics. Given that many teachers and principals do not have extensive backgrounds in statistics (once had to go in and explain to a principal that students could not "advance to the 100th percentile" from the 99th percentile) these books do little to enlighten.
This books is NOT for educational researchers. This book is for principals, teachers and parents. The author readily admits that his method is a shortcut. Using this method will give the reader a pathway to evaluate the claims of educational products and not simply resort o thinking "well, that sounds good, let's give it a try!" which seems to be the basis for many decision making committees in education.
However, given the lack of time that many parents and teachers have, I wish this book were shorter or came in two versions, the "well developed" version and the "really a shortcut version". Although the explanations of the scientific method and research methods are interesting ( and his beginning a clever way to open your eyes) I worry that the extra length means that some readers will not persevere to the meat of the book, how to evaluate educational claims. I would give it 4.5 stars. but I will round up, as the author does an excellent job explaining to the educated (but not necessarily scientific or mathematical) layman how to strip away the smoke and mirrors, get to the facts and make an informed decision.
on May 18, 2015
This is a book that I highly recommend for any teacher at any level. There is a huge industry in education for marketing the next great educational breakthrough. Buy this product implement this plan use this piece of technology and student performance will skyrocket! That is until the next great thing comes along and then it is back to the beginning with yet another educational plan. Willingham does a good job of explaining in an easy to understand way why we should be suspicious of educational research and more than just complaining about this he gives the reader a way to determine if what is being proposed is a waste of time or is possibly useful. While it is not a foolproof method, it does arm the reader with a toolbox they can use to same time money and a lot of frustration for the Teachers, administrators, students and parents. I will admit that I read this book out of frustration over watching my own school system flounder around looking for a silver bullet to fix all of our school system's woes. After having read this book I feel better prepared to assess what is and is not useful.
on July 8, 2012
When we think "science" and "education," we think of those teachers who taught us how to set the Periodic Table, break beakers, and light fires. What we don't think of are white-coat types holding a magnifying glass to education research. Still, in this day of "research-based" this and "best-practices" that, shouldn't we at least question what that means? Daniel T. Willingham certainly thinks so, and he wrote WHEN CAN YOU TRUST THE EXPERTS? HOW TO TELL GOOD SCIENCE FROM BAD IN EDUCATION in an attempt to rectify that.
As I teach English and not science, I am probably a good test subject for this book. I'm happy to say that not all of it was new. In fact, if you, like me, know a thing or two about persuasion and logical fallacies, you will find some of Willingham's information warmed-up leftovers. He starts the book with a little history -- admittedly my favorite part -- about the Enlightenment, where science was king, and the Romantic Era, where emotions and nature held sway. Turns out, educational sorts are still tapping these roots to impress and persuade us that their particular form of educational-change-for-the-better is superior. Thus, we might see a picture of a scientist in a white coat (usually an avuncular sort with white hair and a clipboard) attached to the pitch. Also, statistics might be used, and the holy words "science" and "research" themselves might be invoked. People trust scientists and research, even more so in the U.S. than in many other countries.
Romantic roots? Think of the word "natural" (also used prolifically in the food business, where it means absolutely nothing). The Romantic movement also sends us our love of "the whole child" and of each learning style being unique and thus worthy of our attention and lesson planning. Yeah. We like that individualistic spirit, too -- and educational salesmen know that. Thus, they use the right buzzwords to sell us.
After explaining how we are easily fooled and how science might save us, Willingham moves on from background information to actions we might take. He advises that we "flip it, trace it, and analyze it." In brief, an example of "flipping it" might be the hamburger that calls itself 85% lean on its packaging. Flip it and you get the much less tantalizing 15% fat which is the same thing but would hurt sales if it appeared on the package in large red letters with exclamation points. "Trace it" teaches you how to sniff a trail, hound dog-like. Who is making this claim and where is his data coming from? Finally, "analyze it" shows you how a scientist would put said data to the test. There's data and there's data, after all.
