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Education Bookcast

Apr 13, 2020

Daniel Willingham is a cognitive scientist who specialises in the study of how people read. In this book, he brings forward nine principles of cognitive science that both have a substantial evidence base and are relevant to teachers. Although he wanted there to be ten, nine is all that he could find that would match those criteria.

He names the chapters after questions that they answer rather than the principles that they expound, as this would pique the readers' interest more and make them more likely to remember the principles (he is a cognitive scientist after all). The questions (and answers, paraphrased) are as follows:

  1. Why don't students like school? (because people are not designed to think, but to not think in most situations)
  2. How can I teach students the skills they need when standardised tests require only facts? (factual knowledge must precede skill)
  3. Why do students remember everything on TV and forget everything I say? (the importance of repetition, emotion, and stories)
  4. Why is it so hard for students to understand abstract ideas? (because we understand things in terms of what we already know, and what we already know is mostly concrete)
  5. Is drilling worth it? (practice is essential)
  6. What's the secret to getting students to think like real mathematicians, scientists, and historians? (don't - experts are fundamentally different from novices)
  7. How should I adjust my teaching for different types of learners? (learning styles are a myth)
  8. How can I help slow learners? (hard work can improve intelligence and beliefs about intelligence matter, but some difference is genetic)
  9. What about my mind? (teaching is a skill like any other)

When I first read the book, there were a number of truths that shattered my pre-existing notions, which was scary but beneficial for me. I hope it helps you as much as it helped me.

Enjoy the episode.