Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why Do We Have To Learn This?

I can remember some days when kids would ask me that. I could be in the middle of a conversation about convection currents and a kid would raise their hand and ask, "What's the point? Why do we need to know this? What's the point!" I would get so angry. They needed to learn it because I was teaching it, that's why!

But then it dawned on me one day. Don't the kids have a right to know why what they are learning is important? Is it not our duty, our obligation to provide context and relationships so that learning makes sense?

When was the last time you stopped to think about what exactly what you wanted the kids to take way from your teaching. And I am talking about something deeper than just the knowledge and facts in the lesson. How do you want your students to feel and think after they complete (either successfully or unsuccessfully) a lesson?

This week's #edchat centered around just that question. What should be the essential outcomes students take away from what we are teaching? The conversation was fast, and, as a few points, filled with so many good thoughts and statements. It really is worth your time to check out the archive.

At one point in the conversation several participants attempted to list their Essential Learning Outcomes. Many provided real insight into exactly what students should take away from our teaching. Here is just a few of what was suggested:
  • I think of the essential outcome as the goal for the end of the unit. Kind of like the objective(s) for the whole unit.
  • Understanding by Design says to plan our units with the end in mind. Start with essential outcomes, make the assessment, then lessons.
  • Essential outcomes should be focused on students applying their learned knowledge to their real life experience.
  • The outcomes of each lesson may vary but the lessons should be working toward the common end goal.
  • I'm a big believer that if you can't explain to me what you're doing, then you don't really understand what you're doing. But kids need to be taught HOW to explain their thinking. It doesn't come naturally, must be modeled.
  • I think essential outcomes & learning objectives need to be more specific than just producing critical thinkers, questions, etc.What does a critical thinker look/sound like? What kinds of questions do we want them to ask? It's hard to think specifically, to imagine an end when we don't exactly know how it will turn out. But makes for better lessons
Here are some of my thoughts...

If we are going into our classrooms and simply teaching content, without any depth or meaning or without making any connections we might as well pack it in and go home.

Someone suggested lessons should provide more questions than answers. If students are just taking knowledge in and repeating it back then we can't now call that learning, can we? Learning should be about discovery. Learning should be about wonder. If kids are not asking questions then we, perhaps are not focused on what is essential.

While providing for more higher level thinking (as in Blooms) it is more than that. For me essential is making connections. Am I ensuring my students can connect what we are learning to themselves, their community, globally? Am I helping them understand how what we learned yesterday connects to today and how it leads us to tomorrow? And most importantly, have I helped them see why all those things are important? And have I instilled in them the thirst and hunger to want to know more?

Do essential outcomes vary from lesson to lesson. The outcomes may vary but the essential ones are always the same.

Why do we have to learn this? Not because we have to, but because we want to...


  1. Ah yes, the most irritatingly valid question ever asked in education!

  2. I have been thinking about this great #edchat topic since we had it and I keep coming back to one key factor. Learning has no end. If we are giving it an end point we are not teaching the way we should be. Learning is ongoing.

  3. I blogged the other day about concept based learning. I think what you say here links well to my post on 'the big idea'. If what you are teaching is facts or content, students might well ask 'Why are we learning this?' But once you move to concept based curriculum,with big ideas which are universal and timeless and content is explored through conceptual lenses, learning is more relevant and engaging. I agree that making connections is a major part of learning and 'connection' is one such conceptual lens.

  4. Absolutely agree. Content must be engaging for learning to happen, for students to want to explore. You need to put it into context. Keep connecting the dots. Adapt to student learning styles. Teachers who can do that are often exceptional. Teachers who just teach out of the book often suck.

  5. I enjoyed your post. Questions are more important than the answers. So I would add to this list of hoped for outcomes the self-confidence to ask more questions. Students often say "I am sorry but I have a question." They are afraid to ask because they have been ...what? ... so often. Belittled? Scolded? Punished? Made to feel dumb? We need to move them past the hurt of "not knowing" to celebrating the ability to find out. My motto is : "I don't know. Let's find out." It's OK to not know. The goal is to find out. And "Let's" is plural.

    John Strange @drjohnhadley

  6. Good points. Just as many of us were raised on the staple, "Because I said so," but now feel it has less nutritional value for parenting today, we begin to see that in the process of cultivating lifelong learning, it is of utmost importance to put the lessons in context for students. If we've done our homework as educators by creating objectives and goals that make sense and are relevant, this should be a relatively simple process. If not, then its time for us to go back to the planbook before the students arrive (or immediately after they leave).

    Thanks for keeping the conversation going with such keen insights.

  7. When I used to teach, I had a tough time balancing between completing the curriculum and teaching content with, as Jason Flom puts it, "nutritional value." On one hand, I wanted to teach so many things--and interest them with the course, make them see why they need and should want to learn these things. On the other, I had to get them ready and able to pass standardized exams.

    In the end, we'll always end up compromising. It's a sad, sad thing, but we're limited by so many things--time, money, standardized exams, the way we think. I still don't know how else I'll be able to cope and accomplish all those things without compromising.

  8. I am thankful that my professor, Dr. Strange, at the Univ. of South Alabama recommended your blog for my reading assignment over the next few weeks. I really enjoyed your last line of your blog on Feb. 10, Why do we have to learn this? Not because we have to, but because we want to... I hope that we as teachers can inspire our children to learn and apply what they have learned to their own lives and experiences. What our students have learned will make so much more sense! I will be adding my comments to my blog weekly over the next few weeks and will summarize those thoughts on or before March 21. I would like for you to visit my blog, . I have also added a link to our EDM310 class blog, . Looking forward to your thoughts in the near future.

  9. I really like your post, I am a serial question asker, haha :) I'm sure Dr. Strange gets tired of my endless questions. I like to know what someone is talking about though, if don't already--- What's the point in continuing to listen if you don't know the basic concepts in the first place. I love questions