Tuesday, February 15, 2011


My friend Carol arrived last night, was a guest in my class today, and went out to dinner with us tonight.  An interesting exchange happened there between Carol and Archer.

Tuesday is his chess club, and when I met Archer outside this afternoon as I arrived home I asked him about it.  "Two wins, one loss," he reported.

So at dinner tonight, I broached the subject again. "Archer," I said, "tell Miss Carol about your chess club."

Archer gathered his thoughts and launched in.  "I have chess club after dismissal at Marguerite Vann Elementary School.  It starts at 3:05 and ends at 3:55."  More thought-gathering.  Carol asked, "How many games can you play in that time?"  "We usually play two to three games," he replied.  "After a game ends, we record the result on a chess scorecard."

Now, that is not at all what I expected Archer to say.  I expected him to respond to my prompt with something much more like what he said to me when I asked him about chess club earlier -- something like, "I won two games and lost one" or "My record was two-one."

Why didn't he?  Because he read the context and knew that he needed to start elsewhere.  Carol is a stranger.  She doesn't know about chess club.  She needs to be introduced to the idea.  "Two wins, one loss" wouldn't mean anything to her.

On his own, with no prompting and no leading, Archer adjusted his conversation to an unfamiliar context.  It was a striking moment -- a precedent I couldn't remember observing before.  As Archer delivered his information, he paused occasionally to make eye contact with Carol to get a signal of encouragement or comprehension.  Looking for feedback.  Being involved with the situation and with the other person in it.

What a long way he's come.  And in what an ordinary, awesome way he shows it.

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