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re: What's in a name?

On Fri, 15 Aug 1997, Brian Franczak wrote:
> How can it damage a child's enthusiasm to correct them of a mistaken
> notion? I speak before elementary school classes often, and have had to
> correct mistaken ideas several times.

If you have been invited to an elementary school specifically to
talk about dinosaurs, it would be incumbent upon you to make the talk as
informative as possible. I was thinking of a less formal setting. I'm
in the school library, for instance. Johnny comes up to me with _Curious
George Rides a Bike_ and I say, "I like Curious George because he's so
funny." Then Mary comes up with a Dr. Seuss book and I say, "I like that
story because it rhymes." Then Michelle comes up with Patricia Lauber's
book _The News about Dinosaurs_, shows me the cover, and she tells me,
"This is my favorite dinosaur, Tyrannosaurus." The cover is the Greg Paul
painting of Daspletosaurus running past a bunch of cattails. Michelle has
heard me say nice things to Johnny and Mary about their books. Do I really
want to tell her (however gently) that the dinosaur she proudly proclaims
is her favorite is not her favorite at all? Keep in mind that there are no
other animals in this painting to use as a reference, and nothing in the
background really to use as a size reference. No matter how gently a
correction is made, the child might feel that I'm criticising her because
she made a mistake. Sure, it's a constructive criticism. But a moment that
started out as the child proudly showing me her choice of a book becomes a
moment of criticism.

If it had been another dinosaur, I might be more receptive to a
constructive criticism. If, for instance, Michelle had brought me a book
with Styracosaurus on the cover and said, "This is my favorite dinosaur,
Triceratops," then I might say, "Do you remember how many horns a
Triceratops has?" She says, "Three." I say, "How many horns does this
dinosaur have?" She smiles shyly and maybe says, "Whoops." The difference
here is that I did not say, even gently, "Michelle, you're wrong." I
guided Michelle into realizing that she was smarter than she remembered
she was.

> I cannot see how anyone
> (child or adult) can learn anything if they are allowed to harbor a
> mistaken idea and no one ever challenges them on it or corrects them.

They can learn something because *later* you take the time to correct
them. Later, for instance, I might be in Michelle's class talking about
dinosaurs. I show them the Greg Wenzel painting of Tyrannosaurus from the
Dinosaur Society calendar a few years back and I say, "This is
Tyrannosaurus." Then I show them the painting of the Greg Paul
Daspletosaurus. I say,  "This looks like Tyrannosaurus, but it's really a
dinosaur called 'Daspletosaurus.' Looks a lot like Tyrannosaurus, doesn't
it? Kind of like alligators look like crocodiles, or the way butterflies
look like moths. It's hard to tell the difference, but paleontologists 
know what to look for, and they can tell." There are probably some on this
list who think I should go into a long explanation about the differences
in when they lived, the differences in overall size... But the children
can relate better to the alligator/crocodile comparison. In a third grade
class, I would probably talk about ways paleontologists distinguish the
two. But in a kindergarten class (which is what Michelle is in), I

Notice, too, that I did not say, "Michelle thinks this is a
Tyrannosaurus." I made a very general remark to the whole class.

Now suppose that before I can talk about the picture, Michelle speaks up
and says "That's a Tyrannosaurus." (It isn't likely that she would,
because I showed the other picture first. But suppose she did.) Then I
might say, "You know, Michelle, I thought it was a Tyrannosaurus, too. It
looks a lot like Tyrannosaurus..." This way, I've made the correction
ultra sensitive, because I am correcting myself as well.

----- Amado Narvaez
(And if it's NOT Daspletosaurus in the Greg Paul painting I'm talking
about, feel free to correct me.)