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Learning News Week 7 Term 4

The Second Why

Over the course of the last semester, a great deal of work has been done to encourage a growth mindset, where students set realistic yet ambitious learning goals for themselves, and identify specific strategies for success.

The key task has been to challenge generic statements such as “I will work harder”, encouraging more deliberate and intentional thinking around the approach to success. As I have written in earlier blogs, this has involved a move from Alpha to Beta thinking, as well as a move from Alpha to Beta writing.

A key strategy within the ‘Beta’ world, is the strategy of the ‘second why’. This isn’t only important for students seeking to improve their results. It is important in a world that occasionally accepts simplistic slogans with little acknowledgement of the complexity that lies beneath. The ‘second why’ requires that students have more than a surface knowledge of something. It requires that they do more than simply ‘copy’ notes or read through material.

A ‘second why’ is by definition, challenging the student to go into depth, make connections and explain relationships.
For instance, a student of English might suggest that Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ is a play about the danger of ambition. A better student of English would suggest that Shakespeare conveys the theme of the danger of ambition by highlighting the extent to which once worthy characters are undone by their own lust for power, following with a discussion of how this is true for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. A student of History might be able to reason that World War One was caused by nationalism and imperialism. A better student of History would offer more detailed explanation along the lines that the intense rise in nationalism that occurred during the 19th century, led to an impulse for expansion and imperialism. The urge of larger nations to take over ‘lesser’ nations, brought them into direct conflict with one another. This conflict fuelled the arms race and the alliance system, both of which ensured that when a war did happen, it would be on a grander and more damaging scale.

The skill of offering a second why is indeed an important one to possess, not just in the world of academia, but in life. Given the rise of nationalist extremism in some parts of the world, an informed citizenry should be able to scrutinise representatives, interrogating the justifications they give for new directions. Students trained in the art of the second why, might better ask the politicians who assert a more aggressive Middle Eastern foreign policy, where there is evidence that this has worked in the past. Those in the US who point to Reagan as an example of great economic leadership, might like to look at the evidence of the economic record before and after Reagan came to power. Put simply, regardless of the political spectrum on which one sits, democracy demands an informed citizenry be able to think critically about the rationale or justification for initiatives. In order to drive change in the work force, you need to be able to convincingly make the case for change at deep levels. In order to convince your 2 year-old that vegetables are the answer, you need more tools in the arsenal than ‘because I said so’. Our debaters this year have certainly been schooled in the art of argumentation and defence of arguments. Hopefully, the push to perfect the second why, might attract some more keen debaters in 2017.

One sign of the success of this strategy is the recent comment by a Year 6 student, who was asked to identify the strengths and weaknesses of his own work. The student replied to the teacher that while his content was accurate it wasn’t detailed. He identified himself, that he hadn’t provided a second why. It is deeply gratifying to know that our boys are responding to the challenge and are building their capacity to put a language around their learning habits and strategies. The journey to a ‘second why’ strategy doesn’t happen overnight. It requires cultivation of learning habits, ongoing challenge, and exemplification. Parents can help by reinforcing the need for a second why in their interactions at home and exposing students to ‘talk’ which builds justification and reasoning.

As the year draws to its conclusion, in the midst of the busyness of the assessment season, I do hope these strategies make it easier for your sons to achieve the goals they have set for themselves. I congratulate all of our students who have done their very best on a wonderful year, and I look forward to working with you all again in 2017.

Miss Kath Little, Dean of Learning
littlek@atc.qld.edu.au