September 2009


Audi Q7: The Posh Diesel

By The Car Family

If you need a large SUV that carries seven passengers your best bet is going to be one with a diesel engine. There are three reasons for this. First, it gets much better fuel mileage. Secondly, it can tow more. And finally, the resale is higher.

That being said, the Audi Q7 TDI is one of your few choices in this regard. Indeed it is a study in abundance. Everything you look from the huge snowplow bow to the numerous controls for the radio, heating, air conditioning, even the fan speed selection are in excess. It appears that Audi wanted this flagship to carry everything possible into the battles for sales. What they created was an extremely luxurious SUV that weighs nearly three tons and yet sips diesel fuel and provides potent acceleration thanks to a V6 diesel that creates 225 horsepower and an enormous 406 pound-feet of torque. When the turbocharged engine comes online, around 2000 rpm, the big Audi is breathtakingly fast for what it is, especially considering its bulk. You are also going to find yourself going well over the speed limit during highway merging and passing. This Audi hauls. Period, and it gets over 22 mpg to boot. It does need low sulfur fuel but we didn’t have any trouble finding it. Add to this the Audi’s 26 gallon fuel tank and you have an easy 500 mile plus cruising range.

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We have tested both the gas version and the diesel option and there simply is no question that the extra dollars for the latter is superior is every way. It is quiet, swift, and starts automatically. Audi labels its diesel the cleanest SUV in the world and it is more efficient than the other German competition from Mercedes and Volkswagen as the Q7 has a ULEV-II or ultra-low emission rating.

Driving the large Audi is a pleasant experience, but there is no question this is a very heavy vehicle. Despite this parking was very easy. When making a U turn you are never going to need to worry about having to stop and put this vehicle in reverse. It is a pleasure to park even in tight mall spots and the rearview camera, a must for such a high vehicle with restricted rearward vision, is second only to Nissan’s in clarity. Exceptional.

The exterior look is massive and intimating. The rear lift over is extremely high making loading heavy objects a chore. The rear hatch has an available motorized open and closing motor and you need to have this if you are of average height or shorter. It is quite difficult to close otherwise.

The interior is very posh in keeping with its plus $50,000 price tag, but the government offers a tax incentive to diesel buyers of $1150. Check http://fueleconomy.gov/feg/taxLeanBurn.shtml for the latest data on this. The seats have leather surfaces and the dash and headliner are rich looking and feeling as it should be for such an expensive vehicle. The rear seats folds reasonably flat once the second seat headrests have been removed. The front seats are heated with 12-way adjustments, however, they are quite high and the roofline is low so be prepared to duck down if you don’t adjust the seats to a lower position.

Mom’s view: I found the step up difficult when wearing a dress as it is very high. I also found the big Audi felt nearly cumbersome at low speeds. It never feels nimble except, ironically, when parking it. The pure size of it commands a certain amount of respect, especially in white. Driving around town the diesel feels a little choppy, but on the highway it is pure elegance. Once those 5000 pound plus get motivated the V6 delivers enough torque to keep you smiling. Very potent. The main competition is the Mercedes R Bluetec and Volkswagen Touareg 2. Interestingly, the Mercedes interior is austere and stiff, but is roomier more and easier to use. If you live where you need the extra ground clearance go for the Audi. The bottom line for me is that the Q7 never won me over despite its many attributes. I found the fuel mileage exemplary and admired the beautiful interior, but it was too over the top for my daily commute and too difficult to feel comfortable in for long hauls.

Dad’s view: Great engine, no doubt, but the transmission needs to be kept in sports mode to get the most out of the Audi. The steering is excellent, almost too direct at times, and the handling unexpectedly obedient. The brakes are adequate, but this rig is really one for the highway. I didn’t care for the 20-inch wheels as they were noisy and not all that off-road oriented.

The interior has a great many quirks that can be easily overcome, but why weren’t they thought through better. The cruise control is difficult to find and complicated and the console mounted controls require you to take your eyes off of the road to operate. Audi’s Multi Media Interface (MMI) isn’t as difficult as the Mercedes and BMW units, but it still takes time to master its logic.

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Because of the small window area of the Q7 those sitting in the backseat feel don’t have the feeling of spaciousness that you get in the competition. The rear seat is very small, and when you use it you must find a place to put the cargo cover. Again, not major problems, but a concern anyway.

