When collecting the data reported in ‘Pre-Readers’ Concept of the English Word,’ I was shown by one of the children, Tina, a 3×5 notebook her mother gave her for writing down any words she wanted to learn to read. I bought Miriam such a notebook (a green one) some weeks ago for such a purpose. She asked me how to spell ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’ and proceeded to print that in her notebook (today she refused to give me that datum because she still wants to learn to spell that word). Her uses of the notebook are more various than my plan. I find: a list of models she would like to have; an upper and lower case alphabet page (the first set done by Robby as a set of patterns, the second Miriam’s copy); the address and telephone number of her friend Maria. The most frequent use of that notebook has been to make greeting cards for her friends: typically Miriam draws a picture, then prints “For ___” and “Love Miriam”. (It also has many blank pages.) Clearly, Miriam’s use of this notebook has been richer than my conception
I recently purchased another such small notebook (a blue one) for jotting down notes about what Miriam does during the day. Miriam saw that notebook and asked if she could have it for making cards. A conjunction of things occurred. Miriam wanted the notebook; the time she spends in school is one wherein I can’t observe what she is doing; an observation several years ago by Sarene Boocock at an AAAS seminar that children themselves had access to data most researchers could not get at and that one should consider enlisting them as agents of data collection. I told Miriam she could have the blue notebook if she would write in it the things she did in kindergarten. Miriam refused, saying she wanted the notebook for drawing pictures. When I said she could not have the notebook for drawing pictures, Miriam responded, “If you don’t give me the notebook, I won’t even tell you what I do.
At the current round of negotiations, Miriam agreed to use the notebook as I wanted when I agreed to buy a replacement for her green notebook after she uses up all the pages. Her intentions are suspect though because of the final inquiry she made: “If I do a rotten job can I keep the notebook and not write down what I do?
Contrast now the relative openness of the two children, Robby and Miriam. For reference, consider the protocols and 21 (on adding units of English length and on multiplication, respectively) from the series of Robby’s arithmetic development. These protocols are exemplary of a child’s uninhibited exposition of his thought processes; at 7, Robby is a ‘loud thinker’. Contrariwise, Miriam’s characteristic behavior shows her inclination to display a perfect result, a reluctance to exhibit pre-competence confusion
One may laud such a stance as reflecting essential good taste (for who wants to overwhelm the possibility of communication with the mess inside every mind). However, for an ignorant child (is anyone at six years anything else) such a performance criterion is unrealistic and counterproductive. One of my objectives is to render Miriam less sensitive to revealing her imperfect comprehensions in the expectation tha her doing so will provide guidance to those who are willing to help her learn.