A Second Grade Student Taught Me To Think Again...

Having read this book with several reading companions, I thought that this would be an apt book for a second grader who enjoys Math more than English. Little did I know that tables would be reversed and I would be left thinking for a long time after.


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Sir Cumference and the First Round Table by Cindy Neushwander and Wayne Geehan is an interesting story set in King Arthur's time. The King and his knights had gathered together to discuss strategy to defend the kingdom against a likely attack from the neighbourhood kingdom. However, there was unexpected problem. They were seated around a long rectangular table. The King was on one side and he could hear the knights on the other side of the table and vice versa. The King ordered Sir Cumference to solve the problem. Sir Cumference with the help of his wife Lady Di tried to come up with several solutions in terms of changing the shape of the table. Shapes such square and triangle did not seem to work as the knights had a tendency to crowd around the corners and whisper. The King once again ordered Sir Cumference to come with a different solution to the problem. After much thought, he came up with a suitable solution in the end.


The reading experience

After we finished reading this book, we talked about the reading experience. The second grader responded by saying, "I don't understand why the King couldn't simply order the knights not to whisper. Instead, he made Sir Cumference waste so much of wood trying to build different shapes of tables!"


As an educator, I appreciated the ingenious idea of enabling the reader to address a simple problem set in a historical setting involving a might King and knights devising a defense strategy. The story allows room for discussion, enables readers to ponder about what could be done to solve the problem and so on. But not once did it occur to me that the King had the power to solve the problem differently using authority. The reason is simple. My focus was on making the collaborative reading session a fun filled one. That meant keeping in mind the diverse reading interests of all the readers and hence the need to bring up aspects that would pull in readers who did not quite enjoy math as well. From where I stood, all this made sense. But from where this second grader stood, it was so evident. A King with the power to order his knights, he does not do the obvious but instead chooses a roundabout solution that involves wastage of resources! He didn't stop there. He went on to ask another very pertinent question for which I did not have an answer nor did the book have. He asked if Sir Cumference was paid each time for all his effort. He pointed out that the story did not indicate any sort of payment other than a praiseworthy mention in front of a large crowd towards the end of the book.

But not once did it occur to me that the King had the power to solve the problem differently using authority.

Power of observation is much more than being able to see what is visible. One needs to be curious to be able to see more.


The book being an illustrated book offers plenty of details to observe and make inferences. To be able to step back and see the problem and the context in their entirety, to be able to devise a far more efficient solution and raise hard pressing questions requires a certain amount of confidence which can about only in a free learning atmosphere at home and at school.

One of my young reading companions was puzzled when I told a new member that they should feel free to express themselves at the Young Readers' Club as there is no right or wrong answer. We are all learning and it is ok to be wrong. He asked me, "How can you say there is no right or wrong answer? There is always a right answer and we must look for it." True we must look for the right answer but at times there could be multiple answers or perspectives to the same question. Wouldn't we be confining ourselves in a box, if we stick to only one answer?

To be able to step back and see the problem and the context in their entirety, to be able to devise a far more efficient solution and raise hard pressing questions requires a certain amount of confidence which can about only in a free learning atmosphere at home and at school.
To be curious, the classroom needs to offer the freedom to think and ask questions.

Memories of myself as a child asking my Science teacher a question that went in lines of "If human beings get rabies from infected dogs, how do these dogs get rabies?" comes up in mind. The response I received conditioned me for a long time, until as an adult I learned to overcome it. I was laughed at by the entire class for asking this question. I vividly remember feeling confused about why I was being laughed at and I looked up to the teacher for support. All I saw was an amused face.


Progress happens because of asking questions, experimenting with ideas, hard work and persistence. But, if asking a question is ridiculed, there would be only rote learning and no original thinking. We would be only mass manufacturing students and not preparing the children to work together, question, listen, observe and think of different possibilities.


 

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