Audi has years of experience in racing diesel engines and its shows. It the 3.0 liter engine is eager to please. Interestingly, I believe this is the same engine as in the Volkswagen Touareg 2, which costs thousands less, but isn’t nearly as luxurious. The Q7 also does not offer the convenience of the more station wagon like Mercedes R in terms of loading and unloading.

Young working male’s view: This Audi diesel does not smoke, is almost perfectly quiet, and runs clean enough to qualify as a environmentally friendly people mover. Mercedes uses a the water-based urea injection to remove clean air damaging elements. Audi has decided to make the “burn” more efficient and thus better fuel injectors were designed. The Audi’s computers also monitor the quality of the diesel fuel being burned. We have owned a diesel for 30 years and know important this is having fueled up with bad diesel numerous times. Those who live in the colder climates should note that the glowplugs that light off the Audi fire almost instantly even in cold weather. For me the result was a very user friendly diesel engine that provides that famous diesel torque and fuel mileage as well as unexpected frisky acceleration.

Our test car had the optional panoramic sunroof, but it has an opaque covering that lets in some heat. On the other hand, without it the interior would be rather dark. We didn’t get a chance to test Audi’s famous Quattro all-wheel-drive system, but there is no doubt that it should handle anything people spending $50,000 or more would take their vehicle. The test vehicle had the 3.0 TDI and it felt very potent at all speeds, but especially in the mid-range. The night lighting is fantastic. When you hit the remote key fob you get puddle lights, a great interior light, and even red flowing dash lights. As I work for http://www.eracks.com making open software servers and computers I can expertly say that the Multi Media Interface took even my some time to master.

When on the highway you get excellent visibility to the front, but the high rear tailgate and large C pillars create some blindspots. The Audi does offer a system that flashes a orange light it you signal for a turn and there is a vehicle in that position. I loved that option. For me the Audi was too much vehicle for my needs. However, it has a great feel and the interior is first class.

Young working woman’s view: The Audi is impressive and comes with a pleasant cabin, albeit very uncomfortable controls even with the auxiliary steering wheel mounted ones available. The exterior is a love it or hate it visual, but no one is going to argue that it does make its presence known. The Audi was too large for me to feel comfortable in daily driving. I much prefer the Audi A5 anyway, and with the possibility of a smaller Audi SUV having the diesel engine option I think waiting would be my choice. But I dearly love that diesel.

Family conference: An expensive luxury SUV with an abundance of features, the decision to buy the Q7 comes down to wanting to enjoy the numerous benefits of its diesel powerplant. You get a lot for the money, but it costs a lot of money and so we would look for three things before deciding. First, do you travel or tow enough to make the diesel viable? Secondly, do you need the all wheel drive system? Finally, do you like its bold look? If you answer yes to these there is really one the Audi. Add to this the excellent crash scores and you have a proper SUV. Make sure you order the Side Assist which indicates when a vehicle is in your blind spot, and also the rearview camera. Big car, big personality.

For vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com/business/index.html

Diesel comparison

Audi R Class Mercedes Volkswagen Touareg 2

Price $50,900 $49,150 $42,800

Horsepower 225 hp 210 hp 225 hp

Torque 406 ft-lbs. 398 ft-lbs. 407 ft-lbs.

Cargo 73 cu. ft. 85 cu. ft. 71 cu. ft.

Towing 6600 lbs. 3500 lbs. 7716 lbs.

Mileage 17/25mpg. 18/24 mpg. 17/25 mpg.

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The Best 2010 Vehicles

By The Car Family

For vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com/business/index.html

After a long look at the 2010 vehicles it becomes clear that this is not a stellar one. The Audi Q5 is the best of the SUV/Trucks and the Kia Forte sedan is the best of the vehicles, although we found the Toyota Prius terrific. As for our best family vehicle, we would go with the Ford Fusion hybrid. And for the rich family vehicle, the Lexus RX 450h/RX 350 are useful, frugal, and hold their value.

Mom’s view: The Toyota Prius is great, but I just like to slide into a vehicle and so the Lexus RX is my favorite. I also enjoyed the Kia Soul more than I would like to admit. Comfortable and handy.

Dad’s view: The new Jaguar sedan with the supercharged engine is fun and dominating. You can run with the best sports cars and still enjoy the comforts of a large sedan. I also liked the Lexus RX and the Kia Soul.

Working woman’s view: The Nissan Cube is cute.  But what stole my heart was the Mercedes GLK with a diesel engine.  Awesome, and I probably am going to buy one in the future. That says something.

