Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Final Reflection

When I think about how I can use the principles in this book in my teaching, my first question is, “Where do I begin?!” I found this book to be full of wonderful information about how our brains work and how teachers can use this knowledge to our advantage. Often while reading I found that Willingham’s findings contradicted what I thought I knew about how children learn.

The first revelation Willingham revealed is that our brains are not naturally good at thinking and that curiosity is the way in which we turn our minds on to thinking about something new. For me, this means that I need to find a way to spark my students’ natural curiosities in order to get them thinking about the concepts and skills I want to teach them. However, later in the book, the author points out that if teachers use a ‘shock and awe’ demonstration to introduce a new idea; students will often only remember the demonstration and may forget all the meaning behind it. This is something that I believe to be true due to my own experiences as a student and that I will keep in mind as a teacher. Students need us to show them the connections between what they are working on and what they can learn from it; I think this is truly one of the hardest tasks a teacher faces – and yet the most important.

This book also reaffirmed in me the importance of making a personal connection with my students. Willingham states that emotion plays an important role in memory. If my students feel like I truly care about them, and if they see me as a person and not just a teacher, they will feel more connected to what I am trying to teach.

Another idea from the book that surprised me was that Willingham makes a great case for a teaching practice that has become unpopular; drilling. I found that his comments, however, make sense and make a strong case for the use of some drilling (practicing) in school. I agree that students need a strong foundation of knowledge in order to be able to learn more complex ideas later in their education. In order to achieve this, they need repeated practice. Especially in the mathematics area, this is something that I plan to implement. I feel strongly that drilling or repeated practice exercises cannot be my only curriculum, but I now see that it has a place in the classroom.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this book and found several principles that will help me to be a better teacher.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


A key concept from Why Don’t Students Like School? for me was “It is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extended practice”. Many of our students want the easy way of going through a class, rather than looking at the class as a way to become proficient in an area. I have always been a firm believer in mastering the math facts to make each new concept less time intensive. The book stressed the importance of practice to also free up working memory space, such as chunking and also making the mental processes become automatized. In following with that idea, chapter eight discussed telling our students that hard work pays off. Similar to the author’s example, I also use the example of athletes and hard work each time I return from watching competition at the Olympic Training Center. I try to stress to my students about how important that effort and dedication is to all areas of life. Until a child has the experience of dedicating time and effort into something and seeing success from that, they rarely “get the point”. I could share examples every day in my class about where practice paid off, but some of my students are still reluctant to put the effort into trying. I try to start small in getting students to practice filling out their student planner daily until it become automatic. History has shown that students with success generally keep track of their assignments and due dates. The same goes for us as educators. We continue to improve on strategies that we practice repeatedly. Daniel Willingham also discussed in addition to just going through the motions of practicing the skill, we need to consciously try to improve, seek feedback, and undertake activities for the sake of improvement. Maybe this is a good time of year to again discuss with my students ways that we could become more proficient in school tasks. Do you suppose the word practice will come up in our discussion? I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reflection Post by Bob Gill

As I read through the book, one of the most interesting concepts that intrigued me was the fact that people are naturally curious, but their curiosity can be delicate and fragile. When I hear the word curiosity, I think of my two cats who can be lured into anything with the right motivation. People have this same desire to discover the unknown. Students also enjoy this kind of mental activity. Some examples listed in book that arouses a person’s interests were crossword puzzles and information packed documentaries. You have to love that History Channel. The chemical analysis behind the enjoyment of thinking is that when a person solves a problem, the brain is rewarded by a small shot of dopamine which is associated with pleasure and learning. But then the big “if” comes into play. If a person experiences success or they enjoy the subject material, solving problems and learning will be pleasurable. Also, if a challenge is too easy or too hard a student will naturally loose interest. So what do we do when many of the concepts taught in school do not spark a student’s natural curiosity to learn? The solution lies in adjusting the difficulty of the problem, and being able to show the student that his mental work will pay off in the end.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Final Book Reflection

