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The Importance Of Explaining “Why”

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I’ve often written — in articles, in my books, and here in this blog — about the importance of agitating students to explain their answers. As I wrote in The New York Times while discussing a lesson where students had to do a sequencing task by putting text fragments in the correct order:

Putting the passages in the correct order, however, is just one part of this kind of learning task. Equally important is having students explain (for example, by highlighting “clues”) why they believe certain text goes where it does. As research shows, this kind of “explanation-based learning” can have numerous benefits, especially increasing the odds of students using the strategies they successfully apply in these sequencing activities to other comprehension tasks.

New research has just come out reinforcing the importance of “explanation-based learning” and its ability to help students gain a greater understand so they can transfer their knowledge to new situations.  You definitely want to read the entire article at Education Week, but here’s an excerpt:

“Often students are able to say facts, but not able to understand the underlying mathematics concept, or transfer a problem in math to a similar problem in chemistry,” said Joseph Jay Williams, a cognitive science and online education researcher at the University of California, Berkeley.

For example, a student asked to explain why 2×3=6 cannot simply memorize and parrot the answer, but must understand the underlying relationship between multiplication and addition, Mr. Williams said. Students who can verbally explain why they arrived at a particular answer have proved in prior studies to be more able to catch their own incorrect assumptions and generalize what they learn to other subjects.

“We know generating explanations leads to better educational outcomes generally. When children explain events, they learn more than when just getting feedback about the accuracy of their predictions,” said Cristine H. Legare, an assistant psychology professor and the director of the Cognition, Culture, and Development Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin.

I’m adding this info to both The Best Posts On Metacognition and to The Best Resources For Learning About The Concept Of “Transfer.”

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

One Comment

  1. Mr. Ferlazzo- As you probably know through your work with Leander ISD, a book that is currently being read by many in our district is the book Learning Targets: Helping Students Aim for Understanding in Today’s Lesson (Moss and Brookhart, 2012). If any of your readers are interested in learning more about including the “why” in learning experiences, as well as fostering self-assessment and self-efficacy (as related to student learning and the “owning” thereof), this is a MUST READ! I work with beginning teachers in our district, and this year we challenged ourselves to mindfully plan with learning targets in mind, and this book was our guide. There are very few things that have changed my teaching in profound ways- this is one of them. To borrow one of your quotes- this book has helped us to become “relentlessly practical” in our planning for and engaging students in daily learning experiences!

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