The vocabulary of teaching: a work in progress..

Vietnam and Cambodia - 83From posts on twitter to conversations in the staffroom, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the use of vocabulary in the classroom and particularly how we (to quote Alex Quigley) “close the vocabulary gap” for our students.  But this post isn’t about students and developing their vocabulary, instead my reflections have turned to the teaching profession and the vast vocabulary that we use every day that is part of teaching but would make no sense in any other situation!

The issue with the vocabulary of teaching is that is is very hard to pin down and it’s often reinterpreted with new government agendas or curriculum ideas.  We have to keep up with the trends and expectations but, from books to conversations in department meetings, I’ve come to notice how certain words and phrases are being interpreted differently by different people. This has been especially apparent in conversations with early career teachers as they often find the same terms being used for slightly different reasons and with these varying interpretations.

So over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to note down where the vocabulary of teaching seems to be being used with different interpretations (sometimes associated with commonly held perceptions or the myths in the profession!) in terms of where I have found people have misinterpreted what they are being told and what it seemed the people really meant when they used the term.

My notes so far are in the table at the end of this post.  However, they come with a big caveat – as I’ve been looking at them, it’s clear to me that my interpretation of what the term means will not be same for everyone. There will be people who think the terms should reflect and be defined by what is in the ‘it doesn’t mean’ column.  And for me that’s ok.  People will disagree.  That’s why there is an element of interpretation and subjectivity in their meaning (my best example here is that some people will say confidence testing has a place in AfL in lessons but for me I’d rather actually assess whether or not they do understand than think they do – neither of us are wrong, we just approach this aspect of teaching differently).  What is important, therefore, is that within your classroom, department and school you have a shared understanding of what they exactly mean in your setting and that’s why I started making these notes as a way to help our early career teachers work their way through this vocabulary and unpick what we mean when we use certain terms. When was the last time you checked that you, your colleagues and your school were all working with the same definitions for the vocabulary we use everyday in teaching as teachers?

I’ll be continuing to reflect on/add to/amend/ditch the different bits on this table this year with a view to creating a vocabulary and definition list for the new teachers I’ll be working with next year so they start the year with a shared understanding of what we mean when we use these terms in school – even if they come across them with different interpretations in different settings.  Thoughts/reflections very welcome – this is very much a work in progress.

We talk so much about… What it doesn’t mean… What it does mean…
AfL (assessment for learning) Having to have peer/self assessment in every lesson

Having to mark every piece of work

Confidence testing

Using questioning to illicit how well something has been understood

Including quizzes and multiple choice/hinge questions to check understanding

BfL (behaviour for learning) Don’t smile until Christmas

Everything needs to be in silence

Students cannot articulate an opinion

Giving praise for something everyone should just do

Smiling and praising genuine effort and attainment

Being fair

Being consistent

Standing firm on high expectations

Lesson planning Writing out long detailed plans that never get looked at

Checking off boxes to show group work, pair work, self/peer assessment, etc is in every lesson – sometimes one isn’t relevant!

Finding ‘fun’ activities to keep students’ engaged

Being very clear on what students need to know/be able to do when they leave the lesson and working backwards from this
Marking and feedback Feeling like you need to read and comment on everything the student has written

Ticking and flicking just to show you’ve ‘done your marking’

Always having to say how it could be improved – some answers are just great first time round!

Planning which individuals pieces of work you will be giving feedback on and how you will be doing this

Thinking about which pieces of work can be effectively self or peer assessed

Focusing on what the student needs to be working on next

Developing your own teacher persona Reinventing the wheel and doing everything from scratch so it is ‘yours’

Trying to speak or act in a way that is completely out of your comfort zone

Compromising your values

Picking up best practice from other teachers and adopting these as part of your teacher identity

Deciding which aspects of you that you are going to share with your students to show you are a real person

Working out how to use your voice and body language in a classroom that plays to your strengths

Always keeping what led you to become a teacher at the core of everything you do


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