But why…

Posted: November 1, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Most of my students seem to get the other ‘w’ questions when considering a text (who, what, where, when and, if you like, how) but why seems most likely to stump them. We are close to exams and the ability to analyse a text is being called into question. They are good with spotting examples (we are looking at poetry and novels in two separate ‘areas’) and, nowadays, I’ve found that being able to identify a technique is a straightforward process for them as well. However, giving consideration as to why the technique has been used, can be a different matter.

Therefore, getting a well intentioned student saying something like ‘ In Mending Wall, Robert Frost uses the simile “like an old-stone savage armed” to help us imagine the neighbour more clearly’, is not an uncommon thing.

Mending Wall

Mending Wall (Photo credit: Bill Ward’s Brickpile)

It can be hard to move beyond the “spotting” of the technique, to consider why it has been employed. Sometimes, to highlight the situation, I might say “in exploring techniques, you could say that the poet uses words to help us understand the poem”. In being deliberately facetious, the students are able to reflect back on what they are offering in their own writing.

Maybe, in reflecting on this, we should look at that time when very young children start to question everything in the world. That moment when every answer you offer to their initial question (such as “Why do dogs bark?”) seems to elicit the same response of “But why?” Four “But why” questions (responses)  later, parents (and others) feel compelled to bring it to an end. How often have we heard (or perhaps, just perhaps said ourselves) “It just is” or an equivalent?

Is this the point, as parents and educators, that we should be most alert to? Not that I am suggesting that a halt to the path the conversation is taking isn’t necessary (even if only as a sanity circuit breaker!),

But why can't I?

why not? (Photo credit: hannah8ball)

just that we should be conscious of  the thought processes that are going on with that young mind grappling with the “reading” of the world.

I’ll give you one instance to finish off with. When much younger (and learning to read and count), my son walked up the street, reciting the even house numbers as he went.

All good for 2, 4, 6, 8 etcetera, until we got to the “teens” (14 in this instance). Here the mixed process of reading and recognising the number stalled, as he tried to apply the “one” instead of the “four”. Result? Dad, why is it fourteen, if the number starts with a one? And he’s absolutely right – all the numbers ‘work’ except for the teens.

Sometimes it takes a student to raise the good ‘why’ questions… the ones we’ve learned to overlook.

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