One of the key concept from the book (chapter 8), Why Don’t Students Like School?, deals with the long-standing argument of which has more influence on intelligence, hereditary factors or environment. First, the definition of intelligence must be defined. To paraphrase from the American Psychological Association, “intelligent people can understand complex ideas and use different forms of reasoning.” Certainly intelligent people also reason well and catch on to new ideas quickly.
This is not a new argument or question. However, the author’s point of view led me to do further reading and research. My comments that follow are a combination of the author’s book and my own reading.
All through history, people have been intrigued by intelligence thus leading to attempts to measure human intelligence. The ancient Chinese used a form of testing to select candidates for civil service positions. Scholars such as Plato searched for clues into human intellect. William Duff, 18th century, investigated the creative and cognitive capabilities of genius and speculated that imagination was an important part of intelligence. During the 19th century, major schools of psychology in Europe began to develop more invasive techniques to measure intelligence. By the nineteen hundreds, Alfred Binet had helped develop the first successful intelligence test using the concept of mental age. This was followed by the work of David Wechsler who introduced his own test, Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scales. This test included verbal and performance subtests and was designed to look at real life situations. It also began the comparison of an individual’s mental ability with others of that same age.
The book’s author discussed nine principles of the mind. His eighth principle, intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work, was discussed in chapter 8. Willingham believes that genetic inheritance impacts intelligence but mostly through environment. It was interesting to note that he thought the percent that genetics plays on general intelligence changes being somewhere around 20% for young children and up to 50% for adults.
Willingham as well as others quote a lot of data from studies of identical twins (those who lived in the same household and those who were separated at birth), fraternal twins, siblings, and adopted children. I think it would be safe to say that all research points to intelligence being influenced by both nature and nurture, but there was certainly wasn’t consensus on exactly what percent genes play and what percent environment plays. Perhaps the influences that we also need to also focus on include prenatal care, socio-economic status, nutrition, and continued health care.
As an educator, I believe and support Willingham’s principle – intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work. However, higher intelligence tends to lead to prolonged schooling and longer schooling leads to higher IQ. Also, students who believe intelligence can be improved with hard work get better grades than those who believe intelligence is an immutable trait.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Chapter 9 "What About My Mind?"

In this chapter, the author switches focus from student to teacher; throughout the book he has noted strategies that correlate with mind research and how to assist the student in using what we know about the mind and turning into "action" through specific methods. In this chapter he highlights and reviews the strategies of earlier chapters but relates them to how they can be utilized by the teacher, for the teacher. After reading and thinking on it, it boils down to two common adages "practice makes perfect" and "it takes work to make or create change".

Reflecting on the first adage: practice makes perfect, he points out that although factual knowledge is necessary to be an effective teacher, “pedagogical content knowledge” is also required. The two areas are entwined to create effective practices for successful teacher. I think the reader would be able to reflect back on an experience that he or she may have had in which they may have had a very knowledgeable teacher, but the teaching practices they employed may have been ineffective in sharing that knowledge with his or her students. His statement on page 191 summarizes this component well by stating: “It is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extended practices.”

Willingham goes further to define practice in relation to teaching, as not just showing up, but trying to improve. An interesting visual he described was that teachers, during the first 5 years, show steady improvement in their teaching based on student learning, yet after the years of growth, the curve plateaus indicating very little change between a teacher of 10 years compared to a teacher of 20 years in regard to student learning. As we often find, setting goals and claiming desire are one aspect of change, but often these attributes are short lived because of various factors. Willingham goes into a more specific “how-to” approach when challenging ones’ self to improve teaching skills including informative feedback, focused activities directed at improvement and making conscience effort to improve teaching skills. Possibly, more realistically, he briefly recognizes other less time consuming approaches to teaching improvement; commitment to keeping a teaching diary, organizing or joining a discussion group (very similar to a book club) and a forced effort to observe and study comparable youth in alternative settings.

As outlined by Willingham, “teaching, like any complex cognitive skill, must be practiced to be improved.” p 189

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Summary of Ch. 8 "How Can I Help Slow Learners?"

