I remember many years ago reading a Peanuts cartoon where Lucy was trying to get someone to learn their numbers. I have searched but can’t find the cartoon so you will just need to take my word for it. Finally Lucy raised her arms in frustration and pointed out that if they didn’t learn their numbers how were they going to use the telephone.
Of all the Peanuts I have read or seen over the years this is the only one I remember. Why? Mostly I think because it gave a practical purpose for the learning of maths, a subject I have never been particularly good at. It highlighted a benefit that I wanted.
Why am I thinking about this? Well I was reading a post by Michael Lansing, at Smart Classroom Management where he talked about this. You can find his article here. As teachers we know, sometimes sub-consciously that what we are teaching will benefit our students, but I wonder how often we actually articulate it for them.
Think about the Why?
If I had a dollar for every time a student asked ‘but Miss, why do we have to do this?’ I would be able to retire comfortably. And if I added a dollar for the times I have asked the same question I would be really rich.
As parents we are constantly answering the ‘why’ questions from our kids. I, and I am sure I am not alone, grew up in the bad old days when my incessant ‘why’ questions were answered routinely by ‘because I said so,’ I was determined that when my kids asked ‘why’ they would get a good reason. Many hours were spent formulating answers to expected questions and thinking about what I would say if a particular question was raised. We have all done this to some degree.
As adults, if we are honest with ourselves, we rarely ever do anything unless there is some benefit in it for us.We Teach Well
Looking back though I am not sure I practiced this enough in my teaching. Certainly when students asked I would give them an answer but I am not sure I pre-prepared for these as much as I could have.
What is more, If I had thought about the ‘why’ before each lesson or activity and explained it to them up-front perhaps we could have saved a lot of time and it would have got them engaged with the material quicker.
As adults, if we are honest with ourselves, we rarely ever do anything unless there is some benefit in it for us. It may be a physical, monetary, social, psychological or some other intangible benefit but it is a benefit none-the-less. Why would we assume students would be any different?
For every what that we teach there is a why and we just need to think about it and find a benefit that the students will relate to.
For Every What? There is a Why?
For example, as English teachers we spend a lot of time teaching students to speak and write succinctly and clearly. We know the benefits include:
- They will be listened to more.
- They will sound more intelligent.
- They will write better which will lead to
- Better job applications.
- Their thinking will be less confused.
While these benefits may seem valid to us they are likely to invite eye rolls and groans of disinterest in our students. However if we say something like:
‘What we learn today will help you write better text messages and Twitter posts.’
then we are giving them a benefit that they can relate to. What we are teaching doesn’t change but their interest in learning might.
We need to be much clearer in articulating what is in it for them. This does not have to be an extensive list. Just something simple that is interesting to them.
The Benefit for Us.
The benefit for us in this approach is that we save a lot of time and energy.
Imagine if you did not have to spend great chunks of the lesson trying to win them over, trying to get them to concentrate.
Imagine leaving the classroom energised because of the flood of active engagement, rather than drained from dragging them kicking and screaming through the lesson.
Are you pointing out benefits that your students respond to? Can you think of one thing you could offer as a benefit that students would get excited about? We would love to hear your thoughts.
Pop over to our Facebook page and share your ideas. We can all use the help.
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