Why Don't Students Like School?

Why don’t students like school? It isn’t a rhetorical question—at least, not to cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham, who writes a column for American Educator magazine, and whose new book seeks to answer that topical question. The chapter titles are a good guide to the content:

  1. Why don't students like school?
  2. How can I teach students the skills they need when standardized tests require only facts?
  3. Why do students remember everything that's on television and forget everything I say?
  4. Why is it so hard for students to understand abstract ideas?
  5. Is drilling worth it?
  6. What's the secret to getting students to think like real scientists, mathematicians, and historians?
  7. How should I adjust my teaching for different types of learners?
  8. How can I help slow learners?
  9. What about my mind?

The table at the end summarizes the cognitive principles underlying the answers, as well as classroom implications. For example, to answer question 7, Willingham summarizes what’s now known about Gardner’s theory of “multiple intelligences” (there’s much less to it than some people claim), then explains what teachers can or should do in the classroom to combine different kinds of content.

Willingham writes well, and gives two sets of references for each chapter (one to lighter-weight material, the other to primary scholarly works). My only complaints about the book are that it repeats itself in a few places (understandable, given its origin in a series of columns), that it’s set in a very small typeface, and that it’s too short: at 176 pages, it left me wanting more. Which, I suppose, is a good thing for any teacher to aim for…