As teachers, we are programmed to listen for the correct answer and are appeased when we hear it, assuming that students understand and are ready to move on. However, this is a serious misconception as students are missing out on a vital opportunity to explain and justify their thinking. Asking “Why?” provides critical insight to student understanding as students give the following responses:
- A strong explanation that describes process to class
- An inaccurate explanation that shows a student’s misunderstanding or inability to justify an answer
Besides assessing understanding, asking “Why?” provides students with opportunities to:
- Notice mistake(s) and self-correct the answer
- Reveal mistake(s) or misunderstanding shared by the class
- Take risks and build confidence
- Strengthen communication skills
- Give alternate explanations
- Summarize explanations given by other students
Including this simple question has major consequences: it promotes a language-rich classroom; supports inquiry-based instruction; and builds classroom community.
Asking good follow-up questions can open the door “why-d” to learning.