Explaining What, How, Why

Pedagogy is about teaching things differently: differently based on who is being taught, who is doing the teaching, what is being taught. I tried to look at it from a clean slate, but that got muddied by too many established conclusions — each of them useful, no doubt:

  • “We are better taught by experiences than by memorization.”
  • “Students are better taught by non-specialists than by authorities.”
  • “Children learn better by a ‘you-do-it’ approach.”
  • “Some courses are better taught by the ‘blended’ method.”


To clear the air, I rephrased my question to “What is ‘a way of teaching’ all about?” That quickly became: “What is the best way to teach something?”

It didn’t quite sound right. You and I might not agree on the best way to teach geography (or accounting). So instead of looking at the subject matter itself, how about looking at: “Am I trying to teach the What of something? Or am I teaching How To do something? Or am I teaching Why?” When a child asks why the sky is blue, well, it’s complex. When he/she asks a Where or a Who or a What, your answer is straightforward (if you know it, that is!). When the question is “How do I,” then it’s about demonstration and practice.

That bit of theorising can be food for thought, but is it helpful to look at which of the three you’re trying to achieve? Not as a theory. If I go along, I’ll probably get yet another three-column slide. But it might work as a Note To Self.

  • If I’m tackling a How question, I could leave out the words and use a video. (Conceptual explanations quickly get dumped when the example shows up...)
  • If I’m looking at a “What” question, perhaps I don’t need anything more than a presentation of facts. (Think of how some presentations display facts as processes, the ones with boxes and arrows that needn’t be there...)
  • If my learner wants to know Why something is the way it is, maybe I should just tell him something to get started and let him figure out the rest. (Glibly stated answers to “Why” often fall short!)
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