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