In this chapter the author, D. Willingham explains how the American Psychological Association has come to indentify intelligence. The overall idea is that someone who is intelligent can reason well and catch on to new ideas quickly. Most Americans believe that intelligence is pre-determined through genetics. However, in many Eastern cultures, intelligence is considered to be the product of hard work and effort. The basis behind this argument is the age-old question of nature vs. nurture.
Many studies have been performed to determine whether nature or nurture has the most impact on intelligence. Most studies that focused on comparing twins who were separated and raised differently, found that genetics (or nature) must be the dominant influence. The studies found that twins who were separated still had similar intelligences. However, in recent studies, it has been determined that "genetic effects can make you seek out or select different environments." This means that nature doesn't necessarily account for intelligence. Rather, it influences what we are likely to seek in terms of nurturing. At the end of the day, this means that our genetics and environment both shape our intelligence; but intelligence can be influenced through nurturing, therefore it can be changed.
This has several implications for our classrooms. If we as teachers believe that intelligence can be improved and we model and promote this in our classrooms; our students will adopt this attitude as well. The best way to communicate this with students is to praise their efforts, not their abilities. Such praise needs to be genuine and truly earned. We also need to create a classroom environment in which risk-taking and failure are a normal part of learning. Students need to feel that making a mistake isn't necessarily a bad thing; it is actually an opportunity to learn something new. Students also need to be shown exactly what hard work means. They need explicit instruction in study skills and they need to understand that in order to catch up, they may have to work harder than other students. Managing a classroom in such a way communicates directly to the students that their intelligence is under their control. Teachers need to show students that just being naturally intelligent is a myth; most students who do well in school have to work very hard.

Blabber by Missy

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Animoto...nothing to do with the book...fun!

Create your own video slideshow at animoto.com.

The image I chose is my two teens (mine) expressing what looks like their experience with education and what I thought the book would discuss and express more clearly. Although he touches upon some good thoughts, so far I am disappointed in the content. Don't judge a book by its cover should also be thought of as don't judge a book by its title...as I don't think the author is telling me what I want to hear!

Trying again to Blab...which is usually not a problem for me!

Blabberize by Sigman

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Book Cover

I chose this picture because I feel this picture looks like a deserted classroom to me....desolate. Kids are looking to be engaged in learning, and want to be a part of an inviting learning environment. This picture definitely doesn't give the feeling of a warm, engaging type of learning environment! Kids won't learn in an environment where they do not feel welcome... plus, this classroom doesn't seem to be technology friendly AT ALL, which will also be a big turn off to kids.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Chapters 4 & 5 summaries

