Friday, June 19, 2009

In Context

Helping a child understand the use and importance of contextual clues when reading has always been a fascination of mine. Knowing whether the word “wind” refers to what you do to a watch (old-fashioned, that is) or what keeps a kite aloft on a blustery spring day can only be understood by looking at the words around “wind.” For this concept of context a lesson presented itself when I least expected it . . .

. . . my office is situated on a hall that leads the two-year olds to the rooftop play area. Each day in the fall while I am at my desk, I wave to them as they sheepishly walk past, heads focused straight ahead, never venturing the thought of exchanging a wave. By December, one or two walk by, look in and timidly lift a hand in an attempt to acknowledge my flapping gestures.

Well, by February, the teachers cannot move them past my office because they all have to stop, wave vigorously, and say “Hi Dane.”

One day in the spring I was standing outside of my office and the twos were making their way back from their daily venture to the rooftop. I was excited; now I could be close by and exchange a happy hello instead of the behind-the-desk wave. Hovering close to the hall wall, anticipating my office, three children prepared themselves to crane their necks around the door jamb to offer their daily greeting when they looked up at me and quickly shied away as if to say, “Hey, who are you and what are doing here?” They wanted nothing to do with me. Then it dawned on me that I was out of context. I immediately said, “Oh. Wait a minute. I’ll fix this.” I ran to my desk and began waving. Without a hitch, their faces beamed, hands started flapping and the “Hi Danes” took over as if I were always there.

By the way, it isn’t only children that need contextual clues. Last weekend, my wife and I were at the green grocer and a parent gave a hearty “Hello Dane.” I smiled and wondered who that was. A minute later, when it was too late, I realized that it was a parent . . . but without his child and not walking through the front door of the school. Like the twos, I, too, needed contextual clues.

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