Saying The Right Thing

1 Feb

Poking around classroom 2.0 I stumbled across this discussion about making shifts in the terminology we use in the classroom.

I extended understanding (see, Report Card writing is rubbing off on me) and remembered the First Steps Math workshop I attended in the fall. It was emphasized that using the same terminology across all the grades is critical to learning. Too often we teach primary students to ‘times’ numbers or ‘take away’, and in later grades have to correct and have them learn it’s actually called multiplication and subtraction.

Sometimes the terms we use are unintentionally misleading. When students learn how to subtract negative numbers, the numbers actually get bigger. This is confusing for students whove been told for years that they’re performing ‘take away’ away rather than performing a mathematical operation.

This sometimes poses a problem for me as a junior level teacher trying to cover a crowded math curriculum. Do I devote time to teaching vocabulary or to teaching the actual concept. I’ve tried simply insisting on the correct terminology, but this often confuses struggling students who are happy to grab any excuse to sidetrack learning.

The interesting part of the on-line discussion is how can we tweak terminology to enhance learning. If we say ‘publish’ your work rather than ‘hand it in’ does that help students think of their work as a piece of writing rather than an assignment to be completed.

I think anything we can do to make work more meaningful is good. My students are currently writing postcards, and many are delighted that I’ve promised them I’ll actually send their postcards through the mail. It might be our best writing assignment of the year.

I’m going to continue to be aware of the unintended power the words I use in the classroom carry.

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