Student disengagement can be a major impediment to effective student learning. When parents and educators cannot provide adequate reasoning to explain the value of what is taught at home and in school, students can lose their motivation to learn and be engaged in classroom activities. In this article, the authors explain the importance of teacher reflection and identification of students' stances and thought processes in making robust decisions around classroom life. Reflecting on or reasoning about the lessons taught, and the questions asked or left out of the curriculum, can help students engage with the curriculum and thus improve their achievement. The authors use examples to show how authentic reasoning may address students' need to understand and appreciate the worth of the curriculum and the concerns of the larger community.
Over the years, many students have voiced questions and concerns similar to the ones above. When students question instructional decisions-wondering, "Why do I need to know how to write a persuasive essay?," "Why do I have to work with these students on this task?," or "Why can't I learn about this topic a different way?"--the answer is often, "Because ... it's in the curriculum," "... it's on the test," or "... that's the way it is." These answers do not help students understand the importance of the learning intention to their lives, thus creating an unintended barrier to student achievement. When students don't understand the reasons for learning tasks and don't have a chance to connect with authentic implementation, they may disengage. When students are not engaged, they cannot learn.
Teachers can be more prepared for students asking "Why?" if they first ask themselves that question. Teacher responsiveness and authentic reasoning can help students make connections to the curriculum, and thus help them to achieve. In the long run, this process can help educators address achievement gaps and underachievement in schools. Although many intervening variables are possible and the process is not necessarily linear, a simple graphical representation of what we call "The Why Cycle" is shown in Figure 1.
We propose the importance of asking and answering both teachers' and students' whys in school-based settings. We discuss three areas linked to the why cycle: (1) current issues with student achievement, (2) the importance of student engagement, and (3) moving toward why, which might be the most crucial question in education.
CURRENT ISSUES WITH STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT
Student academic achievement is a constant focus of parents, administrators, politicians, news media, and a variety of other stakeholders. Many of these stakeholders express concern over low student performance on high-stakes tests and unfavorable international comparisons (see, for example, National Center for Education Statistics, 2010; Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development, 2010). Dissatisfaction with the current system is also fueled by achievement gaps between various ethnic and socio-economic groups (Hernandez, 2011; Lavin-Loucks, 2006; Lee & Burkam, 2002; National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). Desire to address these issues quickly turns attention to teachers and the role they play in solving (or, some would claim,...