Why Don’t Students Like School by Daniel T. Willingham

7. How Should I Adjust My Teaching for Different Types of Learners?

  • The answer is don’t even try. Willingham tells us that research does not support the idea that you should teach some children one way and other children other ways based on what you think there cognitive styles or learning styles might be. Certainly some students are better at math, while others are better a language arts. There are also many abilities, but math and linguistic abilities are given much greater status that the others. Trying to help a poet learn math by writing poetry containing math is likely to be futile as math concepts have to be learned mathematically.
  • This doesn’t mean that teachers shouldn’t differentiate instruction even though scientists provide no help. If you are dealing with content that lends itself to visual presentations, you should use visuals. The same is true if the content offers auditory material or opportunities for hands-on learning. Daniel ends this chapter by opposing the idea that every child is smart in some way. As a father of a severely retarded child he knows better. While some students are smarter than others, he feels that telling a child that he or she is smart is likely to make them less so.

8. How Can I Help Slow Learners?

  • Children do differ in intelligence, but intelligence is malleable and can be increased with effort. The main pitch here to convince all students that this is true. Daniel sees that genetics makes a difference, but that environment and effort together are likely to be more important. In addition to convincing students that hard work pays off, teachers need to praise effort rather than ability. Another key is to treat failure as part of learning. As Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
  • Low performing students are also likely to lack study skills so it is vital that teachers constantly help them with this kind of learning. Convince students that you believe in them and don’t tell them that low quality work is good. Try to find something good and help them improve the rest. If you praise substandard work, students get the impression that you have low expectations of them. Keep your expectations high but realistic. It takes time to fall behind and it will take time and hard work to catch up.
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