Cattywumpus is how Poet Laureate Ted Kooser says he gets at deeper understandings. By that he means that he uses metaphor to draw a line between two very dissimilar things.
The teachers I’m watching draw lines between what the kids know and stuff that’s new, different, and difficult. They use metaphor.
Families do this too:
We’d lost track of three-year-old Doug at the county fair. It was only for a moment, but we’d been terrified.
Afterwards, Jack tells the older siblings, We need to keep better track of Doug. His list of how to keep track includes: Use your peripheral vision. Hold hands. Listen out for his voice. Keep track of what color shirt he’s wearing.
John and Rob, the middle brothers, aren’t getting it.
Sarah, the oldest, sighs, Guys! It’s like avoiding a pick. She turns to Jack, Right, Dad?
Sarah, John, Rob, and Jack played a lot of Two-On-Two. Two guard and the other two either block or attempt to dribble to the basket. They watch and notice each other and yell Pick! Or Screen! so the other guard, intent on staying with the dribbler, won’t crash into the blocker. When one player bounces off a blocker because he has his eye on the dribbler and hasn’t been forewarned by his partner guard, Jack coaches them to look out for each other—to watch and be ready to ward off a block.
Light dawns in the boys’ eyes.
Here’s a list of metaphors I heard teachers use during just one day of my watching in their high-performing, high-poverty classrooms:
Reading the social studies chapter for the first time is like wrestling.
Lining up the numbers in long division with remainders is like stacking blocks.
We have to work together like we do in soccer.
You’ve got to show the setting like a movie would.
Editing is like weeding the garden.
Graphing lines is like reading a road map.
Getting everyone to line up after recess is like herding cats, so here’s what we need to change…
You’ve got to use a 2-inch voice here.
Radio waves are like ripples of water.
Electricity flows through a wire like water through a pipe.
Kidneys are like your Dad’s gravel sorter.
Communication networks are like that spider web over there.
Let’s leave this behavior behind, just like that snakeskin we found on the rock out in the playground last week.
Writing an essay is like stacking up roof and walls, roof and walls, roof and walls.
Homeostasis is like walking up the down escalator at Macy’s.
Be like “Nate the Great,” look for clues.
Skipping this step in the math problem is like going from first to third.
Our brains are like huge rooms full of filing cabinets. To open them you need to ask yourself questions.
Each time I heard these metaphors and listened to the tiny explanation that went with it I saw light go on in the students’ eyes.
Cattywumpus works. Thanks, Ted.