Speak English Please: The Use of Educational Jargon

teacherjargonAs the school year begins, teachers prepare for their parent night, often called Open House. In a short period of time, they attempt to communicate their expectations for the school year. Homework policies are explained, behavior expectations discussed, schedules and policies are covered. There might be a few minutes for parents’ questions.  But how many parents walk out of the classroom really understanding what was said? This article in Slate magazine explains the disconnect one parent felt after trying to understand what her child’s teacher was saying.  Parents Left Behind.  The culprit?  Jargon. The language specific to teaching and education.

As in most professions, there is a lexicon of words specific to them.  I could not hold a conversation with a nuclear physicist, a computer programmer, or an audiologist about the details of their jobs unless they generalized and simplified their language to match my knowledge base.  Likewise, teachers have their own language.  As new educational initiatives are continually being developed and publishing companies scramble to align with these, along comes the new jargon to go with them.  We must learn, speak, and write this language. It comes with the job.

Common Core State Standards, for example, is the new initiative in curriculum and instruction that 46 states have adopted. These Standards are a guide for what content is to be taught and what skills students need to master to be career and college ready.  Naturally there is a new set of vocabulary that go with Common Core. In math, for example, the content is organized within a domain. At each grade level, there are several standards for each domain, and these are organized into clusters of related standards. Domain, standard, cluster. Eight practices are to be used by young mathematicians. In addition to attending to precision and constructing viable arguments, students will look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.  In the first grade.

In English Language Arts, students are expected to consider varying perspectives as they read increasingly complex texts and display their understanding within a performance- based assessment. A fifth grader needs to orient the reader and organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally while writing a narrative.

Beyond curriculum, there’s plenty more jargon: criterion-referenced tests, positive behavior intervention, data-driven instruction, differentiation, metacognition, brain-based learning, and lots of acronyms to go with them. But this is the language of the profession. What becomes problematic is when teachers, and policy, and mission statements aren’t understandable to parents or the public.  Potentially more damaging is when the jargon distances or removes us from the reason we teach: the students.  Andy Allan, a science teacher who blogs at sciencegeek.net supports this by saying heavy usage of education jargon says to parents: “You are not one of us” when parents are supposed to be our partners.

jargon                           blah

So, a simple reminder to my teaching colleagues – remember your audience when speaking to parents.  And parents, if you don’t understand, ask for explanations. In plain English.

I’ll leave you with this. Andy Allan, just for fun, created this:

Educational Jargon Generator

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About andreabittle

Teach happy. Teach right. Speak up!
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8 Responses to Speak English Please: The Use of Educational Jargon

  1. David Chura says:

    It’s not only parents who are left behind in the whole soup of what we call education these days. Teachers, as well. Busy just keeping a classroom going, taking care of kids, who has time for the latest (except if you don’t it may bomb your evaluation? Thanks for the post.

    • andreabittle says:

      David, this is so true! As a teacher I am cross-eyed with the constant barrage of “new” or newly-worded jargon. Now, evaluations is an upcoming and scary topic I plan to explore. sigh.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Another suggestion for Open House:
    Involve the kids! Instead of teachers standing in front of parents and firing information at them for 45 minutes, Open House could be set up with different stations that kids lead to explain all the different aspects that would go into the presentation–yes, even standards! Aren’t the kids the ones who are “being held accountable to meet them?” Also, I think organizing Open House this way really helps us think about what we want to communicate about the school and classroom, for whom, to whom, who should have a say. . . .What does it mean when kids, the “central players,” are shuttled off to a childcare room, or even worse, asked to stay home? Involving the kids will also help with the issue of jargon: If teachers really explain to kids what is going on so that the kids can explain to families, then it will also help teachers clarify what it is they really want to communicate. To go a step further. . . .could parents and families have a more active role in Open House? Could families provide more input beyond signing up for an item on the wish list. . . .? What might that look like. . . . How could we open up Open House. . . .?

  3. Pingback: What the heck does that even mean

  4. Jeff Nguyen says:

    But if schools don’t meet AYP then RTI will need to be implemented using the CCSS so that NCLB is achieved as we all RTTT. What parent wouldn’t understand that? 😉

    • andreabittle says:

      Be assured that RTI is well implemented and students move through the three tiers as needed, as documented, and reported. Along the way, they are tested with CBMs, progress monitored, and documented with graphing protocols. All is good, unless they fail to make expected growth, in which case, further assessments and interventions are needed, documented, and reported!

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