One of the key concepts in "Why Don't Students Like School" that I thought about long after putting down the book was how to free up space in working memory. Willingham's description of working memory as a box that "can only hold so much stuff" simplified what I've been wondering about for years: why do some students seem to get it while others struggle? My ah-ha moment came over Christmas break while I was trying to teach myself how to crochet. I struggled along for several nights alternately concentrating on my "So You Want to Crochet" book and pulling out my knotted stitches. After several more nights, I was able to complete a small project. After even more nights of practice, I was able to divide my attention between crocheting and watching "Will and Grace" at the same time. Hurrah! I cleared out some space in my working memory! (sidebar: now when I feel like vegging out in front of the TV, I can justify it by telling myself I'm improving my working memory)
The implications for my classroom: how can I reconcile my long-held belief that deep understanding and practicing basic skills are at odds? There must be a happy medium.
According to Willingham, deep knowledge is the goal, but proficiency requires practice. Now I'm constantly asking myself, "What do my students need to understand and what do they need to be able to do?" My confusion is which comes first. Do they need deep understanding of a concept before they are required to do/practice it, or will deep understanding come with practice? For example, do my students need number sense to practice their math facts or will number sense come because they practice their math facts? Maybe it doesn't matter; the bottom line according to Willingham is that my students have to do both.
I appreciate this book because it read like a novel, but once read, it can be used like a reference book. It has more information than my feeble working memory can hold, but I can see myself referring back to it in the next few weeks/months/years.