Why Students Don’t Like School

Table of Content

Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel T. Willingham is a book that delves into the operations of the mind and offers perspectives on captivating students through comprehension of their cognitive processes.

Throughout each chapter, the author takes us on a journey through different elements including the questions we ponder, how these questions are shown in tangible forms, the cognitive processes at play, the supporting data, and most importantly, the impact on education. In chapter one, Willingham delves into the idea of thinking and underscores that while it can be difficult, it is also enjoyable. Our inclination towards thinking is shaped by both the topic being considered and its level of intricacy.

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When something is either too easy or too difficult, it can lead to boredom or frustration. Thinking involves four essential elements: the information from surroundings, stored knowledge in long-term memory, stored procedures in long-term memory, and the capacity of working memory. Students highly appreciate thinking. Thus, it is important to ensure students have the required background knowledge for success.

In chapter 2, the author addresses the assertion that possessing factual knowledge is essential before developing critical thinking skills. They emphasize that reading comprehension goes beyond mere reading ability. Students require prior knowledge to fully understand the text. This prior knowledge enables students to enhance their working memory capacity by providing vocabulary, filling in logical gaps in the text, organizing information into chunks, and interpreting unclear sentences.

In his study, Williamson investigates the “4th grade slump” which is commonly seen among disadvantaged students. These students, who have been able to keep up with their peers until now, face a sudden halt in their progress when they reach 4th grade. Up until this point, their education has mainly focused on decoding skills. However, in 4th grade, the focus shifts to comprehension which presents challenges for these students due to their limited background knowledge. It is important to recognize that having prior knowledge greatly aids in acquiring new information.

Having access to a vast amount of factual information is crucial for students. The recommended method is to regularly read newspapers and books. It is preferable to possess a basic understanding rather than being entirely uninformed. As Chapter 3 explains, the things we concentrate on are the ones that stick in our memory.

Learning demands both attention and effort, with various techniques available to improve memory retention such as repetition or connecting information with emotions. However, these methods may not always yield desired results. The content that remains in one’s memory is influenced by their thoughts. In the educational setting, a majority of knowledge acquisition revolves around comprehension and significance. Consequently, it becomes crucial for students to focus on understanding and relevant aspects of meaning.

Teachers need to be both organized and approachable in order to encourage critical thinking among students. A helpful way to organize a lesson is by presenting it as a narrative, enabling students to better understand and remember the information being taught. It is also crucial for students to fully grasp the question at hand so that they can direct their thoughts effectively. Lastly, when creating lesson plans, it is important to anticipate elements that are likely to spark students’ curiosity.

When implementing discovery learning, it is important to provide students with immediate feedback. Making sure that the learning experience is relevant does not mean only concentrating on the student. While it can be a starting point, it should not be the sole motivation source. Chapter 4 explores how background knowledge improves our thinking abilities.

Our knowledge is primarily derived from concrete information, leading us to interpret things based on our existing understanding. Superficial knowledge is merely a repetition rather than critical thinking. Obtaining in-depth knowledge demands dedication and time. However, when confronted with new challenges, we tend to concentrate solely on the surface-level elements.

Students need to be exposed to three examples and engage in comparison in order to stimulate their thinking about deep structure. Their retention of knowledge is influenced by their thoughts. Although “drill and kill” has a negative connotation, it is an essential component of learning and is more appropriately termed as practice.

The topic for chapter 5 is the importance of practice in becoming proficient at a mental task. There are several reasons why practice is necessary, including gaining competence and improving proficiency. Additionally, practice reinforces skills needed for more advanced tasks, makes them automatic, protects against forgetting, and improves transfer to other tasks.

All individuals have a limited capacity for working memory, but there are ways to overcome this limitation. Some strategies involve storing factual knowledge in long-term memory and improving the efficiency of information processing so that it becomes automatic (such as driving or tying shoelaces). These fundamental processes must be mastered by students in order for them to progress in their learning. By practicing these processes, the transfer of knowledge is facilitated and the underlying concepts become more evident.

Teachers want their students to have critical thinking skills in different subjects like science, history, and mathematics. However, Chapter 6 shows that currently students do not have the cognitive ability to think critically. Although they can comprehend information, they cannot create new knowledge yet. The reason for this limitation is that students still lack the necessary expertise and practice to think effectively.

