In Our Classrooms, We Need Less Explaining Why, And More Asking Why!

As a teacher, I all too often find myself “explaining why” to my students when I should be “asking why”.  In other words, I explain why something happened in a lesson instead of asking the students why something happened.  This was especially the case when I taught Science.

For example, If I were covering a unit that dealt with the food chain, I would explain how the rabbit eats the carrots, the coyote eats the rabbit and the mountain lion eats the coyote. THEN I would turn around and explain why the rabbits, coyotes, and mountain lions would suffer if I destroyed the carrot crops.  I totally bypassed a perfect opportunity to have students tap into their knowledge recall and critical thinking skills.

What I should have  done was ask, “Why does the mountain lion population suffer if I destroy the carrot crops?”

This allows the students to engage their minds and think about how destroying the carrot crop can negatively impact the mountain lions.  Engagement by the student is crucial for knowledge transfer.  We need to cultivate critical thinking, encourage recall, and help our students tap into those much needed cognitive skills.  This type of teaching/learning process needs to happen in our classrooms during instruction so that students will be able to apply those skills on assessment tests, and more importantly, in their everyday lives.

Students are just like you and I, they want the world to know that they know the answer.  If I’m in the car and a song comes on, and one of my daughters asks, “who is singing”, I will rack my brain to answer before my wife because I want them to know that I’m smart. 

Heck, If Alex Trebek asks a question on TV and I know the answer, I will blurt it out ASAP…even if nobody is around.  And the satisfaction I get when Alex reveals that I was correct is AWESOME!  Our students feel the very same way.  They want to answer questions, especially if they know the correct answer.

We need to design learning environments that encourage that type of participation.  And if we spend too much time explaining instead of asking, that will never happen and we will be short-changing the learning experience of the student. 

This process doesn’t happen overnight.  We must train our students (and ourselves), but eventually, we can get to the point where we are initiating instructional Q & A that is meaningful.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a time for explaining…but there is a boat load of time that can be used for asking.

If we “explain why” as opposed to “asking why” we are doing the students a disservice.  We are not allowing true learning to take place.  So the next time you feel the urge to “explain” a concept, reason, or idea…STOP, rephrase your thought…and ask “why.”

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