UVA Prof. Dan Willingham on Learning Science & K-12 Schooling

This week on The Learning Curve, Cara and Gerard speak with University of Virginia Professor Dan Willingham about cognitive psychology and K-12 education. Professor Willingham discusses the psychology of learning and the research that shaped his thinking and writing, including his advocacy of using scientific knowledge in classroom teaching and education policy and his critique of the “learning styles theory” of education. They explore what elements appear to be missing from American K-12 schooling and schools of education; his support of E.D. Hirsch, Jr.’s Core Knowledge curricular work; and what must be done to improve students’ enjoyment of and performance in primary and secondary education.

Stories of the Week

Cara discussed a story in Chalkbeat New York reporting that at the end of last school year, just 36 percent of children entitled to “bilingual special education services received the correct amount of instruction from a certified bilingual teacher and in a classroom with the proper ratio of students and staff.” Gerard mentioned a story in the Jewish Journal detailing a lawsuit brought by parents of students with special needs as well as two Los Angeles Jewish schools, who are suing the California Department of Education and the Los Angeles Unified School District over being excluded from special education funding. Plaintiffs maintain their case is similar to last year’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Carson v. Makin, regarding school choice and religious liberty.


Daniel Willingham received his PhD from Harvard University in cognitive psychology and is now a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, where he has taught since 1992. Until about 2000, his research focused solely on the brain basis of learning and memory. Today, all of his research concerns the application of cognitive psychology to K-16 education. He writes the “Ask the Cognitive Scientist” column for American Educator magazine, and is the author of several books, including, most recently, Outsmart Your Brain: Why Learning Is Hard and How to Make It EasyHis writing on education has appeared in 19 languages.

Tweet of the Week

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Published in: Education, Education