The ‘why’ we are learning ‘what’ we are learning by @AneeshaSahni

Many of us often find ourselves listlessly making our way through school without realising the ‘what,’ ‘why’ and ‘how’ of thing that we and others do. We begin with our elementary education, learning alphabets and numbers, moving on to secondary education mugging up formulae and concepts only to pass our final exams.

Little do we think about ‘why’ we are learning ‘what’ we are learning, and where will we be using the things that we have learned.

Have you ever thought about why from a very young age, our parents begin to teach us alphabets and their order whereas we only come to make sense of those random letters when we begin to use and understand how a dictionary works? Before the application of the functioning and use of alphabets, we only perceive them as random letters which do not have any meaning or relevance in our life.

In the past our teachers did not begin lessons with the objective of our learning, nor did we question them about this, leading to a flawed pattern of teaching which had continued through several generations, from our grandparents to our parents, and to us. One would often question if the goal was the learning or jumping through the hoop of teaching.

This article was originally published in Issue 56 of the UKEd Magazine. Freely read the online magazine now by clicking here.

Now, even though the pattern has changed with teachers clearly stating learning objectives, but their reasoning can still be opaque; many teachers may still struggle to make this understandable and relatable to the young people they teach, leading to a vast communication gap between the educators and the learners which prevent the students from understanding the concepts fully. Furthermore, it can be tempting for a teacher to think that the act of teaching a part of the syllabus means that it has been taught.

As learners, we often have limited opportunities to shape the syllabus: why is it that we should study a particular topic, and would that not limit the scope, excluding certain things which we would have liked to study? Is there not any way where what I want to learn could be incorporated into the curriculum?

All of this makes me think that such a system is a recipe for poor engagement and inquiring mind will wander off on to more relevant things.

As an educator, I find myself thinking about all these questions and wonder if spelling out learning objectives for the students at the beginning of every lesson can make learning better and easier for them.

I have come to the conclusion that making lessons relevant for each learner will not only provide them with a logical reason to learn but also with a sense of agency and ownership of their learning. In this way, students not only enjoy their learning but also own it thereby using it at multiple instances throughout their life. After sharing the learning objectives with the students, it is a good idea to share the reasoning for these objectives so that the students develop a better understanding of how it may be relevant in future and where it fits into their prior learning. It is here that the teacher will answer why we are learning what we are learning.

Imagine entering a class and beginning a lesson on the rotation and revolution of the Earth, where no one has any idea why all of this is so important as opposed to probing the class about why and how seasons change and why and how we experience day and night, only to connect it later… perhaps… with the rotation and revolution of the Earth for themselves.

There is a higher possibility that the students will understand and connect better with this approach, which would appeal to their reasoning and satisfy the questions which they often fail to ask. Moreover, this strategy works in a way where the teacher moves from a more familiar, focused and specific concept to one that is more general and larger.

Stating these expanded ‘what and why’ learning objectives provides clarity to the learners where they are able to understand the logic and reason behind the lessons. Drawing real-life examples and connections, further allow the students to relate better and then retain that information for longer.

For instance, one is likely to understand the concept of rainwater harvesting better if one can relate it with the ongoing issues of the water crisis and climate change which affects us all.

Moreover, offering applications of concepts provides students with a sense of relatability as opposed to those concepts which lack any sort of use in the real world. For example, we often fail to recognise the use and role of quadratic equations we studied at high school. However, we are able to grasp and retain the concept of division as we apply this more often in real-life situations when we need to share chocolate equally with our friend.

All of this helps students to learn and retain better. The key to providing learners with logic and reason thereby becomes the foundation of their future understanding and knowledge, determining how well are they able to grasp concepts, apply them, and draw and make connections in real-life.


Aneesha @AneeshaSahni is a passionate IB educator with over 11 years of experience and is the Vice-Principal of Prometheus School, Noida in India.

She is a well known professional and workshop leader in the circle of education as an exceptional trainer of Jolly Phonics. She brings into her workshop the best practices from all over the world. She has trained many teachers across North India.

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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