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The Power of "Why?"

One year teaching Multimedia Design, our class had just completed a project on creating geometric portraits. During this assignment, students chose a person they admired and selected a personal quote from that individual. Their task was to create a stylized vector portrait based on their chosen figure. To my surprise, one of the students approached me and asked if they could make a second portrait, a portrait of me. Feeling flattered, I agreed. Then, the student inquired if they could include a quote from me. Without much thought, I casually replied, "Sure."

Over the next couple of weeks, during our lunch breaks, the student diligently worked on the portrait in my classroom. They never allowed me a sneak peek, but it was evident from the occasional hushed chuckles among other students that something amusing was taking shape. My curiosity piqued, and when the student finally unveiled the finished artwork, I understood the source of the laughter. The portrait was remarkably well-executed, even managing to make ME look good, but it was not the depiction itself that caused amusement. Right there, prominently displayed on the portrait, was the quote the student had chosen for me: a single word..."Why?" Until that moment, it had never truly occurred to me just how frequently I used that word in class. Reflecting on it now, I believe I've figured out...why.


As a high school teacher, you understand the challenges of engaging students and encouraging them to ask questions. It can seem as if the curious spirit that came naturally to them as kindergartners, constantly asking "Why?", was somehow lost before they reached their freshman year. However, it's time to reignite the power of asking "Why" in your classroom. By fostering a culture of inquiry and encouraging your students to question the material, you can create a more informed and engaged student body.

WHY is it Important?

First and foremost, asking "Why" is a great tool for checking understanding. It's like a pop quiz, but without the stress. When you ask someone to explain their beliefs or actions, you get a better sense of whether they truly grasp the situation. If their response is vague and doesn't offer much insight, it might indicate a lack of understanding or a lack of true purpose. But if their answer is well-thought-out and detailed, it's a sign that they have a solid grasp of the material.

Asking "Why" also has the power to push for deeper exploration. Imagine trying to comprehend a complex math equation but not understanding the fundamental math behind it. It can feel like decoding hieroglyphics. However, by asking "Why," you can usually determine exactly where a student gets off track, giving you a starting point for getting them back on track.

Most things in life don't happen randomly. Asking a student why something happened or why they did something the way they did can provide a breadcrumb trail of purpose. It's like a mental game of connect the dots. If I can successfully ask a student "why" four times and have them provide a solid reason that connects to the previous ones, I feel confident that they have a solid grasp of the material.

Finally, asking "Why" can drive an authentic audience. When you encourage others to think more deeply about a situation, you create a more informed and engaged audience.

WHY You Should be Careful?

But beware, once you teach your students the power of asking "Why," they'll be using it all the time and they'll enjoy turning the tables on you. Every fact you state in class, every assignment you give, and every question on a quiz will be met with "Why?" So, be sure you have a purpose behind what you're asking your students to do, because they'll be ready to call you out if you don't. Ensure your "whys" are in order, or you'll be in for a wild ride!

In conclusion, asking "Why" is a versatile tool that can be used in a variety of situations. From improving understanding to ensuring purpose and meaning, exploring complex ideas, and driving an authentic audience, asking "Why" is a valuable asset. So, the next time you're trying to make sense of something, don't be afraid to ask "Why." You might just be surprised by the answer!


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