Book Reviews

“Read it with a group of colleagues and commit to conversation about its concepts if not mastery of its terminology. The result could be some fascinating discussions and, more importantly, better instructional design and learning.

The Architecture of Learning … is the “now what” portion of the familiar formula: “what, so what, and now what.” As Washburn says, “You have probably had teachers who planned lessons but failed to design instruction.” His book was written to help teachers become instructional designers (not simple curriculum writers) and to understand the “now what.” This means using learning theory to inform instructional design and thereby help all students achieve mastery of skills and content… [complete review at Blogg-Ed Indetermination]

Steve Taffee
Consultant
Educational Collaborators

“…he understands and communicates what teaching and learning needs to look like in the 21st century.”

Teachers and administrators, if you are looking for a good book to read this summer, here is a great one on teaching and learning. I have heard Kevin speak and he understands and communicates what teaching and learning needs to look like in the 21st century.

Mike Ely
Superintendent
Whittier Christian Schools
Whittier, CA

“…a very informative book for anyone who wants to learn about learning and thinking.”

Although this book is primarily aimed at teachers, it is a very informative book for anyone who wants to learn about learning and thinking. Washburn begins by outlining the five building blocks of learning: experience (encountering raw data), comprehension (sorting and organizing raw data), elaboration (examining organized data for patterns and connecting new data to past experiences), application (practicing within the classroom), and intention (practicing outside the classroom). For teachers to properly teach and for students to learn, their learning should progress through all these blocks so that there is a transition from data to knowledge to understanding, and ultimately, to utility of this knowledge. In addition to the elaborate discussion of these blocks and their intersections, Washburn also does a thorough job of explaining the great importance of critical thinking to learning, and discusses the importance of emotion, attention, motivation, creativity, and technology to teaching and learning. The text is complemented by numerous examples throughout the book, making the read more enjoyable and relevant. This is a great resource on teaching and learning!

Toni Krasnic
Author, Concise Learning: Learn More & Score Higher in Less Time with Less Effort

“One of the most important aspects of the book is the focus on real-world connections to skills and content required by state and national standards.”

The Architecture of Learning is a comprehensive resource for helping teachers understand how students learn and how to teach in the way that best engages learning processes noted in the text. The focus of the book is on tapping into the natural learning processes in order for students to truly comprehend what they are being taught, instead of just memorizing facts. Important issues like emotions, motivation, and attention are also clearly addressed and tied into student learning. The author does an excellent job of comparing current ineffective teaching strategies with the Architecture of Learning blueprint and explains why it is so effective.

As a 4th/5th grade teacher of language arts and history, it is easy to recognize that Dr. Washburn offers an alternative teaching philosophy to the traditional textbook methods. One of the most important aspects of the book is the focus on real-world connections to skills and content required by state and national standards. With the creation of pattern statements and reference points, students are given the opportunity to make concrete connections to the material they are working with.

Teachers of all grade levels and subject areas will benefit from reading this book. The specific grade-level examples spark creative ideas about how blueprints can be used in many different content areas. With clear explanations and easy-to-read figures in every chapter, this book is an invaluable guide for teachers who are tired of the monotony of re-teaching every year because the students forgot what they “learned” last year. The Architecture of Learning provides the resources and direction needed for teachers to take their classrooms from average to extraordinary.

Kimberly N. Shepherd
Curriculum Coordinator
Circleville Christian School
Circleville, OH

“…it will help you realize the importance of designing effective teaching lessons because you will understand learning.”

We have had incredible success with teaching students to think critically since the implementation of [our reading program, Foundations & Frameworks] three years ago. What is really behind its success is the component of our Architecture of Learning training that brings to light how we learn. Kevin Washburn, the author of this program, delves into brain-based research and provides teacher-friendly guidance that will greatly impact your classroom and your profession.

Recently, Dr. Washburn published a book, The Architecture of Learning: Designing Instruction for the Learning Brain. It is now included in the course that is taught for our incoming elementary teachers. I recommend and even challenge you to read this book. Understanding learning produces effective teaching. It will help you to realize the importance of designing effective teaching lessons because you will understand learning. Dr. Washburn also does a thorough job of explaining the great importance of critical thinking to learning, and discusses the importance of emotion, attention, motivation, creativity, and technology to teaching and learning. The style of Washburn’s writing makes the read more enjoyable and relevant.

