Recently, we visited a kindergarten classroom to share one of Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggie books titled Are You Ready to Play Outside? As we read aloud, we asked the students to pay careful attention to the character’s expressions and to think about how Gerald and Piggie were feeling based on the clues in the illustrations. Initially, students thought of words such as happy and sad but as we looked closer at the details provided in the illustrations, students began to offer more robust words like disappointed, frustrated, excited, joyful, and angry to describe how the characters were feeling.
As we continued to explore the rich illustrations in Are You Ready to Play Outside, students began to notice that previously identified emotions seemed to re-surface at different points in the story and when this happened, we asked the question, “So which one of our new words best describes this emotion?”
Ever eager to answer the question asked by the teacher, nearly every hand in the class went up. We called on Jamal and when we asked him which word he thought was best to describe the picture of Piggie bouncing in a puddle with her eyes closed and her back to Gerald, he thought for a moment and said, “uh…I…uh…forgot what I was going to say.”
If you teach, you know this moment well. Sometimes the response varies from “I forgot” to “I don’t know” to an awkward moment of silence when the child just stares at you trying to tell you via ESP that he or she just doesn’t know the answer to what you’re asking. It’s uncomfortable for everybody and that’s why a common response to this situation is to say something like, “Can someone help Jamal out?” or “Does anyone else know?”
But sometimes, the reason for responses such as these has less to do with awkwardness and more to do with time. As we wait for Jamal to try to remember what he knew (or thought he knew) just a few moments ago, there’s an insidious voice inside our heads tallying everything that needs to be done in this school day screaming, “Hurry that kid up! You have no time to waste!” This voice is hard to ignore, so in the interest of time, we ask Tamika, who always has correct answers, to share her response to the question.
When we step away from this situation and think about this response, we have to ask ourselves a really hard question. Is that voice really saying, “Hurry up…you have no time to waste…on kids THINKING?”
If you’re like us, you probably cringe at such a thought, but if you’re like us, you’re probably concerned that there might be some truth to this.
Managing instructional time is probably one of the hardest aspects of teaching and when the to-do list mounts, it is easy to exchange valuable wait time for a more immediate, correct response. When we feel this pressure, however, we need to remind ourselves to step back and think about the important role that cognitive dissonance plays in learning. Even though it feels counter-intuitive the our pacing guides and lesson plans, time to think is an important investment in the learning process. As David Sousa says, “The brain that does the work, is the brain that does the learning” and if we want kids to learn, we’ve got to give them time to think!