(Delaney and I on the ride home after school.)
Me: “So… have a good day today? What did you do in Adventure Club before I got there… since you weren’t there for long?”
Delaney (8 years old): “Well… someone farted. And we were all arguing about who did or didn’t do it.”
Me: “Uhhhhh….. riveting.” (Or something. I can’t really remember what I said here. Likely some form of mild interrogation re: whether or not she was the culprit.)
Delaney: “And then I helped Brooklyn read a little. She is only in Kindergarten, and she was reading a book called ‘365 Days of Wonder,‘ and I was pretty sure she wouldn’t know a lot of the bigger words in that one.”
Me: “How do you know that? That’s not exactly fair. Are you telling me you couldn’t have read that book when you were in Kindergarten?”
Delaney: “No. I’m not saying that at all. It’s just that I read with her a lot and I know what she can and can’t read when she’s all by herself. I help her read, but I don’t just give her the words when she gets stuck. I help her sound them out and make sure she can do it by herself.”
(And here is the part that really got to me.)
Delaney: “Because, like Ben Franklin said: ‘Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.’
Me: “Uhmmm…… ok. Wow. So, (At one of my rare -loss for words- moments.) where did you get that and how do you know that applies to reading books?”
Delaney: “It is in my ‘Superstars of Science- The Brave The Bold and The Brainy‘ -book about all kinds of scientists and what made them really great and interesting.”
Me: “Very cool. I’m not sure I’ve even seen that book. I’ll have to check it out. But hey… what made you think of that quote when you were helping her read?”
Delaney: “I didn’t think of it when I was helping her read. You asked me why I helped her the way that I do… and that’s why I do it that way. Ben Franklin is pretty smart and so I just decided to do it that way when I help people. I want her to be able to read it when I’m not by her.”
Me: (probably still fairly speechless) “Uhhhh….. that’s a really classy leap of intuition there. Do you know how many people I wish could internalize an idea like that… and then consistently act on it because it is the best thing to do?”
Me: “A lot. More than you know. Just… do that. Everything that you just did and told me about. Just keep doing that. You’re a really good girl Delaney, and I’m proud of you.”
Delaney: “Thank you, Daddy.”
Seriously. This is but one tiny example (told in such detail here because it is my kid and I have that latitude) of how amazing children really are. If you ever wonder why I’m so unpleased with your “…yeah, but my students can’t do that” -rant… this sort of thing is why. Just listen to kids. Really listen. You might just be surprised. I would even suggest that fully half of designing and maintaining an engaging and challenging learning environment is merely keeping your ears open. Really open. Not just to hear what you expect to hear. When you honestly listen to children, they tell you what they are capable of. So often it is beyond our jaded adult suppositions. Delaney didn’t realize the sophistication of her transfer until it was highlighted and named for her. It was just an intuitive thing that simply made sense to her. In my mind, often the best thing wise adults can do is to design settings and scenarios for kids to organically do amazing things… then pour gas all over those warm little fires of understanding they create.
One of my foundational rules of classroom engagement is simply this: never be the first one to open your mouth and start talking about any topic. Twenty years in the classroom taught me that one. Never assume. Never take prior knowledge for granted. Listen first, then act. Never presume to know what the students in front of you are capable of. They’ll show you if you are bold enough to listen.
*I originally tapped this little story out directly into Facebook. After a few lines, I realized the reason I was so drawn to the exchange is that it illustrates so many things I have come to believe about the process of learning. And that means it would have to end up here. However, I finished it there first because I already anticipate getting the inbound reminder notification from Timehop next year at this time. The older I get, the more I appreciate the sometimes subtle cyclical nature of life.
-For “Portra 400VC” by Bravo_Zulu_ via Creative Commons from Flickr
-To John Rushin and Cheri Patterson, who taught me more about listening than I would have figured out alone.