Friday, February 18, 2011

Reflective summary

I believe in a lot of ways the book supported a lot of what I have believed for years. I was intrigued from the start. Daniel T Willingham did a wonderful job of summing it up. I must say I was suprised when he commented that the brain was not for thought but it actually avoided thought. The idea that the brain relies on memory makes sense. When I started reading I would come to a section that I had either heard about or studied before. When I would do so it would spark something in my mind and make me want to hear more about what he had to say about it. One example of this was when he was talking about long term memory, working memory,critical thinking, remote memorization, mnemonics etc. Another is when he talked about "Implications for the Classroom" in Chapter 4. I attended a workshop at one time that talk about similiar items and this brought up the memory of what I heard.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the ideas he refered to in Chapter 8.
'Praising Effort, Not Ability' is something that I see a lot of teachers forgetting. Even when I taught preschool I would tell the students that it was the process that was important not the finished product. I remember a little, three year old boy who showed his mom a picture he had painted that day. He had asked her if he liked his picture of a choo choo train. Her comment was, "Oh I guess I can't see it but ok." The boy looked down and finished getting his things. It broke my heart! He had worked so hard on it. I wanted to scream at her and say, "Ask him to tell you more about it!" or "Can't you even pretend to see the train!"

Telling them that hard work pays off is something that we have installed in everything our children do. They know this about work, chores, school, etc. I have to examples of this to share. One is that our 14 year old is dyslexic. He has worked hard at everything. He went from not passing a single paper to being an A/B student who is in Advanced Math. Our kindergarten daughter started reading group with everyone else and by working as hard as she can be she is one of the best readers in the class.

The part that I learned from is that failure is a natural part of learning. I am my own worst critic and never have felt whole if I failed at something or completed something on time. I was recently working one on one in math with one of our resource room students, who is a sixth grader. Math is the hardest subject for him. He became teary eyed and I looked him in the eye and told him how even adults find somethings or a certain subject hard. I commented that there are times when even adults fail the first time they try something and have to pick themselves up and try again. I looked at him and said that he needed to pick up his pencil and just try the problem again and again until it was right. The next morning before school he found me and told me that he thought about that all night and was going to keep thinking about it every time he got stuck. When I read this part and thought about what I had said to him I thought I better start taking my own advice. It works!

Not taking study skills for granted is something I try to remind our middle school students of all the time. I see a lot of the students in the resource room as well as in my study hall who are unorganized and say I will study that later. I always try to find our resource room students at the end of the day and remind them if they have a test or quiz the next day. Our eighth grader has learned memorization skills from being dyslexic. He can hear material or read it (slow but sure) and remember it. I try to tell him that there may be a time that doesn't work. I try to show him study skills but he doesn't always like to take my advice.

I like the way he said that catching up is a long term goal. How true that is! The way he referred it to dieting caught my attention. Also, if we could enlist the help of parents, like the book said, it would truly be wonderful. I really liked the way he commented on being careful with praise when showing students that you have confidence in them. Showing them the good and bad of their work when you know that they can do better is truly a great point. I have done this at times without realizing it but would like to continue working on this point.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Section 2

The main concept of this section is that factual knowledge must precede skill. It begins by saying that facts must be taught. When we consider someone smart they are using their critical thinking skills whereas if they are just spouting off facts they come off as boring. The book defines thinking as combing information in new ways. Critical thinking skills such as reasoning and problem solving are mixed with facts that are stored in long term memory. We need to make sure our students are receiving the background knowledge that we can mix critical thinking skills.

In order to understand what someone is stating we need to make sure they have background knowledge. The author also discusses the mind being able to tying several pieces of material together or otherwise known as chunking. This can only happen if the mind has the factual knowledge to cover this information.

Background knowledge is also needed for cognitive skills. People use memory to solve problems on a regular basis. Strategies in all areas could not be applied if they did not have the background knowledge for the subject.

Those who have knowledge in an area gain more because of what they already know. We also remember more if the subject area has meaning to us. Even if we don't realize it happening our minds connects what we are reading to what we already know. Our mind works on the cues about the information that we have in our memories.

Rather than asking what students need to be taught we should ask what knowledge would yield the largest cognitive benefit. There are two ways to answer this question. For reading students need to know what information the writers assume they know and the writer leaves out. The second answer deals with core subjects and their information. The author states that students must learn the concepts that come up again and again. This deals with unifying all subjects and their ideas.

The book suggests that the goal should be that they, the students, have the background knowledge to carry out tasks we give them and the critical thinking skills needed. The author also states the having a vast amount of knowledge about the skill is best but having some is better than not having any at all. We also need to encourage the students to read whatever they can and do whatever it takes to get them to do so.

He also states that knowledge can happen by simply exposing them to the subject manner. The students will also do better if they are exposed early to the material. The author states, "There are no shortcuts and no alternatives to trying to increase the factual knowledge that the child has not picked up at home." The book also states that the knowledge must be meaningful and not just memorized as a list of information.

I agree with the author that if the information is something that the students are familiar with then they will learn the subject manner easier. I also understand the fact that if they can tye all the information together it makes sense. I do wish there was a way to make all parents see that early exposure to learning is ideal. Also that they need to encourage the children to read whatever they can at home. Overall encouragement to learn the material is important from their families.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Book Summary

Daniel Willingham caught my attention from the first chapter of Why Don't Students Like School? with his statement "the brain is not made for thinking". What? This contradicted everything I had believed about the brain. As I continued to read he started to explain his thinking. Overall our brain's primary function is to coordinate all the complex body systems. On page 5 of his book, Daniel Willingham sums up how our brain instantly takes in a visual picture. While this is instantaneous, thinking is slow, requires effort, and is uncertain. When I am thinking about solving a math problem, I can't think about something else at the same time. I also have to think about every step and even when I solve the problem, the answer may not be correct. When my brain takes in a visual picture of a flower, it does it in an instant and I can do other things while looking at the flower. My brain also doesn't confuse what a flower looks like or that I am looking at a flower. Although I was confused by his initial statement about the brain not being made for thinking, after reading his explanation I have to agree with his statements.

The book talks about all aspects of the brain including memory, both working and long-term, to how students need to have facts before they can become skillful at a topic. One idea presented in Chapter 8 is that of our intelligence being able to be changed. This differs a lot from most people's thoughts. If we praise students' effort, children can change their intelligence over time for the better. Some other ideas presented throughout the book are regarding what most people have long known. The more we practice something, the better we become. Finally a concept that I have been learning a lot about over my first year and that is children learning something new in relation to what they already know. I really enjoyed reading this chapter. As a new teacher, I have been asking questions to prompt my students to discuss what they already know about a subject before we start a topic or to use their schema as we are studying the topic. This book should be read cover to cover; however, if you are stretched for time, you can pick up and read one specific chapter or just use the great teaching strategies presented at the back of each chapter.

Being a first year teacher, I have been trying to understand what the best way for my students to learn. Do I let them explore first or do I present the information? If I provide the information, how do I do it in an engaging way which will get my students thinking? Daniel Willingham's book is great for new and veteran teachers alike because it presents his cognitive research on how the brain and memory function. By reading this book teachers begin to understand how students think. Each chapter builds upon our understanding of the brain, so that you start to develop a real understanding of the brain's inner workings. Incorporated at the end of each chapter are multiple suggestions on how teachers can use the information presented to better improve their teaching strategies. This book is a valuable read because it seamlessly integrates understanding with instant hands-on teaching strategies. A definite must read for any teacher who wants to engage their students in active learning.