Why do I have to pay taxes? Why am I going to the grocery store again? Why must I . . .? These questions are usually expressions of tumbling emotions that want out. I seldom expect a reply because I already know the answer. Sometimes I do want a logical explanation — once every ten years.

Why do I have to show my work in math? Students love to ask this question. Often it puts adults on the defensive. Students already know the explanation will include something about “you will need it as an adult.” Yes, our life experience supports our answer, but students’ experience tells them two things. 1) Showing math work is really just an extra requirement to make life harder. 2) If I complain loud enough and long enough, I may achieve my goals. (Testing this strategy is a requirement of childhood.)

But a counter strategy is worth trying. Challenge them to explain the following four benefits of showing work. State the benefit and then wait for your student to explain how that benefit is achieved.

Benefit one: Saves you time. (Hint: when checking the work, when explaining how you solved the problem, when checking your work, less study time needed in preparation for the test.)

Benefit two: Reduces stress. (Hint: less frustration when looking for mistakes and explaining how you arrived at the answer, fewer memory cells disturbed while trying to remember. Writing down your thought process frees energy for the explanation rather than digging in your memory.)

Benefit three: Leads to success and more energy. (Hint: success encourages, increases confidence and demonstrates perseverance.)

Benefit four: Classmates will listen to your ideas. (Hint: clear, logical answers promote respect, display leadership, increase confidence, improve speaking ability.)

There is actually another issue to address. “I don’t know how I got the answer; I just know it.” There are times I have seemed to just know something but could not explain a particular conclusion so this complaint is understandable. An effective reply, “You may not be able to explain how you know that answer, but your brain did have a plan. Now you need to make your brain tell you how it got there. You can make your brain behave.”

Oh, about taxes? Writing out a check hurts but I value clean streets, safe food, quality public school teachers, nature preserves. Taxes afford many benefits, just like showing math work.

Grandma is Rebecca Kordatzky. She is a wife, mother of three and grandmother. A retired educator, she’s taught all levels and trained teachers. As an educational coach/tutor, she aims to educate, encourage and inspire.

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