Young working male’s view:  I’m still making open source hardware for http://www.eracks.com and they are the most quiet units on the market. As such a treasure my comfort and so the Mercedes E Class and the Subaru Legacy and Outback are my choices

Alfa Romeo

This model year tends to reflect the down nature of the economy with a few bright spots for those with dough and risk takes. For example, Alfa Romeo is back with three Italian beauties. The Alfa Romeo 159 Sedan is a BMW 3 Series fighter with a 260 horsepower 3.2-liter V6 engine stunning looks and standard all-wheel drive all for about $35,000. Adding to that Italian Flair is the Alfa Romeo Brera 2 plus 2 Coupe that is really attractive and carries the same drive train as the 150 sedan. As usually, you have to pay more for something beautiful so the sleek two door should run a couple of grand more. Of course, going topless is the sole purpose of the Alfa Romeo Spider which should cost over $40,000 probably with the same V6 engine. We suggest wait and see.

Aston Martin

Aston Martin has more expensive eye candy for anyone to own who has a couple of hundred thousand dollars to spend. The Rapide has four door, a first, a first for this newly purchased company, and a 470 horsepower. For a hundred thousand dollars more you can own a smaller vehicle, the DBS Volante 2+2 and sit on 510-horsepower. That is the same horsepower you can feast upon in a Jaguar sedan that costs $80,000. There is also the One-77 for two million, a V12 with 700 horsepower and it is built to the owner’s specifications, more or less. Oh, the name? They are only going to build 77 of them. Hurry. You can get a lot more for a lot less.

Audi

Whether Audi’s winning streak lasts is in the hands of four new Audi vehicles. The A5 Cabriolet does away with the A4 in appearance only as most of the drivetrain is the same. Look for some more technology and a price a little over forty grand. You can also order supercharged version for a few thousand dollars more. Finally, the Audi S4, at around $50,000, is going to have a 3.0-liter  supercharged six-cylinder engine making about 335 horsepower and all wheel drive.  A BMW with a softer image.

BMW

BMW continues its quest to build some pretty strange looking vehicles, but they continue to succeed. The  Z4 well have a retractable hardtop and its excellent  twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine as well as a base model sans the induction help starting in the mid-$40,000 range. For $80,000 you can harvest a large BMW 7-Series with a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 with 400 horsepower. Again, less horsepower than the Jaguar sedan, but it has more backseat room. Back to strange looking BMWs and the X6 M. For nearly ninety thousand dollars you can drive a very fast SUV that can rival the Porsche Cayenne in everything, including depreciation. Look for 550 plus horsepower from a twin-turbocharged V8. The base 3 Series is still the best BMW.

Buick Lacrosse

We don’t recommend General Motors products at this time. The Lacrosse is priced at about $28,000 and for that you can get a slightly used Lexus RX still under warranty for that price. Remember that General Motors only allows select people to test drive their vehicles so watch for bias in reviews.

Cadillac

We don’t recommend General Motors products at this time. Cadillac has a new sports wagon and more powerful engines in most of its products. The SRX and sports wagon cost nearly the same, about $34,000 and they both do essentially the same, with the wagon being more sprightly. We don’t get the pricing strategy, but we also don’t understand why GM hired back a leader who helped create the bankruptcy in the first place. Stick to the base CTS.

Ferrari

Ferrari California is offered at about $195,000. For that you get a retractable hardtop convertible, a 4.3-liter V8 that produces 460 horsepower, a seven-speed dual clutch transmission, and a Ferrari that makes the overpriced and poor riding Bentley look like yesterday. No wonder Bentley sales and resale are suffering.

Fiat 500

When it comes buy it. Pricing is fairly high for such a small machine, just below $20,000, but it is cute, rides well, and you can order it with a fuel sipping 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with 100. We recommend you delay your gratification until the more powerful engine becomes available.

Ford Mustang

It isn’t getting old and it is getting better, The Mustang looks much sharper this year and the handling has been smoothed. A myriad of engine choices. For about $20,000 you can have a car that makes the weird looking Chevrolet Camaro and bulking Chrysler Challenger like bad styling exercises.

Ford F-150 SVT Raptor

Expensive, high riding, and expensive, the F-150 Raptor is meant to destroy off-road obstacles and pass most everything except a gas station. $39,000.

