Recently I saw something on YouTube that points out how we sometimes miss interesting comments while teaching.

An elementary teacher was teaching about our base 10 number system, and she was showing her first grade students the number 1.

“What do we add to 1 to make 10?” she asked.

A girl answered: “Zero.”

Instead of listening deeply to what this child said, the teacher plowed ahead,”Well, not quite. Who else has an idea?” And the teacher waited until a student volunteered the answer she was waiting for: 9, saying that 1 + 9 = 10.

(This part of the lesson focused on number pairs that sum to 10.)

What’s sad about this situation is that the girl who said “zero” had a good point that the teacher missed. The girl was saying that a zero, written to the right of a 1, creates the number 10.

This point, had it been explored, could have sparked excitement. The teacher could have pointed out how strange it is that a 1 plus a 0 can create the number 10, when most people would say that 1 + 0 = 1. The teacher could have posed this as a riddle and asked if any student could unravel it. That riddle, in turn, could have helped the whole class ponder how interesting it is that the mere position of a digit affects that digit’s value, in our base 10 system.

Not only did the teacher miss this opportunity, she also inadvertently missed an opportunity to validate the girl. We can’t know for sure, but when a teacher passes over a student, acting like her comment was “incorrect,” the child can feel rejected. Instead, the teacher could have pointed out that this girl’s comment was in fact “right” in a most interesting way.

Of course no teacher is perfect, and as teachers we all miss comments we later wish we had noticed. Still it is helpful to be aware that we might BE missing things. Only then will we be more open to the many surprisingly interesting, unscripted comments that children make every day.

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