Every teacher has them...even if we don't want to admit it all the time! It happens when you least expect it and sometimes you aren't sure if it actually happened, or you question if you're in the twilight zone. You know what I'm talking about...that "aha" moment that students get, but it's actually you, not them. This was me the other day in class with my 4th graders.
Because I believe in backwards design, I knew that my 4th grade students would need to understand why poets include repetition in a poem. It was going to be a question on our upcoming unit assessment, so I planned to read a poem that had that in it. I decided to read "Boa Constrictor" by Shel Silverstein because it was funny and involved repetition. I already had the answer in my mind when I asked why Silverstein had repeated the line "Boa constrictor, Boa constrictor, Boa constrictor." Honestly, I was only using that to point out that it had been repeated, but even I couldn't figure out why it repeated. I mean, the answer I was looking for is that he was trying to draw attention to something because it was important, but that may not be the real reason why he did it. I've never asked him myself!
So, when I presented this sentence stem: Shel Silverstein repeated these lines in his poem because.... I was shocked by the responses I got! One student replied that it could be read like he's scared of the snake coming closer to him and even read it in a shaky, scared voice. Another student said that he could be talking to someone else and then she read it like, "A Boa constrictor. A Boa constrictor? A Boa constrictor." I even had another student say that it even sounded like an echo response. Like maybe this guy is an a room that echos. My final student said that the guy could be yelling it out to warn others around him.
Ya'll...I was blown away!! That was not the response I was looking for...or was it? I really had an "aha" moment right there in front of my students. Did I need them to know that sometimes poets repeat words or phrases to draw attention to something important? Yep. But isn't that kind of what they were saying, just in their own way? Yep!
In that split second looking at my student's smiling faces, I had a decision to make. Do I break their little hearts and tell them that these were not the answers I was looking for, or do I tell them my answer and applaud them for being so creative? I thought back to my junior year of high school. I will not mention any names, but my English teacher had us reading from a book, can't remember which one, and she said that the tree in the very first pages symbolized Jesus on the cross. Now, being the wonderful and diligent student I was, I decided to not agree with her. I told the class that I felt there wasn't any symbolism at all and it was just a pretty tree. Can you guess what she did next? Yep! She chastised me in front of everyone! I was wrong and she was right! There was no reason to continue the conversation. Ya'll...almost twenty years later and I still think about that stupid tree.
So, I had a decision to make...do I behave like my junior English teacher? Or do I praise them for being so clever? My "aha" moment was to praise them in all of their glory. What smart kiddos I have!! I learned that day that teachers have so much pull in how students look at education. Are they worried about being told they are wrong in front of the whole class? Or are they praised for thinking "outside of the multiple choice questions?"
Have you ever had an "aha" moment in your classroom? If so, let me know in the comment below!!
Laura Gokey is the owner of The Learning Tree and is working towards her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from Regent University. She currently lives in Livingston, TX with her husband of fourteen years and her two children.