Exam success makes children happy?!?

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November 15, 2012 by brookesprimarypgce

I’m still trying to decide the full extent of my reaction to Michael Gove’s latest speech: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-20319008

A major influence seems to be Daniel Willingham – a US Professor of Psychology termed a cognitivist (http://www.danielwillingham.com). His 2009 book – Why student don’t like school – is quoted by Gove in his speech. This book contains nine seemingly plausible principles:

The nine principles are:

  1. “People are naturally curious, but they are not naturally good thinkers.”   Students don’t like school because they are frustrated or bored.  The amount of thinking required must be just right to retain their interest.  Teachers must know their students in order to plan effective lessons.
  2. “Factual knowledge precedes skill.“   No matter how much schools want to teach “higher order thinking skills” there must be factual knowledge in the long-term memory to facilitate the process of thinking.  For example, reading comprehension requies the background knowledge an author assumes the reader can supply.  Willingham postulates that the 4th grade reading slump often seen in students from underprivileged homes is caused by the lack of this type of knowledge. I became interested in Willingham’s work through this video on reading comprehension
  3. “Memory is the residue of thought.“   Here is where Willingham’s recommendations seem to contradict those of  other educational experts.  As he says in his conclusion, he is basing his principles on cognition, not just motivation.  Since memory can only come from what students actually think about, teachers must be very careful to motivate students to attend to a lesson without taking their minds off of the learning objectives.  Some possible distracting motivators he mentions are; attention-getting devices such as costumes and props, artificial items to create student relevance, and the use of a new technology to assist students in producing a product.  He suggests using a story structure in any lesson and moving attention grabbers to the middle of a lesson to sustain interest in the material being taught.  Willingham models this well in each chapter of  his book.
  4. “We understand new things in the context of things we already know.”  Abstract principles and deep knowledge are not easy to acquire.  Have realistic expectations. This type of learning must be  built over time.
  5. “Proficiency requires practice.”  Your grandmother was right.  “Practice makes perfect.”  This is true for basketball, playing the piano, learning the multiplication tables, and teaching.  Teachers should choose carefully what foundational skills need to become automatic through practice.  Shorter practice periods spread over time are better than long cram sessions.  Practice can be done while working on more advanced skills.
  6. “Cognition is fundamentally different early and late in training.”  Students will not be able to think like historians and scientists with many years of experience in their work.  Experts were all once novices.  They had to learn certain fundamental knowledge and skills in order to develop the the thought processes they now have.
  7. “Children are more alike than different in learning.”   Oops!  If Willingham is correct, most teachers  have  wasted a lot of in-service time on identifying visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners.  Willingham asserts that even though people have different abilities and preferences, it is the content that should determine the mode of instruction.  No matter what type of input students prefer,  certain types of information and skills require visual, auditory or kinesthetic attention.  Using a variety of instructional strategies in the classroom is good practice for all students.  Learn more about his position in this YouTube video.
  8. “Intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work.”   Much of what we measure as intelligence is shaped by the prior knowledge we have stored in our long term memories.  This is due to both genetic and environmental factors.  Some studies favoring a genetic basis for intelligence may have missed the fact that genetic factors cause people to seek out different environments.  Therefore, environment may play an even greater role than once thought.  In order to foster the hard long-tern work needed to increase intelligence, teachers should praise effort more than ability and increase students’ confidence in their ability to improve.
  9. Teaching, like any complex cognitive skill, must be practiced to be improved.  Experience is not the same as practice.  Teachers often improve in their teaching until they reach a level where they begin to coast.  Videotaping your teaching, keeping a diary, and pairing with a trusted colleague can help you to identify the areas you need to improve.  Be realistic and don’t try to change everything at once.    Quoted from http://dj345.wordpress.com/2009/07/10/chapter3-review-of-why-why-dont-students-like-school-by-daniel-willingham/


My problem is with the balance of the book and also the way in which the book is used in Gove’s speech – how can one main influence be used in such an unquestioning way? Did constructivism ever happen?


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