Brief Summary of Daniel Willingham - Why Don't Student Like School

The answer to the question ‘why don’t students like school’ was explained very clearly on the first chapter. It was made clear that our brains are slow and unrealiable. Our brains tend to avoid thinking, which makes it unlikely for us to like thinking. But apparently our brains release some amount of dopamine when there are cases of ‘successful thinking’. So the trick is to give students problems that are challenging but also solvable. There are 3 types of memory stated in the book; the ‘environment’ memory, working memory and also long-term memory.

For us to remember things better, we can trick our working memory with techniques such as ‘chunking’ since things can only get to the long-term memory through working memory. Emotion and interest also play a part in the remembering process. Things that grab our interest would trigger our mind to think, and memory is believed as the residue of thought while emotional events will be better remembered–unrelated to repetition–such as weddings, 9/11 tragedy or birthday parties.

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Sometimes we go on ‘auto-pilot’ on stuff that we regularly do, this is caused by repetition or practice, it can help us focus on other important things while still doing our regular activities such as chewing food, driving, reading and etc.

The working memory has a very limited capacity, our brain can’t take too much information, if we do, it could lose track of what we’re doing and thinking fails. As an example, that’s what actually happened to me when I was reading the book, the first chapters really crowded my brain and it was actually hurting.

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Putting the material in a story form can also help students remember because stories are easy to comprehend, interesting and somehow easy to remember. Background knowledge is crucial during learning process as it helps new information to stay in our memory as it was stated that ‘Understanding new ideas is mostly a matter of getting the right old ideas into working memory and then rearranging them–making comparisons we hadn’t made before’ (Willingham, 2009). As I get to the 4th chapter, reading the book was much more easier to understand as I already have the background knowledge. The author explained how important it is to practice or drilling.

The bad image of how practice is tiring and hard has made students often avoid practicing. However, it is not necessary to learn for a few hours in a row, in fact, doing so with ‘space’ will make learning more effective, I believe this method wouldn’t feel so tiring and hard. In the 6th chapter, Willingham explained how experts have extensive organized experience, which makes them think in deep structure. Experts work on their subject for several hours a day, to get students to think like experts, learning should be done for several hours. There is a perception that experts would solve puzzles faster, however experts often take more time to think as they dig into more depth than novices. I personally agree with all the content in the book. I think the book basically covered all the aspects that could help students learn cognitive subjects efficiently. Proving Willingham’s theory on background knowledge and remembering, I read the book while relating to your teachings and found that the content of the book was much easier to understand since some of them were also taught in your lessons. I guess you’re the living proof that the book is effective.

I can see clearly how the writer actually performs his theory on chapter on through the book such as how he chose a question instead of a statement for the book’s title to grab attention. Often repetitions of definitions come up in different chapters of the book, which I believe is to help readers remember things. Some theories that are in the book are actually from our daily life that I haven’t noticed before. Stories have been used to help me learn, unconsciously, by teachers before but I did not really acknowledge how using stories for effective learning is actually a thing. The same with the emotional and interest theory on forgetting. What I did not expect was how we actually get satisfaction from learning, my perception towards learning has always been about something that is tiring and that it is important but wouldn’t give you any pleasure. Although I would add some things that might have been left behind by Willingham from his point of view. I would deliberate over a few things from a student’s perspective. It’s the ‘whom’ that I think he might’ve left out. Teachers aren’t all the same and each has their different styles of teaching. One teacher might have been basing his teaching on your book but the other doesn’t. I think this might affect how the students study at home.

The materials–such as books or presentation slides–might just be insufficient or students might have got used to the ‘Willingham style’, students might not be able to keep up with the other subjects. If Willingham would add another chapter on changing student’s learning style permanently or something. That would be perfect. He actually did mention how to treat the students in chapter 8 but I don’t think showing that the teacher has confidence in the student would change how the student thinks permanently. Another thing is just a method that I often use in memorizing process. I try to ‘act’ the theory in order for me to remember the matter. This is just an additional method that I think could have a space in the book. After reading the book, I realized that having read the book had somehow changed my perspective about some few things such as practice can be done in a more effective–less tiring–way, how to grab attention–in case I have to teach–and few other things. Well, I guess that is all. I really think this is an outstanding book by how I actually enjoyed reading it. I really hope that teachers would use this book as their basis. But afterall a student’s performance does not only depend on the teachers but also the student. I think the book itself is applicable for students with some change of perspective and behavior.

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Brief Summary of Daniel Willingham - Why Don't Student Like School. (2016, Mar 21). Retrieved from

Brief Summary of Daniel Willingham - Why Don't Student Like School

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