Ford Taurus

We highly recommend the Ford Fusion. However,  if you need more leg and cargo space, the new Taurus is a darn good vehicle to consider, especially with a $26,000 asking price. Good fuel mileage, a six-speed automatic transmission and a 3.5 engine are standard. If you need more power and want to spend nearly $39,000 you can stuff your Taurus with the SHO turbocharged, 365 horsepower engine.

Ford Fusion

A bargain and fun to drive, the Fusion is now available as a hybrid that can easily get mid-30 mpg. Well priced at just over $20,000, the Fusion is just as good as the competition from Asia and the hybrid is one of the best family vehicles you can possess that offers exception fuel mileage.

Honda Insight

Priced below $20,000, the Insight is less expensive than the Toyota Insight, but you get a lot less. Fuel mileage in the low 40 mpg arena. Look for Toyota to offer a stripped Prius to offset the Honda’s price advantage. However, it won’t have the Honda handling.

Hyundai Genesis Coupe

Wow, for those who like a slick looking coupe that goes fairly well, the $23,000 Genesis coupe is a must drive. The turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and the 3.8-liter V6 produce 210 and 306 horsepower respectively. Why pay more?

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Jaguar XJ Series

This stunning sedan is available with an extended-wheelbase and potent powertrains from the base 5.0-liter V8 and its 385 horsepower, to the .XJL Supercharged 470 horsepower version, to the Supersport’s 510 horsepower engine. Safety wise the Jaguar offers ABS, traction control, antiskid system, curtain side airbags, and front side airbags. Add to that Jaguar’s Adaptive Dynamics adjustable air suspension and you have a sweet riding sedan. You can also add a dual-screen DVD entertainment system. The Supersport is a bargain for those who like their sedan to truly leap. One of our favorites. Priced just under $70,000.

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Jeep Grand Cherokee

As the much anticipated Chevrolet Volt is said to be the most important vehicle to General Motors, the Grand Cherokee is even more vital to Chrysler. To this end they are offering extended warranties on the drivetrain and a less ancient styling. Pricing is expected to be just over $30,000, but more importantly, you are going to own a vehicle with a nicer interior and better handling than any previous model.  Well worth the late for those that need the Grand Cherokee’s legendary off-road ability.

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited

Kia Soul

A real surprise, the Kia Soul can be bought for under $15,000 and you get a very useful and fun car to drive. It has a high seating position and both the 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine and 142 horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder get good gas mileage. The large tires give a sturdy ride, but that is the sole concern with the Soul. Another one of our favorites.

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Kia Forte

Yet another bargain from Kia, the Forte is a sedan that has an available 173 horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine and room for five all for under $15,000. Kia is on a roll, pun intended.

Kia Forte Koup

A two door version of the Forte for under $20,000.

Kia Sorrento

The Sorrento is leaner, but still not nearly competitive with the other crossovers at this time. However, Kia dealers are willing to deal and the new engine choices might make this a thrifty hauler. Well under $25,000 and look for good deals.

Lexus IS C

This convertible relies on the Lexus name and stunning interior to gather new customers. The base engine is barely adequate, and the larger engined IS 350C and its 3.5-liter, 306 horsepower V6 drives up the price thousands. Look to pay over $40,000 and for that you get a retractable hardtop and Lexus service.  Watch for those bulging side panels in parking lots, though.

Lexus RX 450h

Another giant leap forward for the best crossover in the land, the Lexus RX. This time Lexus has improved the performance and offers a plethora of new technology treats for those who want the $42,000 smoothmobile. You can easily get over 30 mpg and there is plenty of pep, but the reality is that the base RX offers nearly the same mileage for much less. Drive them both.

Lexus HS 250h

Not the best Lexus when it comes to styling, the HS 250h is a larger Prius with the Camry hybrid’s 2.4-liter engine. Rides well and is pretty perky, but it is priced in the mid-$30,000 range and the fuel mileage isn’t that much better than the terrific Toyota Corolla.

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Lincoln MKT

We like Lincoln, but we don’t always understand their attraction. They seldom are different than the base Ford they are based on, but that may all be in the past as the MKT comes online. A stunning interior, an attention getting exterior and ample power. Priced in the mid-$40,000 range. Our advise, buy the turbocharged engine with its 355 horsepower.

Mazda3

More versions of this poor man’s BMW, the Mazda3 in the form of a four and five door and a souped-up sizzler, this fun and frugal winner has seen its interior expanded, but not its powertrain.  Prices start around $17,000. The Speed version threatens the pavement with a 2.3-liter engine creating 263 horsepower. Can you say torque steer?

Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid

For nearly $90,000 you can own the luxurious S Class Mercedes that combines the power of the base engine with that of electric motors to give a big push to a big car without sacrificing too much fuel. Personally, we think the Bluetec diesel is the best offering, but it does not come in the S model.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe

A very large coupe at a good price, the $54,000 E-Class is available with an optional 382-horsepower V8 to provide a lot of go in this attractive two door.

Mercedes-Benz GLK

An optical illusion, this SUV is actually small on the outside, but large on the inside. Available with the diesel, which would make it perfect, it also comes with a 3.5-liter V6 engine and a potent 268 horses. Priced below $35,000. The best MB SUV.

Mercedes-Benz M-Class Hybrid

Priced around $50,000, this SUV combines a 3.5-liter V6 engine with a continuously variable transmission and two electric motors to make it seriously fast and still get fuel mileage above 20 mpg. In reality, this is better than the General Motors products in the form of the Cadillac Escalade hybrids, but lacks the polish of the Lexus RX 450h. Stick with the M-Class.

MINI Crossman

A MINI on steroids, the all wheel drive Crossman is a tall, stubby, attention getting version of the MINI that uses a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine with 172 horsepower to push it through the considerable turbulence its design creates. For about $30,000 you can drive something different.

Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback

Sporty in appearance and handling, this Lancer can be ordered with all wheel drive and the station wagon styling makes it very family friendly. The hot rod Ralliart version is also planned. Priced under $30,000, the Sportback is the most utilitarian of the Lancers, but look for dealers to offer some good pricing.

Nissan

The 370 Z convertible is here and this two-seater is a hoot to drive, especially considering its base pricing of just over $40,000 well equipped. For a lot less you can have the hard top version with the same engine, transmission, and suspension. With prices starting around $30,000, the 370Z comes with a 332 horsepower V6,  six-speed manual transmission and the must have SynchroRev Match system that automatically matches engine speed to your selected gear on downshifts. A real bargain, but there is a lot of competition in the sporty car field now with the upgraded Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Chrysler Challenger, and Hyundai Genesis coupe.

Nissan’s Cube is a box with a little style and a lot of utility. The poster car for funky, the Cube has an asymmetrical rear glass and a side opening rear hatch. For about $14,000 this eye catcher can do your daily chores without much fuss thanks to the 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine with 122 horsepower. There is a lot of competition in this niche once dominated by the Scion B and D. Now the pressure comes from the Kia Soul.

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Porsche Panamera

This is a four door Porsche that comes in two forms, fast and faster. The 4400 pound sedan comes in either two or four wheel drive, but with engines pushing from 400 horsepower to 500 horsepower version. Certainly usable for a family, but at $125,000 plus it is best left to those who enjoy the status of owning this unusual vehicle.

Rolls-Royce Ghost

Why bother. Another Rolls gas hog that serves no purpose that a vehicle half its cost does not provide. A good way to spit in the face of environmentalists while getting the best parking spot at upscale restaurants.

Saab 9-5

Probably due much later in the model year, the new Saab 9-5 is a knockout. Nothing else much new from Saab due to its sale, but used Saabs are a bargain and the 2006 anniversary edition convertible remains one of the great undervalued and automobile collector bargains with only 400 produced. (see photo)

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Smart fortwo ED

We love the Smart cars, except for the jerky transmissions. They are a hoot to drive and with this version you even get good gas mileage thanks to its electric motors. Another of our favorites.

Subaru Legacy

Bigger and sort of better, the $20,000 Legacy is larger and better looking, but the weak base engine still is challenged in mountain driving even with the new 6-speed manual transmission. We highly recommend the more expensive 3.6-liter flat-six engine option. Another one of our favorites.

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Subaru Outback

Essentially the same as the Legacy, but with fancier exterior parts, the one to own is the
2.5 GT.  Priced under $25,000

Suzuki Kizashi
The Kizashi is a totally new direction for Suzuki to grow with a appealing exterior, a 2.4-liter, dual overhead cam four-cylinder engine mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or a CVT, all wheel drive option, and the promise of more power to come. Lots of promises from Suzuki such as upscale audio systems, lots of safety equipment, and a price not much over $20,000. If you are interested in smaller vehicle this is a must drive.

