Overcoming the Why Do I Need to Learn This Syndrome
It’s the question that teachers and Learning Coaches dread: “Why do I need to learn this?” If your student asks this question, it means that he or she has lost motivation and doesn’t understand why a concept is important. And although this question can be hard for you to answer, your student has every right to ask it.
If you don’t have an answer ready, don’t worry. After all, you didn’t choose the course material, and you might not know why it’s important right off the bat. So how do you answer this question without resorting to, “Because I said so”?
At some point your student will ask, “Why do I need to learn this?”—so follow this strategy to prepare an honest answer.
Identify the Reason for the Question
Before you try to answer, evaluate why your student has asked. He or she could be:
Understanding your student’s motivation can help you identify larger issues at hand. For example, if your child is frustrated, he or she probably won’t listen to any answer you provide—and in this case, you should take a break before discussing the answer. On the other hand, if your child is simply curious, it means that the course material hasn’t clearly conveyed why the concept is important to learn, and he or she might just want more background info.
Once you evaluate the subtext and make sure your child’s needs are met, you can move on to finding the right answer.
Finding the Right Answer
When explaining why your child needs to learn something, there’s one rule you need to follow: don’t resort to an easy or oversimplified answer. Avoid saying that the concept is a mandatory part of the curriculum or that your child needs to know the concept for the test. These answers will only cause more frustration and won’t explain whether or not your student will ever use the subject matter in the future.
Read through the following answers and use any that apply to your situation.
This concept affects your understanding of the world.
If you know why the concept is important, explain how the issue directly affects your student. For example:
You need to learn (and memorize) the food chain because you’re part of it, and it will help you understand the relationships we have with other living things on Earth. We all need to understand the food chain to feed ourselves and our pets. When you’re older and you start buying your own food, the food chain will help you understand where your food comes from. For example, it will help you understand how a drought can affect the corn crop, which will impact the number of cattle raised and increase the cost of the hamburger meat you eat.
The more specific you are, the more likely it is that you’ll engage and satisfy your child’s curiosity.
Why do you think you’ll never use this concept?
One interesting tactic is to ask your student why he or she thinks he or she will never have to use a certain concept. That means encouraging children to think about their future. If they don’t want to learn a formula in math, does that mean they don’t want to go into a math-related field? What field do they want to go into—English?
The point is that children don’t always know whether or not they will ever need something like a certain math formula later on. No matter what your student aspires to in a future career, he or she has a role to fulfill today—and that is to be a well-rounded student who is preparing for a variety of future possibilities. Knowledge is power, and when a student has a broad foundation of knowledge, he or she will have access to the widest range of future opportunities possible.
You’ll learn and practice other skills by learning this.
When students learn a formula in math, they don’t realize how many lessons they’re learning by persevering. In fact, your student is developing transferable skills that can be used across many facets of his or her life. For example, learning how to use a difficult math formula enhances a child’s critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. It also teaches children dedication, so that the next time they encounter a tricky concept, they know how to work hard and learn without giving up. Explain the value of perseverance to your child and how it affects his or her entire education.
Do you have any other answers to the question of “Why do I need to learn this?” Share your thoughts in the comments below.