Something like magic

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My son started reading last week. Just like that – one day he wasn’t and the next day he was… fluently.

Now, you may not consider this too spectacular, after all he’s six, almost seven. Maybe you’re thinking that it’s about time he started to read, already.

But here’s the piece I left out: he goes to school in French; he’s only ever been taught to read in French. No one has taught him to read in English and yet last week, he suddenly started to. He’s also learning to read and write in Hebrew so we might assume that there would be a bit of a first language lag but no, he started picking up English books and reading them, just like that.

Another funny thing happened. Today, one of our students, who had yet to express an interest in our classroom architecture project, decided she wanted to build something. As the project’s been winding down, we’ve gotten a little short on cardboard for our 3-D sketches so we had to scramble to get some materials for her. The building started out quite predictably: four tall walls attached to a base. Then the question of a roof came up. What kind of roof did she want? I was working with another student at the time and got to listen in on her conversation with my colleague.

“I want it like this” – placing her fingertips together with her wrists pointing up.

“Like that? …Okay”

Once they had gotten the unusual downward slanting pieces in place, the student decided that she wanted to add pieces that slanted in the other direction, creating a diamond shape at the top of her stucture.

Then came the question of how people would get up to the diamond given that she hadn’t included any doorways.

A ladder and stairs were the answer. So it turns out that the four walls she started with were just a prelude to the real action that will be happening inside the diamond.

Both of these stories lead me back to the magic of children’s development and the power of patience. Benchmarks and curricula have their place, no doubt, but there is such an emphasis placed on them that we forget that in most cases children (like us) learn to do things when they’re motivated to do them. My son had an English book that he particularly wanted to read and he figured it out. My student, after 10 weeks of watching other children building scale models decided that she had an idea that she really wanted to get out there and she did. If we had forced her to build something earlier in the process, I doubt that we would have gotten the same quality of creative design. She would have been compliant but only that.

Children need our patience as much, if not more, than they need our instruction. Sometimes good teaching is about what you don’t do.

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