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Engaging the Disengaged, Number Two

The Power of Why

Many of my husband’s classes as a high school student began with the same daily fuss:

History Teacher: Rex, get your history text book out.
Rex: But why?

Math Teacher: Rex, do the problems on the board NOW!
Rex: But why?

English Teacher: Rex, pay attention!
Rex: But why?

Although the rest of the class loved the distractions Rex caused, no one understood that he was truly expressing the human need to know “why,” and not simply trying to get the rest of us to laugh. When teachers spend precious time at an in-service or a meeting, they want to know how this time will benefit their teaching. When any adult is asked to learn something, they want to know what is in it for them. The Sisters, Gail Bushey and Joan Moser, explain the importance of understanding “why” to students as young as five:

We all have a deep need to know why we have to do something. Children and adults alike tend to recoil at answers such as, “Because you have to” or “Because it’s our policy.” Whether audibly or not we often find ourselves asking, “What’s in it for me?”…We believe that when people understand the reason for a task, it establishes motivation and becomes a force that keeps them persevering. As we think about teaching each one of the Daily Five, we start with explicitly explaining why…

The Daily Five, p. 22, 2006

Quate and McDermott emphasize the importance of having adolescents understand “why”:

If students don’t see the work they’re being asked to do mirrored in the world outside of school, they’re not as willing to play the school game. Talk about a way to decrease motivation.

Clock Watchers, p. 102, 2009

This is why I prefaced most of my lessons over the past 32 years with a short explanation about how doing what I asked would help the students either immediately or sometime later in their lives. Lesson introductions often sounded like:

Kindergartners, if you will work hard in the word-work station, you will learn to read and write more words.
First-graders, if you will practice reading every day during our daily independent work time, you will become better readers.
Fourth-graders, if you will proofread your reports for spelling errors, your audience will be able to read and understand what you are saying in your report.
Sixth-graders, if you will carefully explain your reasons in your persuasive paper, your audience will be more likely to agree with your opinion.
Eighth-graders, if you learn to write an effective literacy essay, you will succeed in college literature classes.

So next time I say to Rex, “Honey, please do the dishes,” and he says, “but why?” I will be armed with research on what happens to husbands who do not do what their wives ask. All humans have a need to know why something is worth doing, especially our students.

Please respond with your stories of explaining “why” to students.

Kathy King-Dickman is a consultant at Center for the Collaborative Classroom.

Read more blogs by Kathy King-Dickman



Comments (11)

Thank you, Kathy for this

Thank you, Kathy for this thought provoking blog!   You last paragraph make me smile because my dad always shares that as a toddler my response to everything was "Why, Daddy?".  That quest to know why does not fade for us as humans! 

I guess we were born with the

I guess we were born with the desire to know WHY! KKD  

So true!!! We are living this

So true!!! We are living this with our inquisitive three year old who follows every request with "why?" I must admit that she doesn't always get the best response. This is such a good reminder for our classrooms and our home! Thank you for sharing.

Katy, Ah...three year

Katy, Ah...three year olds! What a delight. Hopefully she will ask why all of her life, and hopefully you will survive the whys! :)  

Hey Kathy!  I love your

Hey Kathy!  I love your posts!  Morgan (8th grade) just came home yesterday complaining that she didn't see how any of her algebra class was going to help her in life.  You just inspired me to let her teacher (who is an awesome teacher, by the way) know so that she can help her find some relavence, and thus, keep her better engaged in class!

Scottie, Is Morgan your

Scottie, Is Morgan your daughter? I am glad this blog was helpful and delighted you read it! :) See ya in January, KKD

I agree that the Power of Why

I agree that the Power of Why is HUGE!  Both of my children are very intelligent and took honor classes throughout high school.  When they were younger (kindergarten age) they started with the why questions.  They wanted to know why before they would do anythng (tying their shoe, cleaning their room, going to the store, itdidn't matter what, they wanted to know why.  I learned at this time that my students would do much better if I told them the why at the start of my lessons.  This is a practice I have continued throughout my teaching career.  When students know the why, they are much more willing to learn.

