Are Detailed Explanations Necessary?

One of my favorite comedy routines of all times has to be Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” which still makes me laugh every time I watch it. If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch it recently, or you’ve never seen it at all, do so! Head over to YouTube and watch the clip. The sheer talent it takes to do that routine amazes me every time.

But, Abbott and Costello had many, many more routines to watch, and each one tells a unique story. My second favorite one not only makes me laugh, but reaches into the heart of what I believe as an educator. When students are independently working through assignments, workbooks, practice problems, etc., they need access to more than the correct answer; they need detailed explanations.

Why detailed explanations? Because without them the idea that 7 x 13 = 28 could very well be the one math fact your student remembers the rest of his or her life as seen in this funny, short video clip.

As this video clip shows, sometimes students can convince themselves they are entirely correct and stick with their faulty logic until they finally walk someone through their thinking and are instructed differently. And with the large amounts of independent learning that can go on at times (test prep programs, math labs, computer-based learning modules, etc.) students could hold on to their logic for quite some time, which is scary when we think of the scaffolding of future learning that might be built on their logic.

Though it is meant to be a comedy, the sad reality is that we could find this very example, or one similar, in classrooms across America. Does this mean their teachers aren’t doing a good job? Absolutely not. Their teachers may be fabulous; but, even the most phenomenal teacher may not catch every single moment of logic in a student’s thinking.

When students are working independently, or even in small groups, and they are provided with detailed explanations for the answers, not only do they have a better chance of understanding why their answer is right or wrong, they also have better chance at connecting the dots on their own and making their own meaning. As educators, we know that when students make their meaning from their learning, it will stick with them longer and mean more to them.

So, as your students are working through independent and small group times, look for resources that give your students detailed explanations.