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Toyota Prius

Another winner from Toyota. The new Prius is much superior to the previous generation in every way from better fuel mileage to improved cargo room. Prices start about $23,000.  Awesome, but the tires are noisy and the handling is for the slow goers. Easily one of the best cars of 2010. Another one of our favorites.

Volkswagen GTI

It looks the same, but the GTI I much improved, although the powertrain remains virtually the same with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with 200 horsepower and 6-speed manual or dual-clutch gearbox. Not inexpensive at $26,000, the handling and versatility of this VW might just spark new interest.

Volkswagen Golf

A well priced Volkswagen; the Golf is essentially the old Rabbit with a 2.5-liter gasoline four-cylinder engine or the highly desirable 2.0-liter diesel pushing the wind aside. Excellent fuel mileage and a $17,000 price tag make this a good vehicle for those who like to drive, but still enjoy passing a gas station.

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Volvo XC60

The Volvo wagon remains one of the best you can buy for safety and room, especially the XC 70. However, the pricing on these big wagons is steep and so Volvo is offering the XC60. This smaller, Volvo wagon has an abundance of safety features and the  3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six with its 285 horsepower has just enough power to move this crossover. The all-wheel-drive unit and better handling make this a better choice than its longer brother. Look for prices around $38,000. This is the best Volvo.

For vehicle reviews go to http://www.motorists.org/carfamily/home/most-reliable-vehicles/

Understanding Why Students Don’t Like School:

by Book by Daniel Willingham

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIv9rz2NTUk

Reviewed by Alan Haskvitz

http://www.reacheverychild.com/alan.html

This is an interesting book that I read for only one reason; I wanted to see if he mentioned any of my methods of teaching. Call it a vanity read. However, as I read this book I became more interested in his findings and their possible impact on the way teachers educate their charges. Willingham challenges some of the sacred cows in education and provides some interesting support for his beliefs. Best of all, the author relates his work to helping teachers teach.

“The mind is actually designed to avoid thinking,” Willingham writes because the mind works slowly and takes effort. This is definitely something that most people want to avoid. Instead, the author adds that people rely on memory and it is faster and easier. For example, most people do things the same way they always did them. They are happy with it and it is easier. Of course, the problem with teaching is that the students become hidebound and so getting them to change their notetaking or study skills is a chore. No wonder it is said that changing a habit takes 30 days.

This fear of change and of having to use ones brain is also why some students don’t like school. They like to work; they just don’t like to think. That being said, people are also curious. So a teacher that can stimulate their interest by taking advantage of this curiosity has an advantage. First, it should be noted that students enjoy thinking, if it isn’t too difficult. That is why television games such as Password are popular with some individuals and why people read and play games. So a teacher needs to find this sweet spot, according to the author.

“This is where creative teaching comes in, using a combination of storytelling that evokes emotion and thought, and exercises that put lessons into context and that build upon previous learning. It’s also sustained hard work,” Willingham wrote. This process creates thinking skills dependent upon factual knowledge. It is that factual knowledge that must be stressed so that learning can be advanced and last.

Willingham, a research cognitive scientist, spent a great deal of his efforts trying to find how to reach students using different learning styles and discovered that the reality is that it really does not matter.
“There are different abilities, but really, we all learn the same way,” he said. “It’s not left brain versus right brain, or visual or auditory or kinesthetic. We learn using a combination of skills, and we are all more similar in our learning styles than different.”

In other words, as most teachers already know, in order to motivate students you need to reach their interest zone regardless of the type of learner. A good unit of study allows students to learn the material in a variety of ways and build the core knowledge base that enables them to advance. The author continually stressed the need for students to master basic skills, especially study skills. Since I spend most of the first part of every school year teaching my students how to take notes, how to provide proof, how to write test questions, monitor their time, create a battle plan for the day, use spare moments wisely, link learning, and transfer material at least three different ways, Willingham’s work was reassuring to me. There may be some teachers who work in a district where the State curriculum is the bible and anything not listed is forbidden material, but hopefully, the administration will learn from this book that before you can build you need a good foundation of knowledge.

Another interesting finding professed by Willingham was that intelligence can be improved through hard work. It is not solely heredity. In a study of great scientists the common theme was not the fact they were exceptionally brilliant, but they had the ability to sustain their work. Although Alfie Kohn writes that homework really does not result in improved learning, homework does provide a student with the opportunity to sustain their work on their own. Thus homework can supply the outlet for students to learn to excel and sustain learning on their own, as they are going to do in the future. Students may be talented in one area, such as music or math, but that does not mean they have a greater “intelligence” in that field. For the educator this means that they should add enough flexibility for a student to apply their learning in several ways.

