Why???

Alicia, a teacher at Mt. Scopus, has given the following feedback (see here) from one of our sessions together:

“The big idea I came out with was ‘why?’ If we, as teachers, don’t know why we do what we do in class or why we teach a certain unit or why we are heading one direction, then there is no value to our teaching and our children will FEEL it right away.”

It makes me very proud when someone has really grasped the crux of a message I try to get across… and then expresses it better than I could!

There are not many careers out there in which you could spend many hours doing something and yet be unable to explain thoughtfully how your actions are leading to something important.  It is quite mind-boggling to think about how many of us have delivered lessons, or entire units, without ever really taking the time to make sure we understand what it is about and why it is important.I have tried to think of all the reasons why we might do this:

  • we don’t have the time because only a limited amount is allocated to planning
  • we think we don’t have the time because we have so many other things to do
  • people in our teams resent the conversations and debates as a waste of time
  • we get bogged down in semantics (although this can be valuable too)
  • our units are sometimes about far too much and we are afraid to limit them
  • our units are sometimes about almost nothing!
  • we look at last year’s planner and figure it went OK
  • it is just too hard to reach any sort of consensus
  • we get distracted thinking of learning activities
  • we become obsessed with designing a summative task (more on this in another posting)

The Roman proverb in the image above sums all of this up for me. If we don’t have a clear, shared understanding of what a unit of inquiry is truly about, then we could basically do anything with our kids. But, if we do have a clear, shared understanding of what a unit of inquiry is truly about, then we can design learning experiences and contexts that take us and our students in that direction. This doesn’t mean all teachers teaching the same way. It doesn’t mean all learners learning the same way. It does mean that we have focus, something to return to and something to guide us all. It does mean that we are able to make better connections with other areas of the curriculum. It also means that our units will have real value.

So, get in the habit of asking “why”… why I am asking my students to do this? Why would this be a good idea? Why would this activity be effective? Why would this assessment have value?

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