Remembering the importance of language clarity in the classroom

We all know the saying about what happens when you assume, right? It’s ubiquitous because it can be so, so true. The challenge is, when you’re going a mile a minute and have so much to do, it can be easy to assume that you’re speaking the same language as the person or persons you’re speaking to. I am not ashamed to admit my guilt there but I’m proud of the ability to step back and realize no two perspectives are identical. In the case of teachers, the same goes for students and background knowledge. I was reminded of that when I attended the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy last week – an event I highly recommend looking into for next year (www.sendmyteacher.com). This weeklong PD immersion has educators from Math Solutions and the National Science Teachers Association diving deep into lessons with math and science teachers from around the country.  Of the many aha moments experienced, I found beauty in the simplicity of this one reminder: have clarity in language. Students (and adults) can easily get tripped up when using science and math terms as they are gaining understandings of concepts. Further, sometimes terms are used commonly outside the classroom in ways that make them more confusing in the classroom. Here is one quick example:

Acceleration is the rate at which the velocity of an object changes over time. As was raised in the Academy, when learning this term and concept, it is important to know acceleration can be velocity increasing or decreasing. The decreasing part could be hard to grasp because of outside “language forces”. For instance, deceleration is a word. The use of this word isn’t wrong in the English language but when teaching math and science, there isn’t a new formula to learn for deceleration. Meaning if a student is figuring out a car’s rate of slowing down or speeding up, either way he or she is determining its acceleration. And speaking of cars, only adding to the possible confusion is that the pedal with the power to move the car forward and faster is the accelerator while its counterpart to slow down has a completely unrelated name - the brake!      

With all of that said future scientists, mathematicians, engineers and other professionals that need to understand concepts such as acceleration will need to build clarity about their career’s language over the more common social language. A great reminder of just how much needs to go into lesson planning and that it is all in the details. Also, it is something to remember in general for all of us when chit chatting with people outside of our fields of expertise.

Photo via Moyan_Brenn