Chapter 4 summary p. 87-105
This chapter focuses on the question, “Why are abstract ideas so difficult to comprehend and so difficult to apply when they are expressed in new ways?”The cognitive principle that guides this chapter is “We understand new things in the context of things we already know, and most of what we know is concrete.”
Students understand new ideas by relating them to old ideas. So if every new idea builds on ideas that the student already knows, we as teachers need to know what our students already know so we are able to give them concrete familiar examples.
The author claims that “understanding is remembering in disguise”. We must ensure that the right ideas from long term memory are accessed and moved into working memory so that students are able to comprehend the new ideas.
When we contrast shallow knowledge (some understanding of the material, but limited understanding) to deep knowledge (knowing not just the parts but also the whole) we see where students with deep knowledge are able to apply the knowledge to many different contexts and discuss it in different ways. We as teachers want our students to have deep knowledge; so it is up to us to provide them with the experiences they need to gain deep knowledge.  The questions that we pose in our classrooms need to be more than factual questions and students need to be given time to contemplate them. Our projects and tests should also demand deep understanding.  We need to stay realistic in our expectations of our students and how quickly they can grasp new information.  Deep knowledge is achieved through practice. 
Chapter 5 p. 107-125
The question for this chapter, “is drilling worth it?”  questions whether the cognitive benefit makes it worth the potential cost to motivation. The cognitive principle that guides this chapter is “It is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extended practice.”
Practice helps our students to gain competence and to improve. But it also reinforces the basic skills required for the learning of more advanced skills, protects against forgetting, and improves transfer.
I enjoyed the explanation in this chapter about working memory, which is the site of thinking. When you are combining information in new ways you have to think about it. Our working memory space is limited and could create a bottleneck if we try to put too much information into it. (There is only a limited amount of working memory and no amount of practice will change that.) The way that we are able to “cheat” this limitation is to keep more information in working memory by “chunking,” which treats several things as a single unit and stores it in our long term memory. Two ways to do this is to increase your factual knowledge and to manipulate information to be more efficient. Examples given were tying your shoes or driving a car. At first they take a lot of working memory, but with practice, they become automatic, requiring little or no working memory capacity.
The quote I am including comes from the great philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. “It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copybooks and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing.  The precise opposite is the case.  Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.” 
The chapter went on to discuss studying practices and information retention. Cramming allows us to do well on immediate tests; however the information will not be retained long term.  The suggested manner of studying in several sessions with delays between them allows a person to remember material longer.
Practice also is an important provider to good transfer.  Information transfer is more likely when the new problem is similar to the structure of problems seen before.
It was refreshing for me to read chapter 5 because I think that in our math programs we don’t stress the drilling of math facts like we used to and I see how long it takes middle school students who haven’t learned their facts to complete work that should be automatic.  This chapter reinforced the value of spending time to make these basic facts automatic so we’ll have more room in our working memory.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Summary for Chapter Two

Summary of Chapter 2 – How Can I Teach the Skills They Need When Standardized Tests Require Only Facts? – Posted by Jacqueline Higlin

It is impossible to teach students higher level skills such as (Bloom’s) analysis and synthesis if they do not have lower level factual (Bloom’s) knowledge. Therefore, facts do need to be taught in the context of skills. This should begin at an early age – even before preschool.

Background knowledge is also necessary for comprehension of written materials (books or internet). It helps students understand what the author is saying. In addition to understanding what they read, students must also evaluate this information. Thus, critical thinking skills such as reasoning and problem solving are also interwoven with factual knowledge that has been stored in long-term memory.

Background knowledge in the form of vocabulary is also necessary if students are to understand a single idea or even understand the connection between two ideas (bridge logical gaps). Internet connections such as social networking sites and music sites as well as video games and TV do little to develop new vocabulary. Books, magazines, and newspapers are the best sources. Books are actually the best source for exposure to vocabulary and facts. These books need to be at the appropriate reading level. Librarians are excellent resources to help students find a perfect fit book.

Working memory is the part of the mind that combines, manipulates, and uses information. Putting these pieces together is called chunking. More information can be in the working memory if the information is chunked. However, chunking can only happen if there is factual knowledge in long term memory that applies. All this makes it easier to relate ideas thus comprehending more. Our background knowledge clarifies details that otherwise might be confusing.

Because comprehension depends on background knowledge, student who have greater exposure to the world around them come to school with an edge over students who are more underprivileged. This gap continues to widen. The teacher needs to try to level this playing field because as the author stated, “The rich get richer.”

Factual knowledge improves memory because there is a connection. We remember much better if something has meaning. The key to continued, easier learning is having this factual knowledge in long term memory. Factual knowledge makes cognitive processes work better.

As educators we ask ourselves what knowledge should be taught and what knowledge yields the greatest cognitive benefits. Students must learn the concepts that come up repeatedly, know information that helps them think critically, and use detailed knowledge to chunk information. To payoff, knowledge must be conceptualized. Facts need to be related, not lists of unconnected facts.

Quote - At the beginning of the chapter the author quoted Einstein, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

Throughout the chapter, the author began to persuade the reader that Einstein was wrong. The author believes that knowledge is more important because it is a prerequisite for imagination.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Book Cover for Why Don't Students Like School?

