Why Ask “Why”?

“Hey, Dad! Why do I have to do my homework?” “Hey, Dad! Why do I have to take a bath?” “Hey, Dad! Why do I have to eat my vegetables?” It’s not just my kids asking why. We all have the tendency to ask why. When I searched “Why” on Google, I found 421 million results.

When I searched “Why ask why?,” I found over 54 million results.

Everyone today seems to ask why. Simon Sinek even wrote a book and did a TED Talk on “Start with Why.” In classrooms around the world, students are always asking, “Why do we have to learn this?” It appears we all have the innate tendency to ask “Why?”

The Universal Design for Learning Framework automatically includes the “why.” Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is made up of three Principles:

• Engagement – Affective Network – The why of learning.
• Action and Expression – Strategic Network – The how of learning.
• Representation – Recognition Network – The what of learning.

In this blog, I will focus on the Principle of Engagement—the why of learning. Students want to know the “why”when given an assignment. The CAST UDL Principle of Engagement checkpoint 8.1 states, “Heighten salience of goals and objectives:

• Prompt or require learners to explicitly formulate or restate the goal
• Display the goal in multiple ways
• Encourage division of long-term goals into short-term objectives
• Demonstrate the use of handheld or computer-based scheduling tools
• Use prompts or scaffolds for visualizing desired outcome
• Engage learners in assessment discussions of what constitutes excellence and generate relevant examples that connect to their cultural background and interests.”

Simply put, a teacher can create a poster with the goal stated clearly in a student-friendly way. Possibly display the goal as an “I can” statement. Maybe even draw a graphic beside the goal to further clarify it. Have your students work together in teams to dissect the goal into short-term objectives  Students appreciate their teachers explaining and posting goals (learning targets) or “I can” statements. Our students want to know what is expected and where they are going. If you are not already posting goals or “I can” statements, give it a try.

In conclusion, all students benefit from explicitly stated, student-friendly learning goals or “I can” statements. Without specific goals, students can lose sight of the purpose of learning and how it connects to the real world.

So here is what I hear now: “Hey, Dad, I’m clear on WHY I need to eat my vegetables.” So when you start to use the UDL Framework, start with the Principle of Engagement and answer the WHY. Then as your students get more energized and excited, move through the next two Principles answering the HOW and WHAT. Before you know it, your environment will be more and more inclusive of all learners.

To learn more about Universal Design for Learning Principles and the Brain Networks, go to CAST or the
Universal Design for Learning Center website.


Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York: Portfolio.

National Center On Universal Design for Learning. (2012). UDL Guidelines – Version 2.0: Principle III. Provide Multiple Means of Engagement. Retrieved January 14, 2015, from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines/principle3#principle3_g8

Included links:

– Ron Rogers

Photo of blog authorRon B. Rogers, Ed.D., is the UDL Center Director for OCALI, working directly with Ohio’s 16 state support teams on universal design for learning, and collaboratively leads the Ohio UDL Collaborative, which braids UDL into the overall system of support. In the past, Rogers worked with district leadership teams through the Ohio Improvement Process. Rogers received a master’s of education from The Ohio State University. He has 36 years of professional expertise in the areas of education and criminal justice and has served as a curriculum specialist, director, principal, and consultant.