Colonel’s Book Club – Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide

Thomas Palmatier • August 2021InService • August 13, 2021

For those readers who may be new to Colonel’s Book Club, I try to review books I think would be useful to school band and orchestra directors. These may include “how-to” books relating to the teaching of music, readings on how to lead and inspire others, or in this case, examining how students really learn to then guide us in how to teach. The purpose is two-fold. First, I hope my reviews give you the “bottom line(s)” of the book in case you choose not to read it. Second, I hope the review might motivate you to read the books!

Edition 7 features Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide, by Yana Weinstein (author), Megan Sumeracki (author), and Oliver Caviglioli (illustrator). Before recapping the major points, I want to share how wonderfully crafted this book is. The text is wonderfully organized with just the right blend of illustrations and text. Chapters start with a brief summary of what’s to be covered and conclude with a nice wrap-up. Also, the chapters are the perfect length for a busy educator who could read one while enjoying their luxurious 20-minute lunch break!

The central premise of the book is that too many educational theories aren’t based in the science of cognitive psychology. As an example, for years it has been taught that students have preferred learning styles when the studies show that every student would benefit from receiving information in a variety of ways and there is no correlation between learning success and using a preferred learning style. The first part of the book examines the reasons for the breakdown between science and practice in education and what can be done to rectify it.

Part 2 is perhaps the most clinical of the book as it discusses perception, attention, and memory and the roles they play in learning and what both neuroscience and cognitive psychology studies tell us about all three. Part 3 is the meat of the book for educators as it lays out various strategies for effective learning. Spaced practice and interleaving, what is sometimes called spiral learning, are discussed and the results of studies supporting their effectiveness are described. It also spends time on how to develop higher levels of learning and understanding in students.

Part 4 encapsulates their findings with tips for teachers, students, and parents.

As much as I learned from this book and as much as I admired the craftsmanship, if I had to recommend only one book on these and related topics, I would refer you to Colonel’s Book Club, Edition 5 in the January 2021 issue ( where I reviewed The Science of Learning: 77 Studies That Every Teacher Needs to Know. They are both terrific but in Edition 5 I said it was one of my all-time favorites on the topic and it remains so.

In next month’s article, I will share some thoughts on the state of professional development and mentorship of mid-career music educators.

On a side note, congratulations to Mike Lawson, SBO Magazine’s editor, on adding owner to his title. Mike is dedicated to returning SBO to both a digital and hard copy format. While we think our students only read what’s on their phones, never underestimate the power of an entertaining and informative magazine laying around your band and orchestra rooms. Those students who eat lunch or spend their breaks in the music room (don’t they all?) can learn so much just by sampling this wonderful publication.

Colonel (Ret.) Thomas Palmatier was the leader and commander of The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” the largest military music unit in the United States and was the senior musician in the U.S. Armed Forces who now dedicates his efforts to music education and to maximizing the success of arts organizations as a clinician, guest conductor, and consultant. He is an active clinician, guest conductor, and consultant on organizational structures and leadership around the world. His academic credentials include a Doctor of Music degree (honorary) from the State University of New York, a Master of Strategic Studies degree from the U.S. Army War College, a Master of Fine Arts degree in Music Education from Truman State University, and a Bachelor of Music Education degree from the State University of New York at Potsdam’s Crane School of Music.  He can be contacted at

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