Repeat After Me: Why? Why? Why?

“I like this class,” said one student to another at the end of my 7th period government class on Friday afternoon.  And here is the great part: he didn’t know I heard him say it, therefore, I know it wasn’t just a sycophantic remark.  While I’ve heard statements like this before, believe me when I say, I’ve also heard quite the opposite opinion.  So please don’t think this post is about me patting myself on the back.  If I am remembering correctly, however, I’ve never heard a student say this about my government class at the end of week one.  It’s not that all my students in the past have disliked the class.  They just haven’t always fully enjoyed the course either.  Needless to say, it was the perfect thing to hear at the end of a long first week of school.

I have to believe that he said this in large part because I’m teaching the class so very differently than I’ve done in the past, as explained in this previous post. Apparently, at least so far, those changes are proving appealing to at least some of my students.  Hearing that little bit of affirmation is encouraging and motivating.

I did something else that I think might have been a contributing factor in terms of this student’s comment – I explained to my students WHY I made the changes I did to the course, WHY we are going to do the things we are going to do this semester, and WHY it is important.  In explaining this to them, I tried to be as open and honest as possible, even acknowledging mistakes I’d made in the past in teaching the course.  Therefore, this is going to be my new mantra: “Why?  Why? Why?”

I think too often I forget to explain to my students why I am doing what I’m doing and why I am asking them to do certain things in return.  I guess I’ve always known (or at least assumed I’ve known) why I did this lesson or that assignment, and as long as I knew, that was enough.  It shouldn’t surprise me then that for the students it becomes about nothing more than completing the assignment, making the grade, and passing the course.  Explaining why doesn’t have to take more than a couple of minutes, but I think it might be time well spent, and not just for the students.  If you have to explain it to your students, you are forced to think about it yourself.  And if you can’t come up with a good enough explanation, maybe you shouldn’t do that assignment or activity, or maybe you need to make some changes to make it more purposeful. (Note: “Because it’s on the test,” or vague comments such as, “You’ll need this for college,” are usually not the best answers. ;))

So in the future, when I’m creating a unit of study, planning an activity, or writing an assessment, I’ll try to remember to ask myself, “Why?  Why?  Why?”  Just as importantly, if not more so, I’ll do my best to explain the answers to those questions to my students.

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5 Comments

  1. Hmmm — I sometimes think I’m too transparent when I burden them with my “here’s whyI do this” stuff. But it does keep one disciplined, and I have cut stuff out because I can’t justify why it’s in there.

    Sometimes, “because you’ll need it at point X in your future” is the best you can do. But it is better to be more specific.

    • I think I would object to your use of the word “burden.” As I say in the post, this might be one or two minutes of explanation at the very beginning of a unit of study. “I decided to have you do X because I want you to be able to do/know Y. It’s important because of Z.” Just a little bit of explanation can go a long way, I think. I remember from my own time as a student when teachers would just hand out an assignment with no explanation, and I would usually be thinking to myself that it was just a way of filling time and keeping us busy rather than a meaningful assignment with some greater purpose.

      I agree that sometimes one can only say, “You need to know this for the future.” But with high school students especially, who either don’t know what they are going to study in college or who know they are definitely NOT going to study your subject area, you kinda have to try and come up with something different to say. Otherwise, they will reply, “No, I don’t need this for my future. I’m going into “blank” field.”

  2. And sometimes I ask them — “why do you think we’re doing this,” or “why do you think I do it this way?” Their responses are interesting — nobody has come out and said, “because you hate us” but I think they’re often thinking that.

  3. Pingback: Thoughts on iSummit 2013 | Wiser Today and Still Learning

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