Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why are you doing what you're doing?

A few years ago at a Literacy First workshop, the presenter posed the following question: “If your school principal walked into your classroom and randomly asked a student, ‘Why are you doing what you’re doing?’  Would the student have an answer?”  That question really stuck with me.

It’s in the Objectives

Part of the ‘why’ is in the lesson objectives.  I cannot stress enough the importance of posting at least a summary of lesson objectives on the board.  Not only will it remind you to review the objectives with your class, it will also help you stay focused during your lesson.   

Real Life Connections

Reviewing lesson objectives prior to teaching is also a great time to point out real life connections.  We are learning to add coins up to one dollar so that when we go to the store to buy a candy we know what coins to give the cashier.  It’s easy to forget to relate those real life connections.  However, we all know students learn better when there is a meaningful connection to their lives.

Two for One

Every morning I write my daily schedule on the board.  With each subject, I write a short summary of each lesson objective.  As adults, we like to know what’s coming and when.  Kids are no different.  There is a sense of security in knowing what to expect.  As a side bonus, if you ever forget to do something the students will remind you.


Ask yourself from time to time what a student might say if he/she were asked the question, “Why are you doing what you’re doing?”  Occasionally ask students the question yourself.  Will a relevant answer be forthcoming? 


  1. I couldn't agree with you more.

    When I was a student I always had this problem: teachers would, of course, show us how to do things, but they'd rarely take the time to explain why what we were learning was important. They'd make no meaningful connections, like you mention.

    I got the feeling we were being taught simply for standardized testing (which, in the case of my high school, turned out to be true; the school was in trouble and needed to improve test scores, so everything revolved around teaching to those particular tests). I felt the overall learning experience suffered because of this.

    I really appreciate what you're doing with this blog. It's interesting to see things from a teacher's perspective, and it seems like you're great at what you do. I just wish there was a greater focus on education in this country.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I totally agree, there really should be a greater focus on education.

  3. I agree with Ron that making real-world connections is important, for motivation, context and meaning. Otherwise, doing what the teachers tells them to do becomes an unthinking habit for learners. I wonder if you have your learners think of ways to connect the learning objectives to their own lives.

  4. Absolutely. That's a great point that I should have included in my post! Thank you for pointing it out.

  5. I think that is a great question that every teacher should ask themselves on a daily basis. If they do not know why they do what they are doing, how will their students?

    This is where reflection comes into play. At the end of the day, did you stay focused according to your objective? Were you able to make the learning meaningful to your students? By reflecting on these questions, teachers will be able to improve their craft which should ultimately improve student learning.

  6. You are so right Ryan. I think a lot of us... myself included... don't take the time for reflection as much as we should.