Friday, May 14, 2010

Learning is a pain in the keister!

Just finished Daniel Willingham's book, Why Students Don't Like School.  I purchased it because I was expecting a exploration of how students aren't engaged by school because it's not relevant and participatory, but that was not his primary focus.  What he has to say supports that idea, but it also has some interesting things to say about the importance of practice and the need to work hard to become smart.  I like this.  Being smart is not easy.  Learning is not easy.  As educators, we need to work hard to create experiences for students that make them want to learn, even though we all acknowledge that learning isn't easy.  It's easier to have a beer, or a martini, or for our underage students, to play a game or hang out at the mall.  It's really easy to just mark time in a classroom because, despite the fact that it feels like a waste of time, it's easier than engaging and learning...


...the teacher makes the learning experience something that intrigues the student without overwhelming them.  His findings support differentiation and rigor.  Here are his main points...


People are Naturally Curious, But They are Not Naturally Good Thinkers.
What is just beyond what my students know and can do?
Think of to-be-learned material as answers, and tke the time necessary to explain to students the questions.

Factual Knowledge Precedes Skill
What do my students know?
It is not possible to think well on a topic in the absence of factual knowledge about the topic.

Memory is the Residue of Thought
What will students think about during this lesson?
The best barometer for every lesson plan is, “Of what will it make the students think?”

We Understand New Things in the Context of Things We Already Know
What do students already know that will be a toehold on understanding this material?
Always make deep knowledge your goal, spoken and unspoken, but recognize that shallow knowledge will come first.

Proficiency Requires Practice
How can I get students to practice without boredom?
Think carefully about which material students need at their fingertips, and practice it over time.

Cognition is Fundamentally Different Early and Late in Training
What is the difference between my students and an expert?
Strive for deep understanding in your students, not the creation of new knowledge.

Children are More Alike than Different in Terms of Learning
Knowledge of students’ learning styles is not necessary.
Think of lesson content, not student differences, driving decisions about how we teach.

Intelligence Can be Changed Through Sustained Hard Work
What do my students believe about intelligence?
Always talk about successes and failures in terms of effort, not ability.

Teaching, Like Any Complex Cognitive Skill, Must be Practices to be Improved
What aspects of my teaching work well for my students, and what need improvement?
Improvement requires more than experience; it also requires conscious effort and feedback.

Another recent experience that resonated with these ideas came from a presentation by Scott McLeod.  He had a lot to say, but one item related to why video games are so popular.  His insight was that Grand Theft Auto is not popular because of its content, but rather it is popular because it is a well designed gaming experience.  That is to say, it challenges the player enough to engage them while not challenging them so much that they give up.  This is exactly what Willingham has to say about learning.  As an aside, McLeod has some great links to educational gaming on his blog.  I was particularly interested in Conspiracy Code, which offers an entire US History curriculum in a game.  It may not be as interesting as Grand Theft Auto, but it probably is more effective than a traditional textbook.

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