“There are important differences between the types of work that are useful to researchers and the types of work that are useful to practitioners,” explains Daniel Willingham, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. “My field has not done a terrific job of keeping that distinction at the forefront of their mind when they communicate with teachers.”
Willingham has done a better job than most. His books about education – including the ever-popular Why Don’t Students Like School – have become essential texts for teachers and act as a bridge between academic research and the classroom. And in April next year, he will release his latest effort, currently titled The Reading Mind: a cognitive approach to understanding how the mind reads.
Speaking exclusively about the upcoming book to TES in the 7 October issue of the magazine, he explains that, as with his other books, he is not attempting to dictate how teachers teach.
“Reading is a topic of the most concern to most people and so it made sense to me to try and demystify the process,” he says. “I want to provide a very simple but useful model that ties together a lot of the phenomena teachers see in the classroom and helps them make sense of what they see.
“[But] the theory for reading is not a theory of instruction. It will probably constrain the theory of instruction a little bit – you can make accurate guesses if you know the theory of reading, what the processes are, what is likely to contribute to that process or not. [But] there is very little pedagogy in the book at all.”
What Willingham hopes the book will do is inform teachers about the brain and the process of reading so that they can devise for themselves the best way to apply that knowledge to pedagogy.
He concedes, though, that the transference of research to actual teaching is not always easy.
“When do you trust the experts? The relationship between basic scientific theory and practice is difficult,” he says.
On the evidence of his previous titles, and from the preview he gives in the 7 October issue of TES, it seems he is pretty adapt at treading that line with impressive skill.
This is an edited version of an article in the 7 October edition of TES. This week's TES magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here