Here is a quote that was on my cup of coffee this morning.
When I was young I was mislead by flash cards into believing that xylophones and zebras were much more common.
(Amy-Elyse Neer, Starbucks “The Way I See It” #297)
Xylophones and zebras are harmless when teaching children the alphabet, but there’s a tendency for teachers to keep throwing in xylophones and zebras — rare examples included for the sake of completeness — from preschool through graduate school. I was preparing for a class I’m teaching tomorrow when I read the quote, and so I had to ask myself whether I am giving xylophones and zebras more attention than they deserve.
One problem with xylophones and zebras is that a student’s difficulty may be the opposite of what the teacher imagines. The preschool teacher who thinks she’s teaching children about the letter “X” may be teaching them about xylophones instead. That’s not necessarily bad; children need to learn about xylophones sometime. But sometimes when we think someone doesn’t understand the idea we’re trying to convey, they get the big idea but don’t get our illustration.