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

9. What About My Mind?

  • Teachers minds work the same way their students’ minds work. They too rely on the efficient use of background knowledge as they confront their environment and use their working knowledge for thinking. This means that if they want to be a better teacher, they need to practice, and practice needs to be intentional. Data also shows that students learn more from teachers who have rich subject-matter knowledge. In addition, teachers also need knowledge particular to teaching their subject and grade.
  • Most teachers improve quickly during their first five years or so. After that improvement slows or even stops. If you want to keep improving, you need to practice. This involves getting feedback from knowledgable people. While teachers should be able to get good advice from administrators, it’s a good idea to get together with one or more other teachers to help each other. Daniel spells out how you can use video tapes of yourself and others with others to improve. He suggests keeping a diary and looking for patterns to find things that work and things that do not. He also recommends discussion groups where you can get ideas from other teachers. Finally, you should look for opportunities to observe students of the age you work with outside of class.


  • For teachers, this book can be summarized in the statement: know your students. Table 1. on pages 210-211 summarizes the main principle in each of the nine chapters. It states the principle, the required knowledge about students, and the most important classroom implication. I recommend that all teachers keep a copy of this table close by. These principles were selected as they meet these criteria. 1) They are true all the time. 2) They are based on a great deal of data. 3) Using the principle can have a sizable impact on student performance. 4) From the principle it is clear what to do with it. Now that science has given us this knowledge, it would be a shame not to use it.
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