Thursday, 3 January 2013

Words that I'm uncomfortable with...

Below are a few words that I'm a little uncomfortable with, when they're used in an education context... I don't generally break out in a cold sweat when I hear these words... but, for me, they tend to send a message, represent a particular belief, or imply a notion that I don't feel good about.

Awards / rewards

As in: Students receiving these for some form of achievement...
Why not? They are often awarded too far past the actual achievement; They are extrinsic motivators which do little to facilitate intrinsic drivers or sustainably motivate students; They can devalue those that don't get the award; They tend to promote competition, rather than collaboration.
Alternative(s)? There is not much doubt about the importance of feedback for student learning - feedback often includes points, stickers, reward systems, etc, but the focus should still be on informing the child about what they've done right / wrong and what they need to do to improve. Extrinsic motivators can play a part in providing this feedback ('I've earned points for that action - I must be doing the right thing... '), but we should try to avoid having them become the reason the child performs the task... 

Behaviour management

As in: 'You need good behaviour management to be able to control the class... '
Why not? The word "management" wrecks it for me... It implies a negative outlook - 'the best I can hope for is to 'manage' these students... '. It also suggests that control is the goal, or the desired outcome.
Alternative(s)? 'Student wellbeing'... 'Behaviour development'... 'Social skills'... Anything that shifts to a growth mindset would be preferable for me - I want to help people learn, not control them...


As in: 'The students should be compliant... ', or 'Little Johnny is being non-compliant... '
Why not? My iPad dictionary's definition is "Inclined to agree with others or obey rules, especially to an excessive degree" - ummm... excessively agreeing with others doesn't really fit with 21st century skills and mindsets like critical thinking and innovation... And I am not a ruler of a kingdom - I don't want, need or deserve (!) to be obeyed...
Alternative(s)? Engaged = attracted, involved, participated - a far loftier goal for how we want students to act in our classrooms.


As in: 'There should be consistency from teacher to teacher, from classroom to classroom... '
Why not? I'm not as sure about this one, as this is a commonly-stated goal for school improvement... However, it doesn't really sit well with me - consistency is good if it refers to raising the level of quality to the highest level in existence, but not if it is restricting people by devaluing their individual strengths...
Alternative(s)? I think we need to do more to unleash teachers to exercise their individual strengths. Having to conform is demotivating. Perhaps aspiring towards consistency through a greater focus on collaboration and sharing of individual strengths is a better way...


As in: 'We need to make sure we are doing the explicit teaching'...
Why not? I'll refer again to the iPad's dictionary... "Stated clearly and in detail, leaving no room for confusion or doubt". I'm not against this form of teaching, per se, but it is more the common, underlying message that I'm not comfortable with - to me, when someone makes a statement like the example above, they are reinforcing traditional, teacher-centric models of education. I think there are times when kids need to have concepts and skills "stated clearly and in detail... ", but I don't think we need to be reinforcing and promoting 'telling' at the expense of authentic, first hand learning experiences if we can help it...
Alternative(s)? Anything that shifts the emphasis from the teaching to the learning.


As in: 'The quality of instruction is important to student learning'... 
Why not? Like the previous example, it is more the message being sent than the actual application of the term, itself, that doesn't 'sit right' with me... 'Instruction' is defined as "a direction or order", or "detailed information telling how something should be done... ". Similar to the last example, it values the notion of the teacher being heavily responsible for any learning that occurs. We know that students having first-hand experiences of concepts for themselves leads to deep and lasting learning - 'instruction' implies a restriction of this capacity, as information is 'fed' to students.
Alternative(s)? Similar to the previous example - shift the emphasis to the student being the most active participant in the learning experience, rather than passively receiving from the teacher... Perhaps 'guiding', or 'assisting'..?

Preparing for (High School... University... Tests... )

As in: 'We need to be preparing students for the homework demands they will have in high school... for how to write essays at university... for how to take mandated, standardised tests... '
Why not? No we don't - we don't need to dumb down and compromise what we hold to be our best practice, in order to 'prepare' students for somebody else's poor practice.
Alternative(s)? Stick to our guns about what we believe to be best for student learning - don't throw out these beliefs and values because other institutions are making poor decisions... 


As in: 'Little Johnny [may or may not be the same child from the earlier example... ] is not showing any respect... '
Why not? This is a tricky one, as showing and treating people with respect is undoubtedly a good thing. However, sometimes it comes across from people that they are 'entitled' to automatic respect, by way of their position. This is not a healthy way for teachers, school leaders, or anybody to go about seeking respect. People - children included - rightly respect actions and behaviours, rather than positions or titles.
Alternative(s)? Something that implies equality in the relationship - respect should be reciprocal. We need to earn the respect of the students and the colleagues that we work with via our actions. 


As in: 'We need to set some standards about student behaviour... ', or 'your child's report reflects their achievement against their year level standards... '
Why not? Regarding behaviour, we obviously need to have some clearly-communicated boundaries that students understand, but it is the overly-aggressive, show-'em-who's-boss, standard-setting that can ruin relationships before they have a chance to form... With standards-based curriculum reporting, it seems a little easier to inform parents how their child compares [albeit in simplistic, five-point scale terms... ], but a little harder to accurately inform them of where their child is actually achieving at and the appropriate next steps for their future learning... 
Alternative(s)? We need to teach students appropriate behaviours, just like we teach them to read, write, etc. Expecting students to all meet a designated standard [and getting upset when they don't] is akin to expecting them to all be at the same standard for English, Maths, etc. With curriculum standards, we need to be careful that we are not funneling people down a narrow path towards a... standard [!!] outcome - people need opportunity to focus on and develop their unique interests, talents and passions.


As in: 'That is the tradition around here... '
Why not? Excessive reliance on traditional ways is becoming less and less useful in a world that is changing faster and faster. 
Alternative(s)? We need to be open to change and new ways. 'Because that's the way we've done it in the past... ' is becoming less and less valid as a reason for making a decision. 

What do you think..?

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