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  • Writer's pictureKristin Phillips

Is Teacher Lingo Good for Kids?

This week I went to an engaging literacy workshop. I had a wonderful time discussing strategies and meeting with colleagues. I came away feeling like I “get it” even better and that is my definition of good professional development. And, I learned some new lingo: ‘Rules of Notice’ based on the work of Peter Rabinowitz in Before Reading. I liked, as a teacher, the idea behind “Rules of Notice” because it helps me, as a teacher, break down reading comprehension, develop mini-lessons, better understand how readers process text. (Here’s a link: Among the literacy teachers we began to discuss things like:

– should this become an anchor chart? – should kids know that these things are called “Rules of Notice”? – how much of this language should we use? – do kids need to ‘learn’ this?

Over the past few years I have begun to worry about how much of the language of pedagogy is being transferred to students, all with good intentions, and probably arising from the very clear research that states that students learn best when we give them clear learning goals and success criteria. But, do they need to learn the lingo in order to learn the stuff? And, do we get caught up in having kids learn the lingo at the expense of learning the stuff?

It is not uncommon to hear young readers having a lesson on “Making Connections”. The teacher is reading an engaging book aloud and the young readers are putting up their hands every time they “make a connection”. The worry I have is that the students are so focused on the singular task of “making a connection” that they are missing out on the richness of the story. And, often, many of their “connections” do not add to their deeper understanding of the story at all. It reminds me of the time I saw my daughter doing her grade 11 English homework. She was flipping through the novel while watching TV and messaging her friends. I asked her what the assignment was. “I have to make a connection. I’m looking for one. I’m really getting tired of this making connection stuff.” In both cases the lingo of teaching had become the task and the greater point of why and how readers use the strategy of making connections to understand text had been lost.

So how much of the lingo that is embedded in our current practice is important for students to understand? Can a student understand the associative property of multiplication without being to able to name it? Do primary students need to know the term “success criteria” in order to understand what to do to make their writing better? Can I, as the teacher, use the “Rules of Notice” to help students understand text without calling them such? I think so.

When I go to the doctor, I don’t want the doctor to speak to me in the same lingo that she speaks in with other doctors. When I go to the mechanic, I definitely do not want to speak the same lingo, and, in fact, I do expect him to understand ME when I refer to the thing-a-ma-jig that is rattling. And, when I go to a five-star restaurant, I do not need to know all the fancy cooking terms to talk to the chef. Now, one could argue that in all those cases I am not learning the material the “expert” knows, I am only conversing with them. But our students are not learning to be teachers–they are learning to think and create and do at the level that is appropriate to their development.

Learning goals and success criteria do not need to be hung in a primary classroom labelled as such. They certainly don’t need to be written in a kindergarten room where no one can read them anyways! However, a primary class could have an anchor chart titled “What Good Writers Do”. A junior math class can have examples of how multiplication works without labeling it the associative property and the distributive property. We need to begin to think about how to communicate the ideas to students in language that is jargon free and appropriate to their learning.

Educators know that clear targets, examplars, learning goals and success criteria communicated to students will help them to succeed. But, let us not mix up clear communication with rote learning of educational jargon. Let’s remember that they are just kids trying to make sense of the world. We, as their teachers, have a lot of knowledge about content and pedagogy. We use that knowledge to make sense of our profession and talk to each other. We are not teaching students to become teachers. The real gift of teaching is engaging students in discovery and wonder in ways that make sense to them. I don’t think the pedagogical lingo is helping.

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