The importance of asking, “why?”: It’s all in the patterns?


Have we been conditioned over the years to not ask children “why” in the classroom? I hear a lot of people say “Don’t bother asking him why he did it, he won’t know anyway.” Inexplicably, sometimes in the education setting, we are timid in following up with the question why. It seems perfectly natural to engage kids in higher order thinking when it comes to academic pursuits. But when it comes to dealing with behavior, when we do ask why, we usually expect a particular answer. Isn’t “why” really just an explanation of how the world works? If so, then children should be able to describe events as they relate to patterns.

I teach my students, and the teachers I train, that everything in life has a pattern (yes, sometimes there are exceptions, but that’s a completely different discussion). Some patterns are obvious to see, such as the alternating of even and odd numbers. Some patterns may not be so clear, like the teacher only calls on me after every student has had a chance and only if I am sitting in my seat, raising my hand, and waiting with a quiet mouth.

Many of the students I work with are not able (when I start working with them) to talk about why something happened. When I ask kids the question why I am trying to get them to identify 3 things. The task at hand is to figure out a) what is the pattern, b) am I following the pattern, and c) what do I need to do to respond in line with the pattern.

In the beginning it may take time to get the student to identify certain patterns. However just walking around we can find patterns in everyday life, the way art is placed on the walls, the way and place everyone lines up in the cafeteria.

We should give kids more credit. In the “heat of the moment” yes it is often difficult to talk about why a particular event happened. However, that does not mean that a child cannot talk about, and it certainly does not mean that a child cannot learn to talk about events. If you can get a child to look for and examine patterns in their own behavior, the behavior of others, and environmental outcomes, you can teach them to take on the perspective of others. By doing so they can learn identify why they think others respond to them in particular ways.

Eventually, students can learn to look for patterns and cues in the reactions of others and environmental events. The reactions of others become natural parts of a reinforcement and punishment history that serve as a “guide” to making behavior choices. They learn to discriminate where, when, how, and why certain behaviors should be performed. In the end, isn’t that what we want for our children anyways, to be able to use what they learned from their own observations to generate positive choices?

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2 thoughts on “The importance of asking, “why?”: It’s all in the patterns?

  1. I simply wished to appreciate you once more. I am not sure the things I could possibly have accomplished without the type of secrets shared by you over my question. It had been a depressing crisis in my circumstances, but taking note of a skilled approach you solved it forced me to weep for happiness. I’m just thankful for this guidance and thus expect you know what a powerful job you happen to be undertaking instructing other individuals via a site. I am certain you haven’t got to know any of us.

  2. I appreciate your detail in working to improve the status of relationships. Years ago I learned to ask “Because . . . .?” rather than “Why?” I believe “because” does not generate an instant defensive position, but rather an adult being respectful of whatever answer is given. At least it works for me. Keep posting–good stuff here.

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