The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Great Mysteries of Mysterious Mystery

We continued our study of early American colonial life today. As I met with each of my reading groups, we read short passages about difference attempts to colonise the “New World” by the English, French, Dutch, and Spanish. Some of the passages we read seemed to indicate that there are some grand mysteries in our nation’s early history that no one can every figure out. The texts even referred to these as such. But as my students read them and picked up some very obvious clues, they looked at me as if I were crazy and asked how on earth it could be a mystery.

Case in point: the famously “lost” English colony of Roanoke Island. For those who may have a hazy memory of this colony, it was an early attempt by the English to establish a permanent settlement in North America. A group of about 115 colonists, including Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America, were dropped off and then never heard from again. A man by the name of John White had been tasked with returning to England and bringing back more supplies, but it took him three years and when he came back he found the buildings dismantled and the people missing, with no clues as to their whereabouts.

Or so the story goes.

Except it turns out that there was a really big clue that is fairly obvious. The settlers were gone but there was a simple message carved into a tree: CROATOAN. As in, Croatoan Island, where the Croatan Indian tribe lived. The passage we read also said that John White saw footprints leading toward the beach. However, due to poor weather conditions, he was never able to make it to the island to investigate and so he simply returned to England and reported them lost.

When my four different reading groups read this, all of them had similar conversations that went something like this:

Student: Wait. They left a sign saying where they going, right?
Me: Well, there was a word carved in a tree that would certainly seem to indicate that.
Student: So they left the settlement and joined the Indians?
Me: Probably. Why do you think they would have done that?
Student: Um, because the English didn’t know much about living here but the Indians did. Why wouldn’t they want to go to the people who knew the land better? That’s what I would do.
Me: I agree. But all the historians say that it is a great mystery of mysterious mystery! Ooooooh…..
Students: *blank stare*
*long pause*
Student: That’s dumb. It isn’t a mystery at all!

And thus it would seem that my class of twenty-four fourth graders, ranging from nine to ten years of age, have solved the mystery of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island!

This entire conversation was then used as a springboard for why it is so important to think critically about what we read and, especially when reading nonfiction, to find multiple sources to confirm information. But even multiple sources can have wrong information and we need to be on the watch for that.


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