Why Don’t Students Like School?

UntitledAs I prepare to start another school year, it might be helpful to review my notes on one of the best education books I’ve ever read, Why Don’t Students Like School?


1.  People are naturally curious, but they are not naturally good thinkers.

a.  Be sure there are problems to be solved

b.  Respect students’ cognitive limits

c.  Hook students on questions that will lead to the factual answers a lesson provides.  Don’t rely on trivial connections to their interests.

d.  Puzzle/dazzle students to get interest AND later to help review material, even during ongoing learning.

e.  Alter student work to match individuals’ ability; don’t give everyone the same thing.

f.  Change things up to redirect lost attention.

g.  Keep track of what works and what doesn’t


2.  Factual knowledge precedes skill.

a.  Teach the touchstones of Western Civilization’s culture.

b.  Teach the core concepts of each discipline deeply over time.

c.  Be sure that the knowledge base is mostly in place when you require critical thinking.

d.  Shallow knowledge is better than no knowledge at all.

e.  Students must read A LOT.

f.  Make opportunities for incidental, ancillary knowledge acquisition.

g.  “Start early” (level the playing field for students with poor home environments–somehow!)

h.  Avoid lots of lists–knowledge must be meaningful.

3.  Memory is the residue of thought.

a. Review each lesson plan in terms of what the students are likely to think about.

b.  Use attention grabbers more in the middle of lessons, not the beginning.

c.  Use discovery learning only when immediate feedback can correct student errors.

d.  Design assignments so that students will unavoidably think about meaning.

e.  Use mnemonics

f.  Organize lesson plans like stories–around a conflict.


4.  We understand new things in the context of things we already know. 

a.  To help student comprehension, provide examples and ask students to compare them.

b.  Make deep knowledge–not shallow facts–the spoken and unspoken emphasis (including on tests)

c.  Make your expectations for deep knowledge realistic.


5.  Proficiency requires practice.

a.  Ask yourself, what should be practiced?  Which processes need to become automatic?

b.  Space out practice

c.  Fold practice into more advanced skills–review basic material in a variety of contexts over time.


6.  Cognition is fundamentally different early and late in training.

a.  Focus on comprehension, not creation.

b.  Creative tasks are good for occasional motivation and getting attention.

c.  Train students at their level, not like experts.


7.  Children are more alike than different in terms of learning.

a.  Plan based on content and outcomes, not on student “learning styles.”

b.  Include a variety of mental processes, though.

c.  Stop telling everybody that they’re smart “in some way.”


8.  Intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work.

a.  Praise effort, not ability

b.  Teach them that hard work pays off.

c.  Teach failure as a natural part of learning.

d.  Teach study skills

e.  Catching up is a long term goal, that needs concrete measurable steps along the way.

f.  Show that you have confidence in their ability, but don’t accept substandard work.


9.  Teaching, like any complex cognitive skill, must be practiced to be improved.

a.  Watch tapes of yourself teaching; compare them with those of others with a partner; make a specfific plan to improve.

b.  Keep a diary of what works and what doesn’t.

c.  Start a discussion group with other teachers.

d.  Observe student behavior in the real world.

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