Another point Willingham makes is that praising a child for being smart should be avoided. It gives the impression that if you are smart you are going to get good grades. Thus not getting an answer could make the student feel he or she is dumb.  Thus praise should be for working hard and effort. Help the student understand that hard work pays off and that failure is a natural part of learning. That is the real value of assessment. It shows the student where they need to work harder. In the classroom I find students who get an A mark just look at the grade and not the questions missed. Whereas most students who get lesser grades look at each missed answer and question it. The grade is not an end in itself, but a measure of progress to building up a large memory base for future use.

Here are some additional thoughts expressed in Willingham’s book.

  • The brain is not designed for thinking; it is designed to save you from thinking. It is slow and unreliable. People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers, unless the cognitive conditions are rights we will avoid thinking.
  • Most of the time we do what we do most of the time. In other words there is a need to challenge our teaching style and to look at it with fresh eyes and the student also needs to be challenged.
  • People like to think, but the conditions have to be right or they quit. Chains of logic should not be more than two of three steps long and the application of new ideas cannot be done too soon or the lesson is lost for future use.
  • Students need to have the proper facts on hand to proceed with learning and the use of memory aids is suggested.
  • When you plan a lesson start with the end in mind.
  • Factual knowledge must precede skill.
  • Learn to link or chunk information for easier recall.
  • The amount of material you retain is based on what you already know.
  • A student can’t do critical thinking without core knowledge.
  • Memory is the residue of thought
  • A teacher’s teaching style is what students remember. A teacher who is recalled as good is one who builds a learning base for the student to use in the future.
  • A worthy goal is persuading the students that the lesson has value.

Here are some of Willingham’s basic beliefs that I have tried to relate teachings:

“People are naturally curious, but they are not naturally good thinkers.”   This means that the teacher needs to create lessons that challenge the student to blend there base knowledge with new learning. I would recommend using Bloom’s taxonomy to create different outcomes from the same base material to allow learning to flow with more creativity.

“Factual knowledge precedes skill.“   A student must have a base of knowledge to draw on. And, in fact, that base knowledge is what makes it easier for some students to learn because it gives them a wider base to build upon.

“Memory is the residue of thought.“ Students have to be motivated to turn a lesson into a memory. The teacher must not take away from the student’s ability to learn by distracting them with artificial means that might take their thoughts from the basic objective. For example, a teacher who dresses up as a historic figure might disrupt the learning by having the student looking at the custom rather than what the character represents. I have read a number of research pieces that also note that music can also be a detriment to learning for some individuals as they become enamored with the song rather than the lesson.

“We understand new things in the context of things we already know.” The more vast the knowledge base the easier it is for a student to learn new principles. This takes time, especially if the child does not have a rich academic environment to bring to the table. Abstract principles and deep knowledge are not easy to acquire.  Have realistic expectations. This type of learning must be built over time.

“Proficiency requires practice.”  Building a base of knowledge is ongoing and needs consistent practice. And, not everything needs to be inculcated. Willingham recommends shorter practice sessions spread over time, but the content should also be related to more advanced work to offer a challenge to the student and provide the opportunity to apply what they have learned.

“Cognition is fundamentally different early and late in training.”  Students are not experts and it takes time to build skill. Teacher assignments need to reflect this change not by asking more questions, but asking questions that stress the depth of knowledge.

“Children are more alike than different in learning.”   A most interesting observation, especially since I was a co-presenter with Howard Gardner at the Imagination in Education conference in Vancouver. That being said, it is with willingness that I follow Willingham’s ascertation that although people have different learning styles and types of intelligences, the teacher needs to stress the content over the presentation style. In other words, a teacher should use a variety of strategies in the classroom depending on the lesson and be wary of only using one method.

“Intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work.”   A teacher should promote hard work and praise it as previous knowledge builds a larger memory base for future learning. Since intelligence can be changed by the learning environment the more opportunity a student has to expand that base the better prepared they are going to be to meet future challenges and abstracts with a larger memory base.

Teaching, like any complex cognitive skill, must be practiced to be improved. What I felt was the most important part of Willingham’s book was his belief that experience is not the same as practice and that teachers need to continually improve their teaching ability. He states that teachers with ten years of experience do as well as teachers with 25 years of experience for one reason, after a certain time period they tend to “coast.” He relates it to driving a car. Very few people really can drive well, but they think they can because they drive daily. Seldom does a driver take an advanced course or even learn the difference between cutting the apex of a corner to dealing with under-steering or over steering let along emergency braking. The author believes that you should get the opinion of a peer to help you improve and make small changes as you deem necessary.

