Sunday, December 12, 2010



It's a small word. Small, but powerful. I first became aware of how important this word is while training as a literacy coach. We read about why certain things were effective and why things might be done in different ways. We talked and wrote about why we did things the way we did--and then why we changed or modified some of what we do. Why became the center of my thinking about teaching and learning.

I've also learned the value of telling my students why we do things--why it's important to know how to learn sight words and why we need to use kind words and why we need to notice and wonder and think. Often we guide kids through lessons and activities without taking a moment to tell them why we're doing it. Or if we do, we fall back on things like "so you'll be ready for (insert next level or skill)" or "so you can be smarter". But that's not what I'm going for. I'm not sure that's what will help increase learning or engagement or independence.

I recently overheard one of my kids saying that we read the morning message "cause it's first [in the morning meeting]". Another was asked why he was learning math vocabulary. His response? "So I can be smart like my teacher." Now, while I am honored that my student considers me to be smart, I was less than enthused by his answer.

What I want is for my kids to know why something will help them or how they can use it. And I try to get that into my teaching language...but it's obviously something I need to keep thinking about and working on. I do make sure to let kids know what they are learning to do, but it's that next step that seems a little hard sometimes. Telling them why.

So during our morning meeting the next day, I took a couple minutes and reminded the kids why we do the morning message thing every day:
  • It lets us know about what we are going to be learning/doing that day or asks us to think more about what we've been learning,
  • We can practice making sure we know what an author is telling us,
  • It is a way we can use what we know about problem solving and checking and fixing up when reading,
  • We can notice/use things we're learning about letters/sounds/words--put that learning to work, and
  • We can do all of this together--helping each other see how it's done.
And in math? Well, after we talked about how we use those important math words all the time when learning to do new things like measuring (our current study), and how people use measuring all the time, I think they're getting it. Little E. summed it up by saying, "you will have inches and rulers with you the rest of your life and if you know what those are you can use them."

I'm going to keep working at helping my kids know why. It's not easy, but I do know why I think it's important. I think it's important because it gives them a reason to put in the effort of learning and practicing. It helps them understand how they can use what we are learning to figure things out for themselves and keep on learning. I do it because why has been such a powerful word in my own work, and I want that kind of power in theirs.

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