Maggie Miller
Assistant Elementary Principal
Northlake Christian School
Covington, LA

“Author Kevin Washburn is a gifted storyteller and an insightful educator.”

Author Kevin Washburn is a gifted storyteller and an insightful educator. He has learned the art of working in partnership with creation, the human brain that is. The essence of his art is captured on every page as he shares the framework, the processes, the practical steps, and the examples of designing instruction for the learning brain. Characteristic of a great storyteller, he takes you back to the place of some of those initial “experiences” and for a moment you think that you’ve been there too. All educators should read the story of The Architecture of Learning, and by  doing so will learn how to better create their own stories of happy ever after, successful students that is.

Ivy Bonk
White Stone Consulting
Ed.D. Candidate, Regent University

“…this is…the kind [of book] that not only teaches you something useful but uses its own principles as an example to do so.”

There’s a fair amount that we know about learning, and we often place great importance on teaching, but we seem to take for granted the way teaching and learning are related. It is not at all obvious how teaching leads to learning (assuming that it does!) or what is the best way to create an environment for learning. We do have a lot of relevant evidence, but it is rare to see it put together in a useful way.

That’s why this is such a wonderful book, the kind that not only teaches you something useful but uses its own principles as an example to do so. The Architecture of Learning illustrates in simple but detailed terms what it takes to get from raw experience to practical skills and knowledge and then provides you with tools to do the same. Successfully applying his own teaching insights to the structure of this book, Washburn leads you on a journey to personal understanding of the learning process chapter by chapter by first introducing the core processes needed for learning and then progressively deepening and expanding the discussions and examples and using them in different ways and relating them to previous experience.

The strong point of this book is the way it synthesizes and consolidates major theories of learning in a useful practical way …

The composite model used here describes 4 essential interacting and iterative processes required for learning: (1) accumulating “reference experiences” upon which further learning can be based, (2) labelling and sorting our experience, (3) relating new ideas to past experiences to create deeper understanding, (4) applying what we know in increasingly broader and more realistic contexts.

Each of these subprocesses produces different kinds of outcomes used in the overall learning process. (1) Experience produces reference experiences. (2) Labeling and sorting produce sequences of key points that help us comprehend. (3) Relating ideas generates the understanding we need in order to usefully practice and apply new skills and ideas. (4) Rehearsing the application of new skills and ideas with feedback makes learning available for real situations.

The meat of The Architecture of Learning is then the blueprints that make use of this model. Learning new skills requires somewhat different focus on these different processes than subject matter content, even though the same basic proceses still apply. The blueprints provide a general framework for designing instruction so that the essential learning processes are all engaged, with the proper focus for the type of subject matter. For example, skills require more rehearsal and less relating to past experience than non-skill content, but relating to past experience is still needed at various points to produce the intermediate outcomes needed to prepare for effective rehearsal. This is all taken into consideration by the useful general blueprints in Architecture of Learning.

My biggest concern reading this book was trying to come up with a good strategy for sizing the units of material that this approach would apply to. Breaking some material into 16 or so instructional segments as done in these blueprints would obviously be excessive, although the exercise of doing so might still be useful for an instructor for its own sake. There’s a lot of room for judgment here in just how to take a curriculum and divide it up into units that can be structured using these patterns.

Perhaps the most exciting chapters for me are the ones on creative and critical thinking. I really like the way this book makes it clear that various thinking skills are used together with content to deepen learning. I think that’s one of the biggest missing pieces in the way learning is often represented. People realize they’re missing something in learning, but they seem to look for the missing piece in strange places like “unconscious” learning rather than looking more closely at the constituent skills we use to process ideas.

There’s a lot of room for thought here, and a very useful general approach for thinking about designing effective instructional experiences.

Todd I. Stark
Cellular Wetware plus Books

“A well-read copy of this text should be within arm’s reach of all educators at all times…”

This book is an accessible and meaningful consideration of the many recent and longstanding findings in cognitive science and how they should be informing the design and implementation of learning environments. Washburn weaves relevant examples into his writing in a way that makes the simple act of reading the book a lesson in good teaching. The concepts are modeled throughout the text and readers are left with clear guidance as to how to align the important discoveries about learning with effective teaching and meaningful assessments. A well-read copy of this text should be within arm’s reach of all educators at all times to inform the architecture of their continually-improving learning environments, both in the classroom and beyond.

Emily McCarren
Ed.M. Student, Teachers College Columbia University