I’m leading a faculty book club on Daniel Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School? The subtitle is a mouthful: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means For the Classroom. It’s the most eye-opening edu-book I’ve read in quite some time. Each chapter addresses a different core question asked by teachers like. “How Should I Adjust My Teaching for Different Types of Learners?” and “Why Do Students Remember Everything That’s on Television and Forget Everything I Say?” I highly recommend it.
In the chapter on different types of learners, Willingham makes a compelling case that the theory that students are either visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners is bogus and kept alive by confirmation bias— the need to seek support for something we want to believe. When instruction matches a student’s supposed cognitive style (they learn better through seeing images, hearing sounds, or making physical contact with materials), optimal results do not follow. He explains (italics are mine):
Most of the time students need to remember what things mean, not what they look like or sound like. Sure, sometimes that information counts; someone with a good visual memory will have an edge in memorizing the particular shapes of countries on a map, for example, and someone with a good auditory memory will be better at getting the accent right in a foreign language. But the vast majority of schooling is concerned with what things mean, not what they look like or sound like.
This blows a hole in the conventional wisdom about differentiation.
The whole book is not this “Grinch-like,” a comparison that Willingham invites for the chapter on different types of learners. It’s an illuminating and substantive book— all insight and evidence, no fluff.
Get it, teachers.