During the morning math lesson, Jonnie notices an elaborate spider web in an upper corner of the room and asks how spiders can possibly create something so beautiful and deadly. Later in the morning, Rogan proclaims that it’s magic how the sun creates a spectrum of color in the rainbow outside the window. Then, during the math lesson, Shondell suggests that the base-10 number system was invented because combined, we have ten fingers.
Each of these comments might be considered off task and not part of the day’s academic agenda. Yet, they open possibilities for rich discussion and learning. We can ignore them, or we can seize the moment and explore with students the meanings and implications they introduce.
Unfortunately, the pace and focus of activities playing out each day in our classroom make it easy to miss some of the most delightful, amazing, and important—but not on the agenda—happenings playing out before us. We tend to see what we look for and pay attention to. If we become too focused on what we planned and want to accomplish, we can miss or even become impatient with the unexpected, unscripted, and serendipitous around us. Yet, these spontaneous incidents can offer humor, pleasure, and stress release, if we pay attention and appreciate them. They also can add to student learning and make our work more satisfying and rewarding.
Just because we didn’t notice something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Our attention and actions interpret for students what matters and what they should pay attention to. Of course, a lot happens simultaneously in classrooms. We can’t catch every comment and observation, then leverage them for learning. We also can’t always set aside the intended lesson and learning to take advantage of the unplanned. Still, recognizing teachable moments, meaningful inquiries, and surprising insights can transform the learning experiences of our students and make our teaching more significant and pleasurable.
If we want to ensure capturing these serendipitous opportunities for learning, laughter, and lifting spirits that can lie hidden in our classrooms, there are at least five places we can look:
- Watch for the off-hand comment that reveals a quiet sense of humor. Listen for the ironic observation; connections made between two seemingly unrelated statements, actions, or happenings; or a surprising twist on situations or relationships.
- Listen for the surprising answer that reveals a creative perspective worth exploring, or a comment that suggests a novel application of information. Listen for questions, such as “Is this like…?” or “Might this be…?”
- Pay attention to unanticipated questions that suggest a curious mind. We might find cues in questions, such as “Why?” “What if?” “Why not?” or “How might…?”
- Notice questions that reveal a rich imagination. We may hear statements and questions beginning with “I wonder…” and “Could it be possible that…”
- Be ready for comments regarding a detail or related issues that point to a gift for observation. Some students see what others miss or ignore. These students may not say much, but they see much.
Our noticing and valuing the unexpected, serendipitous, and humorous happenings in our classroom can create delightful discussions, compelling discoveries, and day lightening laughter. They can lessen our stress, lighten our mood, and lead us to appreciate the opportunity to work with such sensitive and gifted children and young people. In short, they can make our week.