Why didn’t the ‘Why Cards’ work?

In my earlier post I described an idea of using so-called ‘Why Cards‘ during a course for trainers. In this post I’d like to reflect on trying this idea out.

Briefly, the initial idea was that each participant receives a small post-it note with a question ‘Why?’ on it, just as the image below shows.

Facilitator explains that during the course sessions, participant can ‘activate’ the card any time by raising it and asking a question to about the purpose of the current activity.

I had been hoping that (quote) ‘using the ‘Why’ card during our training sessions could make a difference to the participants’ and that ‘they may find it motivating/engaging to be able to ‘pause’ a session and ask why we are doing a certain activity‘. In fact, I can’t offer any objective ‘data’ on this, as the question about using the cards had not been added to our feedback form. The reflections and conclusions below are my own.

When the idea to use the card was introduced, the participants clarified who the question should be addressed to: the facilitators, and/or peers. This was not something I had thought about, so my co-trainer and I let them make a choice (and if needed, ask the questions to peers). This resulted in questions peers like ‘Why are you making this comment now?’ or ‘Why do you think that what you are saying now is important/relevant, etc.?’ At the moment (in-action), I feared that we would end up digressing** a lot, but it seemed to stimulate the participants to be more attentive to what the others are saying.

[Note while writing this: ‘digressing’ on a pilot course may be quite a good idea (would simply show that the course facilitator is responding to what the group needs at the moment. Another opportunity for ‘reflection-in-action?’]

One participant was actively using the card on a regular basis (almost in every session) and directed her questions to the facilitator. She was asking about the purpose of certain activities (a filler/warmer we were repeatedly using during the course, for example) and that stimulated great discussions and everyone sharing points of view.

In the second half of the course (we met on two consecutive weekends), I realized that the cards were almost forgotten: none of the participants had them on their desks on the second Saturday. I reminded about the cards, and some new ones were created immediately. I wonder if one of the reasons for not keeping them (in their ‘physical’ form, or as an idea/tool) was that the cards looked like simple post-it notes, not being memorable or important (or well-designed, funny, cute, etc.) More importantly, by the time we met for the second part of the course, the ‘ice’ (whatever form of it had existed at the beginning) was melted and all the participants were comfortable to ask questions when they had them (and being adult learners, did not need a color card to do so) I am thinking to share my reflections with the group and hope to hear a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in response to this conclusion 🙂

As a course facilitator, I started pausing a session from time to time and ask ‘Would you like to see why this could be so?’ or ‘Could anyone answer a ‘Why?’ question here?’ I wonder if I was doing it in order to ‘save’ my little creative idea?

Deciding to use this idea prompted me to ‘start with Why’ in each session, adding a slide with a brief explanation/rationale for having it in the course (example below)

Generally, my co-trainer and I were asking the ‘Why?’ question to ourselves more often while planning the daily agenda and/or deciding on our priorities for the day. I guess that by making the questioning strategy explicit to the participants we did so for ourselves, too. Crucial for any course planning, in my opinion, but is especially important for a pilot project (reflection for action, so to say)

Why were these cards avoided by the participants? (some possible reasons):

  1. Did they feel they were interrupting the session by this question? (Would it be relevant to the others? Should I wait and ask later?)
  2. Did they not want to make the facilitator feel ‘questioned’ about the activities and sessions during the course? (Politeness as the main reason?)
  3. Did they think raising the cards was a bit childish/silly/strange?
  4. Did the other two posters (Parking Lot and Burning Questions) interfere? Too many routines and regulations might have prevented from clarity…
  5. … [do you see any other possible reasons]?

The most obvious step would have been to ask the participants for their feedback on this (which I will certainly do, if I ever re-use this idea, or create something new for the second round of the course this Fall

Final (Semi-Related)?) Thoughts

I’d like to share a piece of conversation with a teacher on a TESOL course I ran in South Korea some years ago. Background: teachers prepare and submit a written lesson plan where they describe the lesson objective and steps of the lesson to the students attending the vacation classes. This lesson would be taught the following morning. The conversation is happening in private, with a trainer (me) reading the plan.

Activity I saw in the plan: in pairs, students read the dialogue aloud, line by line, one by one.

  • Trainer: What’s the reason for Ss to do this activity?
  • Teacher: To practice the dialogue.
  • Trainer: Well, this is the teacher’s objective. Why might the student need to do this task?
  • Teacher: As I said, to practice the dialogue and improve their English.

I wonder if adding an explicit ‘Why?’ element to our input sessions on that course would/could help teachers question themselves in lesson design and while making in-class decisions?

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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