If you don't know where to begin, you might start with this book, even if it can get a bit dry at times, especially for my right-brained (whoops, bad science!) mind. Still, I know it's good for me, so I carried on. Plus, Willingham was constantly providing tables to summarize key points. This is good science, apparently, especially when English teachers are reading.
Despite the fact that it doesn't really name a lot of names, products, and strategies, I recommend the book for those who are questioning certain educational systems and claims, those who are vetting them, or those who must champion them. Know of what you speak before you endorse or challenge things! As E.D. Hirsch said, in a quote repeated in this book: "The enormous problem faced in basing policy on research is that it is almost impossible to make educational policy that is not based on research. Almost every educational practice that has ever been pursued has been supported with data by somebody. I don't know a single failed policy, ranging from the naturalistic teaching of reading, to the open classroom, to the teaching of abstract set-theory in third-grade math that hasn't been research-based. Experts have advocated almost every conceivable practice short of inflicting permanent bodily harm."
So much for "research." Almost as dependable as that "all natural" you see on so much unhealthy food.
on June 14, 2013
Very sound interpretation of science’s structure and role in society, mainly in education. Didactically managed, the text is well elaborated, full of useful hints about how we can use expert knowledge wisely. Scientific knowledge is no panacea – it applies only to logic-experimental phenomena. But in this field it is the best we have, so education should rely far more on research and knowledge in order to offer students great learning opportunities. The book is also very valuable in its epistemological background: what is science, how is it produced, characteristics of scientific method, science as a controversy in practice, no final results, always in progress…
on February 5, 2013
A quick and informative read, and a really important journey through the foibles of our own perceptions and understandings. Every educator should be required to read this, especially those in a position to influence policy and make decisions about how money and resources are spent; Superintendents, School Board presidents and members included.
It's a given that this book should be required reading for educators. However, we shouldn't stop there, because parents also need to be knowledgeable of how their children are being educated.
This book is of value for each and everyone of us, though especially for those in a school system. The state of education is continually in flux and it seems that many graduate from high school and even college without the knowledge and skill they need to be of the greatest benefit to our society. And of course educating in the right way, the way for the student to learn, is at the core.
This book does nicely teach each of us to evaluate. Many reviewers feel the author rambles, but it seems to me that there's value in that so-called "rambling" as much as there is in the straight forward ideas he promotes.
And so, in summary, this book is the beginning point for many of us in either, as educators, to turn things around by proper thoughtful evaluation, or as parents anxious to see our progeny off to the best start in life of which they are capable.
Daniel Willingham is professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. He is a regular contributor to the magazine of the American Federation of Teachers, the American Educator. As such, he is uniquely qualified to write on the science of education.
Much of what passes for "research" in education is, in reality, advocacy. There are millions to be made by giving seminars on whatever "new" idea happens to appeal to teachers, who are always eager to learn promising approaches to improving learning by their students.
Willingham opens his book with a catchy treatise on the Golden Ratio, which is equal to 1.618... Given a series of rectangles of varying dimensions, the rectangle whose sides are in a proportion of 1 to 1.618 will be more aesthetically pleasing to most people. Actress Jessica Alba is thought to be one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood. Many features of her face are proportioned by the Golden Ratio. Readers will find this discussion to be very interesting.
The author's description of the Reading Wars is very compelling. He explains how generations of young children were deprived of effective reading instruction when teachers were diverted from using direct teaching of letters and sounds. Instead, students were expected to learn to read by memorizing whole words, since mature readers did not sound out words but read whole words at a glance. This was adopted wholesale by educators without any research evidence that it worked.
Willingham provides a lot of detail as to how one can identify valid scientific evidence and separate it from simple promotion of something that sounds good but lacks any real substance. If teachers were to follow his advice, they would put a lot of "professional development" seminar presenters out of business. The result, however, would be more good teaching and less faddishness in education.