Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham has written a tremendous book titled, "Why Don't Students Like School?" I read a review of the book in the Wall Street Journal and promptly ordered it. I couldn't put the book down. Willingham has written a serious book, filled with findings from rigorous academic research, yet he has communicated his points in clear and concise language that all can understand.
The book focuses on nine cognitive principles "that are so fundamental to the mind's operation that they do not change as circumstances change." Willingham outlines these principles in detail, and he then lays out the implications for teachers in the classroom (whether it be elementary schools or universities).
The book has many important insights. He explains, for instance, that "factual knowledge must precede skill." What does this mean? First and foremost, it implies that one cannot teach students to be critical thinkers without first teaching them a body of factual knowledge. Many college professors that I know talk about how it's not important to "drill facts"... that their job is to teach critical thinking skills. However, Willingham provides rich evidence that contradicts this viewpoint, that explains the importance of background knowledge for everything from reading comprehension to complex problem-solving.
Willingham also challenges another precious bit of conventional wisdom held by many in the field of education. Many people believe that teachers should vary their approach with students based on each individual's cognitive style. Willingham explains that scant evidence exists to support this widely held viewpoint. That chapter was eye-opening for me.
The book has many more important insights, useful to both teachers and parents. I highly recommend the book.