Inspectional Read: Why Don't Students Like School

Author: Daniel T. Willingham

Rating: 3.0 / 5.0

Note: Based on my read of How to Read a Book, I am applying the “Inspectional Reading” technique here so as to extract the majority of relevant points without doing an “Analytical Reading” on this content. I’ll reflect on the efficacy of this method elsewhere. Nevertheless, I believe that this write-up captures many of the major points.

Conclusion Pre-Digestion

  • We must make learners’ time investment valuable
  • “Teaching is an act of persuasion” (conversely, many litigators including Justice Ginsburg note the inverse in the courtroom: persuasion is an act of teaching; she uses the story style of Nabokov to ensure that cognitive complexity remains small and persuadability, therefore, remains high.)
  • “Education” is “passing on accumulated knowledge”
  • “Thinking” is combining knowledge in new ways
  • Maximize the impact of the following key 9 observations by
    • Knowing the reader
    • Maximizing how your content affects them

Key Nine Observations

  1. People are naturally curious but they are not naturally good thinkers. cf. Kahneman “Thinking Fast and Slow”: we actually prefer heuristics and scans versus careful thinking.
  2. Factual knowledge precedes skill. You need to memorize certain things to start building your platform. It’s like sinking the posts for a pier. The more posts you have the bigger the pier you can build out.
  3. Memory is the residue of thought. If you want them to remember, make them think through digging a trench. The dirty left on their clothes will be their memory of the exertion and process.
  4. New understanding is in light of old. Validates the Constructivist model
  5. Proficiency requires practice No escaping it: even experts practice e.g. musicians
  6. Cognition differs between early learners and later learners. For early learners, you don’t get to cut to abstraction early because you (an expert) have expert models in mind because experts’ minds are fundamentally different. Likewise, you cant cut to axiomatic build up from atomic observations for beginners because, again, their minds are fundamentally different.
  7. Learners are more alike than different. That learning style stuff is bunk.
  8. Intelligence can be improved
  9. Teaching is a skill, therefore it must be practiced as well

First six points are relevant to me. Dig deeper:

People are naturally curious but they are not naturally good thinkers

  • Ensure that the problem exists and is solvable
  • Ensure that the rpevious context exists before asking for integration into new knowledge
  • Start with the lede and avoid burying the lead for “suspense”
  • Success here depends on high-quality facts in memory (next)

Factual knowledge precedes skill

  • Facts enable us to integrate knowledge without resistance. WWII is a complex thing, but if you don’t understand the recent move from Tsarism to Communism; the European colonial expansion; industrialism; you’re going to have a hard time integrating this. You’re going to be too in the mechanics.
  • It is not sufficient for students to be curators of “facts from the internet”
  • We must calibrate materials base don the perceived collection of knowledge possessed by the learners
  • Factual knowledge provides mental “hooks” into new knowledge can be integrated and chunked. Students with more of those “hooks” are more readily able to neuroscientifically chunk. As such they retain and integrate better. Therefore to seed a learner’s success, ensure they have many facts in their possession. This is why there’s a gap between rich and poor: rich parents (i.e. available parents) read to children, educate children, supplement education so students have facts for chunking
  • Once chunked, experts learn to think in patterns or classes of problems that allows them to quickly focus on the problem that requires attention. This has been shown particularly in chess. They’re not brute forcing strong/weak moves per each piece: they’re finding chaos to their heuristic and neutralizing it.

Memory is the residue of thought

  • Style is more important than attention
  • Strong style leverages the core of story:
    • Causality
    • Conflict
    • Complications
    • Character

New understanding is in light of old

  • Yay Constructivism…
  • Abstraction and transfer are damned hard
  • Prefer concretions to abstractions. You can’t teach the latter and have them fabricate out the former. You should provide many, many, many concrete examples before synthesizing to abstracts (recalls principles of SOLID)
  • When you need to teach abstractions, exhaustively pile on concrete examples
  • We can also use a mystery in the present to be tied to a solved mystery of the past.

Proficiency requires practice

  • You need chunked knowledge and lines of thought to become automatic so that your feet, arms, body, chest, know what to do on the pitch. Your eyes can start looking at the big picture and seeing where the weakness is.
  • Regular practice allows you to cut down your total practice time. The old bandhall saw about 30 minutes a day is absolutely correct.

Cognition differs between early learners and later learners

  • They just can’t do it. Don’t try.

  • Students are focused on “knowledge understanding”

  • Experts are focused on knowledge creation

  • Thus the fit for experts cannot be the same as the fit for learners

  • Genetic variance in intelligence is dwarfed by the impact of behaving intelligently:

    • Praise effort
    • Model hard work’s payoff
    • Treat failure as natural source of growth
    • Don’t assume study skills are present
    • Express confidence


Background facts + practice...
  moves us to thinking in terms of
   "zones" or "deep structures" or "functions"
     and this enables
       transfer between fields
       mid-stream correction/reflection