It is clearly obvious that professional development for teachers needs to be rethought. Too often such presentations are made by non-practicing teachers and offer little practical application for the busy educator. In my previous research I noted that inservice days need to be followed-up to provide feedback to the presenter as well as the teacher. Attending professional development given by successful practicing teachers also provides a common ground to explain how changes in cognitive development can be used by the working educator.

A final thought about Willingham’s work is that most teachers instinctively know how to teach well. They may need a few tips from a peer or from attending a conference where fellow educators are presenting, but very few of them need much more except, perhaps, a teaspoon of good job from those they serve. If change is going to come to education it needs to come from within and that is why the best conferences are those where teachers learn from other teachers. It would be very interesting to see if teaching another form of intelligence because we all know it is a talent.

Here are some good links:

Top 11 traits of a good teacher

http:// www.reacheverychild.com/feature/traits.html

How to Integrate Lessons

http:// www.reacheverychild.com/feature/integrate-lessons.html

Differentiated Instruction

http://www.reacheverychild.com/feature/differentiated-instruction.html

http:// www.reacheverychild.com/feature/differentiatedinstruction.html

Middle School Brains: Teaching the Distracted

by Alan Haskvitz

http://www.reacheverychild.com/alan.html

Major links to Autism free sites

http://www.reacheverychild.com/feature/autism.html

Special education links

http://www.reacheverychild.com/specialed/general/index.html

Students with special needs links

http://www.reacheverychild.com/feature/special_needs.html

Free resources for students with special needs:

http://www.reacheverychild.com/feature/special_needs.html

Teacher liability and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

http://www.reacheverychild.com/feature/teacher_law.html#4

Special Education sites by area of need

http://www.reacheverychild.com/specialed/index.html

Ideas for helping slow learners

http://www.reacheverychild.com/feature/slowlearners.html

Special needs physical education sites

http://www.reacheverychild.com/sports/special/index.html

And

http://www.reacheverychild.com/feature/phys_ed.html

Banned Book Lists and Lessons

by Alan Haskvitz

http://www.reacheverychild.com/alan.html

The power of the writing word has caused a great many legal cases challenging the First Amendment. A discussion about these cases and the books involved is an excellent opportunity for students to learn about the legal process and see different viewpoints.

What I especially like about this topic is that shows how society’s values change over time and enables students to develop an appreciation for standing up for one’s rights. As always preview these resources with the child and parents in mind. And there is a need to explain to the students that a banned book and a challenged book are not the same. As always, follow the directions of your administration.

Teachers and the Law

Legal cases that all educators and parents should know about.

http://www.reacheverychild.com/feature/teacher_law.html

The American Library Association Page

Includes a list of frequently banned books plus ideas and resources and a calendar of events.

http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/bannedbooksweek/index.cfm

Books Suppressed by Legal Authorizes

For older students. Really quite interesting to see the differences in various countries as well as in the past.

http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/banned-books.html

History of Book Banning

http://www.freedomtoread.ca/links_and_resources/bannings_and_burnings.asp

Recent censorship

Includes banned books and authors.

http://banned-books.com/bblist.html

Banned Children’s Books

Includes Goosebumps, My Brother Sam is Dead, Gulliver’s Travels, and

Harriet the Spy among others

A link page for older students

http://www.booksatoz.com/censorship/banned.htm

Classic books that have been banned.

http://classiclit.about.com/od/bannedliteratur1/Banned_Books_Censorship.htm

Banned book and censorship resources

For older students

http://www.georgesuttle.com/censorship/

The Controversy over Harry Potter

http://www.kidspeakonline.org/fighthp_zeeland.html

How to deal with Censorship in Schools

Includes ideas and links.

http://www.education-world.com/a_curr/curr031.shtml

Lesson Plans

http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=410

When Books Burn

Lessons and Links

http://www.library.arizona.edu/exhibits/burnedbooks/

Reasons to teach about banned books

http://step.evergreen.edu/tescind/censorshiplesson.htm

Banned Book Webquest

http://education.iupui.edu/webquests/books/banned.htm

Webquest for older students

http://www2.gvsu.edu/~zoellmee/webquest/