I chose this photo as a new cover for the book Why Don't Students Like School? I thought that this simple picture represents the intent of the book; that is, to show us how the mind works. Once we know more about how our students' brains work; we will be better able to teach them.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book cover

After reading the articles from earlier units, I'm getting the idea that students don't like school because it is not engaging, interesting and filled with technology. This picture looks like a classroom that is lacking techno gadgets, interesting bulletin boards, and engaging activities. Maybe the physical setting it part of why students don't like school, but I realize the activities that go on there play a huge part in whether or not students like school.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Chapter 1 Summary- Bob Gill

Chapter 1 Summary: “Why Don’t Students Like School?” Brains are basically not designed for thinking unless the cognitive conditions are right. Students can take pleasure in mental effort only if they are successful. (No Success = No Like) People are naturally curious, with brains designed mainly to see and to move efficiently. Thinking is slow, effortful, uncertain and unreliable, contrary to moving and seeing. The “candle and box of tacks” riddle made me believe they could be right. Henry Ford said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why so few people engage in it.” Machines can easily beat people when it comes to math and science. A computer chess game can beat 99% of the population, but the most powerful computer can’t drive a truck or walk on a rocky shore. The technique we use to get through the day with our unreliable brains is using memory, which is more reliable than thinking. Most of the situations we face are ones that we have solved before. Our memory is full of strategies that tell us what to do (like an autopilot). When someone says “think outside the box”, they mean to turn off your autopilot and do something “out-of-the norm”. This can be very exhausting.
Even though thinking is slow and effortful, people still like to think. Content is important to arouse interest (crossword puzzles vs. Algebra) but interesting content can still be presented in a boring and dull way. There is pleasure in mental activity, but if the activity is too easy or too difficult, the person loses interest. If students frequently get work that is too difficult, they will start to dislike school. So should teachers make the work easier for these students, or is there a way to make thinking easier? The way to make thinking easier takes a combination of these things; information from the environment (our surroundings full of problems, things to see and things to hear), adequate space in working memory (our consciousness that holds stuff we are thinking about), and facts and procedures in long-term memory (a storehouse of factual information about the world).
These are some of the strategies a teacher can do to help students experience success and make school more enjoyable: Check your lesson plans so that they are not just a list of teacher explanations that lack challenge for the students. Create lesson plans that start with information you want your students to know at the end. Make sure your students have appropriate background knowledge to complete the activity. Slow the pace if needed to avoid memory overloads. Make the material relevant to students. Develop questions that arouse the student’s curiosity to find the answer. Don’t give all students the same amount of work because all students differ in ability. When you find something that works, do it again and again. Keep a diary of your successes.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Image that represents a concept in the book, "Why Don't Students Like School"

People enjoy mental activity under certain conditions, but if a student believes that an activity is to difficult or too easy, they are quick to check out, lose interest, and stop listening. This picture I found in Flickr brought a smile to my face. I've seen this look on a student's face before! I might as well been talking to a skeleton. Time to change the delivery method!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

New Book Cover for Why Don't Students Like School

I chose this picture for the book cover because it has eye appeal to the reader who is searching for a book to read about this topic. However, the author's current cover is boring to readers of any age. It seems old fashioned and certainly does not create interest or entice the reader to page through or read the book. Therefore, the cover creates NO personal interest in the book for me. I decided to read the book by title only.
I have not read the book yet, but I think perhaps the author may have chosen the cover to reflect his views on public education. His opinion must be that they are in need of change and not keeping up with the 21st century.
How to find the image: I first looked through many pages of Labeled for Reuse in both Flickr and Google Images, but did not see what appealed to me. This image was located by using Google. It "MAY BE SUBJECT TO COPYRIGHT". If I were to seriously consider using this image for profit, I would obtain writtten permission.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Welcome to Literature Circle Seventeen!

Your Super Summarizer schedule is as follows:

Section One--Due October 28, Robert Gill
Section Two--Due November 4, Jacqueline Higlin
Section Three--Due November 11, Donna Sigman
Section Four--Due November 18, Tammy Sund
Section Five--Due December 2, Missy Urbaniak
Section Six--Due December 9, Kristy Ward