Why should you encourage kids to ask ‘why’? by @MsFindlater

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This post answers the 19th question from my TeacherToolkit Thinking page of Thunks. You can see my other top-Thunks here.

Thunk 19: Why should you encourage your kids to ask ‘why’? by @MsFindlater

Answer below:

As the end of the half term break draws nigh, I’m left thinking about the return to school and all that this entails. My mind buzzes with lesson planning, resource-creating, teaching, assemblies; duties, students, teachers, parents, paperwork, meetings; the highs, the lows, the drama and the laughter… The list is endless.

The familiar shift from off-duty to switched-on has begun. Through this heavy mist of the things to plan before the term starts, poses one particular question to me, as clear as crystal as ice-water; the word ‘why’.

This word is the one thing that really stays in focus for me through all my preparations. Whether I am lesson planning or organising meetings, it won’t leave me. The question hovers overhead, smiling knowingly and nodding. If the answer to that question makes you happy, then I guess you are one with the world, even on difficult days. I question ‘why’ most of the time, because it keeps me in check; it keeps me focused and relights my passion on the darkest days; I want this to be the case for my students also.

I wake up every day wanting to hear that question burst forth from the mouths of my students. Your classroom being abuzz with curiosity, the desire to learn and question, with ‘what we are learning’, is very special. This question, if encouraged and embraced in lessons, can lead to a classroom ablaze with those precious light bulb moments….

“…give meaning to the onslaught of information and skills our young people are presented with…”

A student asking ‘why’ leads us as educators and them as students, to give meaning to the onslaught of information and skills our young people are presented with each day. In each lesson and in each activity. We must make them care about their learning, whatever the subject may be. We can foster this desire by encouraging them to ask ‘why’. That illusive curiosity about the learning that we all seek to inspire in our students only comes when they know they will not be ignored, laughed at or told off for questioning and wanting to know more.

We create the climate.

We teachers are often so focused (and pressured) into getting through the content of our courses that we can skirt over the ‘why’. Of course, the content of any course it important and needs to be carefully crafted, well thought out and interesting, but it is all just a sea-of-stuff unless we keep in focus the ‘why’. We can often be seen levering in the ‘why’ of learning at opportune moments chosen by us, not the students.

Today we will be learning about… we are covering this because…”

“…deep learning takes place and ‘bing!’, the light bulb is lit…”

We remove the thinking for the students and leave them with the correct answer – job done. If we are brave enough and slow down for a second, to allow the students to ask ‘why’, get them helping one another to answer the questions, I believe you can see great things emerge. Whenever we create the opportunity for our students to do this, they become more confident in the answers they can give, deep learning takes place and ‘bing!’, the light bulb is lit. If we do not create these opportunities we run a huge risk of creating a room full of robots spewing out our opinions and a set of facts.

We create the climate.

The ‘why’ in my work and preparation is vitally important to me. Every day I remind myself of why I’m doing this crazy and wonderful job. I choose to work as a teacher and a leader in school because I want to make a difference. I want to help develop young people into confident, well-rounded and passionate adults. I want them to see them become the adults we all want to be, running the country when we are old. I want to look at the future generation with pride and be able to say, ‘I helped them be who they are today’; reminding myself of the reason why I do the job I do, makes me a better teacher and leader.

When I make the time to question why, everything becomes clearer, my passion embeds deeper; my resilience becomes stronger; my desire to better things becomes more pressing and my sense of humour returns to carry me through the tough times.

The students we teach on the other hand do not choose to be in school, it is just something they have to do; a place they have to be. Students are very often at a loss as to why they should be bothered about learning this or that in class, when there possibly much more going on in their life right now.

What important issues in their everyday life could possibly take priority over their learning I hear you ask?

We all know that as a student walks through your classroom door their minds are clouded with issues such as, ‘Who won the match last night? What are you gossiping about? What’s the latest fashion? Who looked at them in the playground? Who are they walking home with after school? The argument they had with their mum… their list is endless.

For those of you that think I am being flippant about young people’s lives, I’m not. I get how important all that stuff is, it is part of the process of growing up and a vital part at that. It is because of all this that it is crucial that we get the students to consider why they are learning what they are learning everyday in school. Our job is to get them to make those connections, link it to their lives without dumbing it down – make it relevant. It is so important that we create the space to allow the students thinking-time to connect the learning that takes place in class to the real world, to other subjects and them as individuals. Our students will focus and connect in lessons if they feel like they have a stake in what is being learnt, they have a voice to be heard and that there is a point to it all. They should demand to know ‘why’ and not rest until they know the answer. This is one of human-nature’s life-skills we can teach them.

We create the climate. What do you create?

Written by @MsFindlater and edited and posted by @TeacherToolkit.

Sarah Findlater, @MsFindlater is an Assistant Principal and a Headteacher of a College at a London Collegiate. She is an English and Media teacher, who tweets far too often and blogs far too rarely – but she says she is working on that… http://msfindlater.blogspot.co.uk/

Assistant Principal, Sarah Findlater @MsFindlater

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