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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 1st Edition

150 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0470591963
ISBN-10: 047059196X
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Editorial Reviews


"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)

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"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. --This text refers to the Unknown Binding edition.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (March 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 047059196X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470591963
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (150 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,473 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

DANIEL T. WILLINGHAM is professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. His bestselling first book, "Why Don't Students Like School?" (Jossey-Bass, 2009), was hailed as "a triumph" by The Washington Post and "brilliant analysis" by The Wall Street Journal, recommended by scores of magazines and blogs, and translated into many languages. His most recent book, "When Can You Trust the Experts?" (Jossey-Bass, 2012), was named recommended reading by Nature and Scientific American and made CHOICE's list of Outstanding Academic Titles for 2013. Willingham writes a regular column called "Ask the Cognitive Scientist" for the American Federation of Teachers' magazine, American Educator, and blogs frequently for He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, and of the Association for Psychological Science.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

229 of 236 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight VINE VOICE on April 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
If you are a teacher, like myself, you have doubtless been inundated by advice about teaching to multiple intelligences, active (rather than passive) learning, teaching students to think rather than memorize facts, etc. If so, then you can't afford to pass up this book, which will provide a very helpful guide as to why some of these well-intentioned ideas are wrong, and what it means for you as a teacher.

Dan Willingham's Why Don't Students Like School? is a book applying findings of cognitive psychology to the world of education. Sound a lot like Eric Jensen and his wildly popular book Teaching With the Brain in Mind? Well, unlike Jensen - who educators hear a lot about - Willingham is a PhD in cognitive psychology (while Jensen, who has a bachelors in English, is "working towards" a PhD from an online university, while making his real living as a motivational speaker). Long and short: Willingham is the real deal and I move to suggest that this book infinitely deserves more popularity amongst educators than anything Jensen has written.

Willingham's basic theme is that, despite everything you've heard, nothing works to increase student ability like factual learning and practice. In fact, one of his first ideas is to point out that what seperates the excellent student (or adult) from those performing less well is their ability to recall facts. The more facts you know about your subject, the more you can understand your subject because of significantly less energy spent on fact recall or retention. With facts learned to automaticity, more time can be spent on higher-order concept learning, and once that becomes automatic....etc.
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235 of 245 people found the following review helpful By James J. OKeeffe on March 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Factual knowledge must precede skill. Rote learning and memorization are valuable teaching strategies. Teaching to "multiple intelligences," "learning styles," and individual student interests is a waste of time. Is this really a cognitive psychologist talking?

The answer is yes, and Dr. Willingham should be knighted for flouting some of the most persistent lies about what constitutes "best practice" in the classroom these days. I just attended the ASCD's national conference in Florida last week, and while there was much blathering about brain research, teaching to the "whole child," and professional learning communities (the latest cult movement among education bureaucrats), there was precious little discussion about substantive teaching. In just 165 pages, Dr. Willingham presents more useful information than I've managed to glean in ten years of teacher-training, and he does so in a user-friendly, non-dogmatic style that can be read in one sitting.

Most useful are the nine organizing principles, which are both memorable and quotable (like any smart rhetorician, Willingham begins with his most startling fact: the brain is designed not to help us think, but rather to help us avoid thinking), the quick lists of classroom implications at the conclusion of each chapter, and the bibliographical citations categorized by "less technical" and "more technical." Rather than using cognitive research to justify some hotly promoted fad or gimmick, Dr. Willingham presents the most consistent research findings, all of which tend to confirm things that the best and most experienced teachers already know to be true--e.g. the effectiveness of using narratives to dramatize and illustrate important concepts, a "best practice" that's been around since at least the time of Christ.
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63 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Katharine Beals on July 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Every once in a while, an empirical study comes along that provides solid evidence against one of those Constructivist practices that some of us whose thoughts on education come more from actual practice than from education theory have often been skeptical about. There is, for example, Jennifer Kaminski's Ohio State study, which suggests that too much of a focus on "real-world" math obscures the underlying mathematics, such that students are unable to transfer concepts to new problems.

Dan Willingham's book Why Don't Students Like School presents a whole bunch of these experimental results. Together, they challenge the notions that:

1. Students need to learn inquiry, argumentation, and higher-level thinking *rather than* tons of facts.
2. Integrating art into other subjects enhances learning; so does integrating computer technology.
3. Children learn best through self-guided discovery.
4. Drill is kill. Multiple strategies in a given lesson are better than a single strategy practiced multiple times.
5. Students learn best when constructing their own knowledge.
6. The best way to prepare students to become scientists and mathematicians is to teach them to solve problems the way scientists and mathematicians do.

The empirical data that Willingham cites show that, in fact:

1. Factual knowledge, lots of it, is a prerequisite to higher-level thinking.
2. Students are most likely to remember those aspects of a lesson that they end up thinking about the most. Corollary: Incorporating art or computer technology into another subject may sometimes cause students to think about the art or the technology more than the lesson content, such that they don't retain the latter.
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