This is something that good educators like yourself require from students because you know it is essential to your students’ success. This is the case in all disciplines. Without precise use of language you know that students may miscommunicate meaning, cause unintended confusion or access inadequate information. Have you seen this happen before? I’ve seen this happen, but not only with students. I have also seen this with well-intended educators.
The first notable time I recognized the need for using precise language among educators was in a professional learning session with middle and high school teachers. They debated with me at length–conversations and emails spanning a week to be exact–about the meaning of a cognitive process. As math teachers, they argued that evaluate meant to solve a problem and that evaluate held a different meaning for math than for other subjects. I wrote about it in 2012. You can see my response here.
The second notable time the need for using language precisely was highlighted was during a classroom visit. I noticed the objective read, “Students will analyze their answers and correct their errors,” but after a few minutes of observing students I saw that they were simply redoing the problems that were done incorrectly on a test. There was no process of breaking down the whole into its constituent parts to determine the interconnections and surface their faulty reasoning. Students simply redid their wrong answers.
The third notable time I recognized the need for precise language was during a professional learning session where a school administrator asked, “Doc, what’s the difference between analyze and evaluate?”
It became strikingly apparent that while we may use common terms, we do not hold common understandings and that our imprecision with how we define cognitive processes can interfere with our students’ learning. This sentiment was echoed recently by an educator during a Core Deconstructed workshop. After an activity that focused on gaining common understanding of common terms she reflected saying,
This was good for me because I see how we use these terms all of the time, but we ourselves had difficulty clarifying them. It made me think that if we have difficulty clarifying them, then somehow it’s impacting the way we teach and impacting what our students learn […] and this is particularly important for the population of students I serve. I have to be precise with my language.
Given her statement I ask, when you are collaborating with your peers, providing support to your colleagues or leading your staff particularly when the topic of transformation and new standards are involved, are you sure there is no miscommunication due to language imprecision? If your answer is an emphatic, “Yes! I am sure!” then great. But if you are not absolutely sure, here are three steps you can take to be sure.
- Agree to agree on gaining common understanding while maintaining individual creativity
- Agree to access The Core Deconstructed® as a tool for fostering common understanding and individual creativity
- Agree to collaborate on working through the process together to ensure common understanding and individual creativity
Whether you use this process or another, one thing remains true: the use of imprecise language when organizing for student success will most certainly lead to miscommunicated meaning, unintended confusion and inadequate information.