Although engaging students in activities that require them to utilize expert thinking may not directly contribute to their cognitive knowledge, it can significantly enhance their motivation because of its inherent interest and enjoyable nature. It is crucial to recognize that beginners should not be expected to learn solely by imitating experts. Before reaching this stage, students must first receive thorough instruction and practice on the fundamentals. The concept of differentiation based on diverse learner types is often a topic of discussion in educational discourse.

Chapter 7 emphasizes that there is no solid evidence suggesting that individuals who possess certain characteristics are more inclined towards a particular learning style. Essentially, students are more similar than different in terms of their thinking and learning approaches. Willingham differentiates between ability and style, stating that ability refers to the potential for success in specific areas of thinking.

The biases or tendencies to think in a particular way are known as styles. It should be noted that having more ability is preferable to having less ability, but no style is inherently superior to another. While styles are believed to be equal, various tests indicate that individuals with different styles may possess varying degrees of ability. It is important to mention that the widely recognized Cognitive Styles Theory is non-existent.

It has been repeatedly tested and remains unproven, the importance of matching styles with the learner is insignificant as what truly matters is understanding. The majority of what needs to be learned in school does not pertain to appearances or sounds, but rather the underlying meaning.

The theory mentioned is widely accepted and considered to be true due to its common acceptance and the belief that if everyone believes in it, it must be correct. Additionally, once a theory is believed in, our interpretation of ambiguous situations is unconsciously aligned with our existing beliefs. Regarding the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, there are three main claims presented. The first claim asserts that Gardner’s list consists of intelligences rather than abilities or talents. Gardner also emphasizes that no intelligence is superior to the others.

The community’s values should guide decisions regarding curricula, and the MI theory can assist with their implementation. However, Gardner disagrees with claim two, which suggests that all eight intelligences should be taught in schools. Willingham argues that this proposal simply renames talents as intelligences.

To illustrate, musical talent should be incorporated into a school’s curriculum, but there is no cognitive support to justify this. Additionally, the third claim suggests that all intelligences should be utilized when introducing new content, allowing students to comprehend it in their preferred manner for maximized understanding. However, Gardner disagrees with this approach as the various intelligences cannot be easily substituted for one another.

Math should be learned through math, not through music. Teaching should focus on content rather than individual students. Apply styles to relevant content and align with the desired lesson outcomes. All teachers must deal with slow learners.

In Chapter 8, Willingham discusses the contrasting perspectives of Western and Eastern thinking when it comes to intelligence and academic success. In Western thinking, there is a belief that smart individuals should not have to exert much effort to achieve good grades, as the desire for good grades comes naturally. However, this perspective also suggests that working hard may imply a lack of inherent intelligence. In contrast, Eastern thinking posits that if a student fails, it is due to insufficient effort and the belief that intelligence can be controlled through hard work.

While children may exhibit varying levels of intelligence, it is possible for intelligence to be improved through diligent effort. Willingham emphasizes the existence of general intelligence, which accounts for the differing levels of intelligence among individuals.

Children’s understanding of intelligence is shaped by the type of praise they receive. If children are commended for being intelligent when they answer correctly, they may develop feelings of incompetence if they make mistakes. It is more impactful to acknowledge and appreciate the effort they exert.

All students possess equal potential for learning. However, it is important to recognize that if a student is significantly behind, it will require immense effort to catch up. Teachers should focus on praising effort rather than ability, emphasizing that hard work yields positive results.

We should view failure as an inherent aspect of learning and not overlook the importance of study skills. It is crucial to have confidence in these skills. In chapter 9, Willingham emphasizes the significance of self-reflection for teachers. Just like any other complex cognitive activity, teaching requires practice in order to enhance proficiency. It is important to note that practice is not equivalent to experience.

Experience involves actively participating in an activity, while practice focuses on continuous efforts to enhance one’s performance. Willingham presents a method for obtaining and receiving feedback on your skills. This approach involves creating teaching videos and collaborating with a partner to establish goals, watch the video, and provide constructive criticism using specific, supportive behaviors. Other measures to enhance teaching abilities include maintaining a teaching diary to document frustrations, successes, effective techniques, and ineffective methods; initiating a discussion group with fellow educators; and observing children of the same age group to gain insight into their nuanced behaviors and understand their motivations.

“We choose to follow individuals who command our respect and motivate us. Earn that same level of respect from your students. Cognitive science can be beneficial to teachers in two ways: by aiding in the management of conflicting classroom demands and by establishing valuable boundaries for educational methodologies. Education enhances cognitive abilities, and a deeper understanding of the human mind can greatly enhance the quality of education.”

