SOL: A Happy Accident

“Chance favors the prepared mind.”
Louis Pasteur

My One Little Word for 2018 is focus. At school, I’ve been focused on incorporating the growth mindset stances laid out by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz in their book, A Mindset for Learning, as well as the habits of mind explained in Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind, by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick. This means I’m constantly on the lookout for opportunities to weave these habits into my lessons.

In Costa and Kallick’s work, this focus would fall under the habit of “creating, imagining, and innovating.” Maybe it’s the poet it me, but I prefer to think of this as “serendipity,” those happy accidents of chance that occur when we’re paying attention. Yesterday, such a moment occurred.

As I was working with a second grader, he noticed The Day the Crayons Quit in a basket on a nearby bookshelf. “Can we read this, too?” L. asked as he pulled the book from the basket. “Mr. M. read it to us in Library and it’s really funny.”

“Absolutely,” I replied. “Let’s finish our other work first.” He agreed, and I presented How Bear Lost His Tail from Fountas & Pinnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention kit.

He wasted no time in reminding me that he’d already read this book. The advantages of rereading are well-known and many. Among other benefits, rereading increases fluency and deepens comprehension, my goal in this case. I explained to him I knew he’d read the book before, but that readers always find something new when they read a book a second, third, or even fourth time.

He launched into the book, and because it was his second read, he read it fairly fluently and with good expression. When he finished, I asked him if he had an idea about why Fox tricked Bear. He replied, “Maybe Fox was sad.” Seeing an opportunity to develop his vocabulary, I asked him if there were any other words he could use to describe how Fox felt. “Upset?” he said, with a hint of a question.

“Why would he be upset?” I asked him.

“Because Bear’s tail is bushier than his,” he replied, this time with more confidence.

I asked him if he knew the word “jealous.” He said he didn’t. I explained that if someone has something you would like to have, you might be jealous. I asked him if his sister ever had anything he wanted but couldn’t have. He remembered that at her last birthday party, he’d been upset that she was getting so many presents. “That’s what it feels like to be jealous,” I explained.

Seizing the opportunity he’d presented me with when he asked to read The Day the Crayons Quit, I asked, “Do you think any of the crayons were jealous?” He shrugged and said he couldn’t remember. “Let’s find out,” I suggested.

Working together, we reread the first few letters of protest from Duncan’s crayons. Lo and behold, there was Beige, feeling very left out because Brown got to color all the “bears, ponies, and puppies.”

“He’s jealous,” L. announced proudly.

From The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt, pictures by Oliver Jeffers

New learning sticks when learners apply “past knowledge to new situations” (Costa & Kallick, p. 28). Granted, this new situation was within five minutes of L.’s introduction to the word, but he made the connection between the two characters on his own and was articulated his thinking clearly. It’s unlikely that I would have planned this sequence of events ahead of time. But L. is more likely to remember this new vocabulary because a number of conditions were in place that engaged him in a meaningful way. Serendipity at its finest.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and each Tuesday throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

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