“Why do students not like school?” Daniel T. Willingham gives his answers as a psychologist and neuroscientist

I am always happy when a serious publisher like UTET Università – De Agostini decides to publish an English version of an Anglo – Saxon psycho-pedagogical manual with great impact. This is the case with the excellent Why do students not like school? (edited by Cecchinato and Papa, UTET Università, p. 254, € 17, 2018) by Daniel T. Willingham (English Why do students not like school? 2009), which in America ten years ago is depopulated. The Italian translation is very well done, with good adaptations between the Stars and Stripes culture and our own, minus some Marchiani translation errors which we will see later. Willingham is a cognitive psychologist who also specializes in neuroscience and is a professor at the University of Virginia.

The human brain does not work, as many professors believe

The volume has a dissertation: Many students do not like going to school because the teaching methods and the content of the courses they are taught are based on an inadequate understanding of how the human brain works. Willingham’s various chapters explore the processes involved in the acquisition and learning of memory and examine how we teachers usually misunderstand intelligence.

The author explains because to the human brain dislike to think (we have yet another confirmation of this in the video of the ugly Milanese going crazy these days on the net), but is instead well prepared to recognize similar avenues for reasoning. “Men are good at certain kinds of reasoning, especially compared to other animals, but let’s practice [sic!] rarely the abilities. A neuroscientist would add a further observation: often men do not think because our brains are not designed to reason, but to avoid doing so ”(8).

Seeing, moving in space, adapting our body’s movements and rotations to the circumstances are activities that the human brain can perform very well and much better than the most powerful computers.

News is unpleasant for adults

But when it comes to having to apply mathematical reasoning, the more scrape Some calculators can beat almost any man, and a cheap chess program can defeat 99% of the world’s human players. Willingham quotes here Townsend and Bever in their famous statement: “Most of the time we do what we have done most of the time” (11), which is the mechanism underlying the reality that no human being, especially an adult, likes new things, getting out of the routine, learning new things. The most daily demonstration is when, in order to take home by car, you decide to drive “like a mule” the same route as always, even after you have been told that there is a faster and safer shortcut.

At the same time, “solving problems is a source of pleasure” (14) precisely from a biochemical point of view: when a doubt is resolved, the brain rewards itself with a small dose of dopamine, a natural molecule that makes us feel. high of laps for a while.

The two types of memory in our brain

Willingham then illustrates the two types of memory stored in our brains (long-term memory And working memory) and remember how learning is the result of a complex process of contextualizations. The best strategies for learning include, according to the author pattern recognition and “broken” information for long-term memory. This also means that the more information that has accumulated in the working memory sector, the less effective learning will be for the learner.

Willingham demonstrates how the easiest way for our brains to remember knowledge is to base it on facts and then perform more complex tasks. Finally, the author rejects a cliché and argues that any kind of learning that works in the classroom – be it visual, auditory or tactile – and which helps students to effectively absorb the meaning of the information presented is fine.

This is because, according to the American psychologist, we should resist the idea that intelligence is genetically determined, or that everyone has a unique “type” of learning. Therefore by giving the students right context and content e ensure that educators also continue to learn, you can ensure that students learn better and longer. “It is completely counterproductive,” writes the American psychologist, “to require all students to perform the same task. Less talented students [per condizioni ambientali, di famiglia, di stress, nda] they will find it too difficult and mentally refuse to commit. As far as possible, I think it is wise to assign each student a job appropriate to their current level of proficiency. “(27)

However, this must be done “carefully” to minimize the perception that some students may be behind others. It is up to the teacher to understand when it is necessary to “change pace” to recreate those left with the subject.

Notionism? No thanks.

In the second chapter, the author recommends that when teaching, one moves as far as possible away from notionism to teach knowledge. Simple to say, hard to do. Willingham, based on the question a neuroscientist would ask “What knowledge provides the greatest cognitive benefits?” then his recipes suggest: “An objective reason would be reads a newspaper a day and periodically reads popular books on serious topics such as science and politics.“(56)

However, this must be done keeping in mind that journalists and writers take a range of basic information for granted, which students often do not have. The teacher must then provide the necessary background and continue teaching this content to the students. The author explains: “Neuroscience comes to a conclusion […] that students should learn recurring concepts […] each discipline’s unifying ideas. Educators suggest that some concepts, in a limited number, should be taught in greater depth, beginning with the primary, and taken up throughout the curriculum over the years, in different contexts, and analyzed through the lenses of the various disciplines “(57) .

Get students thinking

In Chapter 3, Willingham reminds us that thinking about the meaning of things is the goal of any good teacher, since our brains are only able to store in long-term memory what seems useful to remember. This means that teachers must “design lessons that make students reflect on the meaning of the topic“(74). To achieve this, you need to change your teaching style, and that always means to know how to create an emotional bond between students and teachers, because this is fundamental to learning: “A very well-organized fourth-grade teacher who is considered by students to be mediocre will not be very effective. But also the funny teacher […] if lessons are poorly organized will not work. Effective teachers have both qualities. They are able to relate on a personal level to the students and organize the lessons in a way that makes them interesting and easy to understand “(77).

Narrative techniques for creating emotional bonds

This is in my opinion the most important teaching in… teaching. And it is a key concept that many teachers have not yet understood, even after 30 or 40 years of “honest profession” to say it to Sold. Achieving this result is not easy because there is no uniform scale. Willingham suggests storytelling techniques, but for them to work, you have to be a good storyteller. Another fundamental factor is knowing how to capture students’ attention, always because “one remembers what one is thinking” (93). The ultimate goal is not to try to get students to become scientists, but “to give students tools to understand how others create knowledge” (159).

The importance of feedback

So how can a teacher improve his techniques in the light of these innovations? According to Willingham, one way to improve is to get feedback, and name some ways to get it. In particular, the American researcher says: “getting feedback from people who know more than us: authors listen to publishers’ criticisms [questo è un errore del traduttore italiano: Willingham scrive nell’edizione originale “editors” che sono gli editor, e non “publishers” che sono appunto gli editori, nda]soccer team [nell’edizione originale è di basket, nda] they are dependent on coaches and scientists [cognitivi come Willingham, nda] they receive reviews of their work from experienced colleagues. If we think about it, then how can we improve without some evaluation of what we do? Without feedback, we can not know if we will become better neuroscientists, football players [golfisti, nda] or teachers. “(217).

Overall, Willingham’s text should not be missing in the personal library of any Italian teacher, from primary school to university. Congratulations to UTET University for choosing to bring such a groundbreaking volume into Italian for us teachers.

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