Part B: 1. This book not only provided information but also offered liberation. Being an educator, I regrettably lacked knowledge about the functioning of the mind until recently, when our school introduced Quatum Learning on campus. This served as my introduction to understanding how the mind works.

This book has provided me with a deeper comprehension. Numerous demands and expectations have become widely accepted without knowing their effectiveness or how to execute them. One such demand is tailoring instruction to different learning styles. The section of the book that covers this topic has been incredibly enlightening and liberating.

As educators, we often put pressure on ourselves and feel like failures if we don’t utilize every available method to reach our students. Our school has adopted the Quantum Learning program, which emphasizes the importance of VAK (Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic) learning. Initially, it seemed challenging to incorporate all three aspects into every aspect of our teaching. However, after discovering research indicating that this approach is not enough, I can redirect my focus towards other effective strategies.

I have become more aware of my use of the terms “smart” and “hard work” when complimenting students. I have been engaging in conversations with struggling learners about how they can enhance their abilities by committing to hard work. Although these discussions are not new, my current objective is clearer: intelligence is malleable.

The central theme is to empower students to have faith in their capacity to effect change, regardless of the obstacles they face. Despite life’s challenges, it is vital to persist and conquer them. It is fascinating how discouraging students from viewing themselves as intelligent actually impedes their intellectual growth. When someone is already thought of as intelligent, there appears to be no need for exerting much effort. Conversely, putting in diligent work implies a deficiency in natural intelligence, creating an unending cycle.

Hard work in life will ultimately be rewarding. It is not necessary for me to make others think like a Historian; rather, I simply need them to think. Thinking leads to remembering. With repeated thinking, practicing, and addressing various problems, these problems will become automatic in their long-term memory. By doing so, their working memory will be freed up to tackle new problems.

Having concrete evidence to support my instructions, I now have more credibility as a teacher when telling students to study flashcards or practice writing. By sharing the insights gained from the book, I am able to explain the reasoning behind these tasks instead of simply instructing them to do homework. This approach is highly valued by my students.

As educators, it is crucial that we practice what we teach. While our experience does give us some superiority, we must not become complacent. It is important to continuously work on improving our teaching abilities in order for genuine improvement to occur. Failing to fully embrace this concept can lead to frustration as we unintentionally continue with unproductive behaviors.

Willingham provides clear and achievable steps for improving as a teacher. The most challenging aspect is finding the time and the right person to collaborate with, according to Willingham. Interestingly, my partner teacher approached me shortly after reading the book, expressing the need for feedback due to pressure from certain parents.

She made the decision to examine herself thoroughly and identify any unconscious attitudes she may be projecting. As an exceptional teacher, her students’ scores consistently improve each year. However, she believes that her body language or tone might inadvertently convey something she doesn’t intend. In my opinion, this would be the perfect collaboration.

We have been colleagues for seven years and also have a strong friendship outside of school. We must begin by filming and reviewing our own performances before moving on to studying videos of other educators and enhancing our communication skills. The manner in which we articulate our thoughts is of great significance.

It is important to refrain from making assumptions and provide objective feedback. We should prioritize being supportive when viewing each other’s videos, as our egos, feelings, and friendship are at stake. The person being viewed will have the opportunity to determine the objective of this process.

The viewer’s focus should only be on things related to the goal. After doing this about ten times, they can choose a goal that hasn’t been mentioned. It’s crucial to bring the experience back to the classroom for further implementation. Ensure that you record yourself to assess how it went.

Instead of trying to fix everything at once, it’s better to take things one step at a time and add others later. As mentioned earlier, the most appealing idea in the book is the freedom from having to strive for every learning style.

Instead of diversifying content delivery methods, my main focus should be on effectively teaching the material and ensuring student comprehension. This approach doesn’t neglect their individual needs; rather, it places emphasis on understanding. However, I will still have strategies in place for students who struggle with the subject matter. In such cases, I can provide various perspectives or alternative approaches to aid their comprehension.

Teaching every lesson in multiple modalities is a waste of time and mental effort. Despite the unsuitable title, the book successfully captured my attention. The thought-provoking title compelled me to read it and revealed something new about my students. Nevertheless, I have yet to understand why students dislike school.

I had anticipated finding more information about students’ perspectives on their dissatisfaction with school and an analysis of these reasons for us as educators. While it is a common sentiment among children that school is tedious, it is imperative for us to explore this notion further to comprehend the underlying factors and devise potential solutions. My expectation was that this book would provide valuable insights into effectively tackling this issue.

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Why Students Don’t Like School. (2017, May 01). Retrieved from


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