Why Don’t Students Like School? Lehman’s New Faculty Seminar

10 of Lehman’s new faculty members met yesterday to begin a semester-long exploration of Daniel T. Willingham’s book, Why Don’t Students Like School? in connection with their own teaching and learning practices. Partnered with a Google site to facilitate a hybrid approach to the seminar, the weekly meetings ask faculty members to read, discuss, and share their experiences as students and instructors across disciplines and to examine the research Willingham presents as evidence of cognitive science principles that affect successful learning.

We began with a quick free-writing response to the question, “why don’t teachers like to grade?” Our partner discussions and whiteboard word pool revealed that there is a feeling of disconnection between the products of our work with students (what we grade) and the qualities of our interactions during class times and office hours. We also shared a general sense of concern about the difference between the significance we give to grades and the importance that students place on grades (we’re interested in what and how they learned, but the students are often more interested in numeric and letter values).

We then passed stories back and forth to share why we like to learn and what we’ve been most excited to learn in the past few weeks. Anne Marie Marshall, Assistant Professor in the Childhood Graduate Program, demonstrated an unusual method of calculating the product of two digit numbers. Beatríz Lado, Assistant Professor of Spanish Languages and Literatures, spoke about discovering new uses of language with her students and the social interactions that energize learning for her.

After a review of the seminar materials and Google site, we took time to look at Willingham’s 9 principles (see the Files section in the Lehman Faculty Professional Development group) and identified those we felt most counter-intuitive. Willingham’s challenge to learning styles as well as emphasis on factual knowledge preceding skill are two principles we anticipate debating at length!

Over the next few months, we will be sharing our teaching challenges, identifying objectives for this term and the next year, and co-constructing the Google site to better suit our needs. Next week, self-assessment and objectives will help us begin to match how we learn and teach with our readings and conversations.

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2 Responses to Why Don’t Students Like School? Lehman’s New Faculty Seminar

  1. Thanks, Alyson. Willingham makes some great points: when I reflect on my own teaching and learning, I can see ways in which I’ve instinctively supported his principles, and certainly I have memories of working against them! He’s a great wake-up call in terms of examining practice, student needs, and the differences between experts and novices.

  2. Alyson Vogel says:

    I find that Willingham’s list a great springboard for discussion, thanks for posting it! It makes me think of a radio program I just heard on WBAI about education reform entitled, Tutoring Relationships Across Borders: Youth from Querétaro Tutors Harvard. Its truly not just a selfish plug (my daughter produced the audio program) but it does speak very clearly to the points mentioned in the list; I could nearly tick off all the principles after listening to the story, especially “It is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extended practice” and “People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking.”


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