The Power of Why is such a

The Power of Why is such a natural extension of the child's first learning experiences. I can recall when each of my 4 children reached their inquisitive phases; it felt as though every other word was, "WHY?" As a teacher, I don't take offense to a student that wonders what impact or rationale the activity has for their future. It is a bit handier to put this up front, though, as Kathy does, and make it part of the lesson! But I also believe that the power of why is to ask questions that the teachers does not know the answer to, and that it be things outside the classroom. So, I enjoy turning the why around for my students to think about. The responsibility of wonder should be shared.   In recent years, I have also enjoyed the cool practice of the Parking Lot idea where students can post additional questions on a large piece of butcher paper in the front of the room on a sticky note. This keeps the lesson flowing and allows for the satisfaction that the learner is not being ignored - only tabled. This also allows for a place for comments and suggestions - all things we hope to encourage in our students - that they are becoming invested. http://www.competencyworks.org/how-to/creating-a-classroom-parking-lot/

 

McLaren, Delilah Module 4

McLaren, Delilah Module 4 Assign 13                7/3/2016                                                                                   ED 589 Approachess to Conducting a Readers' Workshop

Engaging the Disengaged, Number Two

WHY? As a mother and teacher, OH, how many times have I heard this? Have I responded evertytime graceously? For the most part, yes. Sometimes I have said to one of my students when he/she has asked for the upteenth time "Why?" when they have told me something they have done, with "Why, why, why?'  Sometimes the answer has been, "I don't know." "Because I wanted too." That has always been an eye opener to a child. Sometimes they ask me, "Why are you asking me, why?" Answer, "Well, you ask me "Why?" all the time."  or  beause, "I need some help to understand." I love their reactions.

YES,  we do have a deep need to know Why and What is in it for me?  It is what drives and helps understant the reasons why we do things. 

My oldest son who is carreer military came and spoke to my students at one point. He talked about the importance of understanding math and having good spelling and reading profecientally. He described a situation where they might be responsible for give orders to fire a missile (Communicating correctly a must), your don't want to fire at the wrong place/window. That's how precise and exact you must be

In my own classes I have given my students a vision. "Whatever we are going to study this year will prepare for tomorrow, next year and someday for when you are an adult like your moms and dad. You will be able to get the job you want, because you know how to read, do math and you are a good worker/student.  You are our future leaders. Maybe you will grow up to be a teacher or president of the United States. Abraham Lincoln only went to school for the total of three years. He learned to read real good and to do math. He didn't stop learning after three years. He continued his own education by continuing to study by himself.  So can you. Learning doesn't stop because you graduate from high school, or even college. I, your teacher, learn something every day from you, my students, and I keep going to school. So give it all you have so you know you did all you could to the best you, no matter what you do.  TKS. DMcL

McLaren, Delilah Module 4

McLaren, Delilah Module 4 Assign 13                7/3/2016                                                                                   ED 589 Approachess to Conducting a Readers' Workshop

Engaging the Disengaged, Number Two

WHY? As a mother and teacher, OH, how many times have I heard this? Have I responded evertytime graceously? For the most part, yes. Sometimes I have said to one of my students when he/she has asked for the upteenth time "Why?" when they have told me something they have done, with "Why, why, why?'  Sometimes the answer has been, "I don't know." "Because I wanted too." That has always been an eye opener to a child. Sometimes they ask me, "Why are you asking me, why?" Answer, "Well, you ask me "Why?" all the time."  or  beause, "I need some help to understand." I love their reactions.

YES,  we do have a deep need to know Why and What is in it for me?  It is what drives and helps understant the reasons why we do things. 

My oldest son who is carreer military came and spoke to my students at one point. He talked about the importance of understanding math and having good spelling and reading profecientally. He described a situation where they might be responsible for give orders to fire a missile (Communicating correctly a must), your don't want to fire at the wrong place/window. That's how precise and exact you must be

In my own classes I have given my students a vision. "Whatever we are going to study this year will prepare for tomorrow, next year and someday for when you are an adult like your moms and dad. You will be able to get the job you want, because you know how to read, do math and you are a good worker/student.  You are our future leaders. Maybe you will grow up to be a teacher or president of the United States. Abraham Lincoln only went to school for the total of three years. He learned to read real good and to do math. He didn't stop learning after three years. He continued his own education by continuing to study by himself.  So can you. Learning doesn't stop because you graduate from high school, or even college. I, your teacher, learn something every day from you, my students, and I keep going to school. So give it all you have so you know you did all you could to the best you, no matter what you do.  TKS. DMcL

As a mother to 4 the question

As a mother to 4 the question Why can drive me crazy.  However, as a teacher I feel it is important to let your students know why you are asking them to complete a task.  They should know that the task at hand is not for waste, but will instead benefit them in some way.  As a teacher if I can't answer the question why from one of my students I might need to reflect on the assignment or task to determine if it really does have a purpose.