Buzzwords, Jargon or Just What Things are Called in Education?

This past Saturday I was fortunate to present “Motivation, Engagement and Assessment” to a group of new teachers at the annual BCTF New Teachers Conference.  I always jump at opportunities to speak to, and work with, new teachers.  They bring so much enthusiasm to teaching that I can’t help but be inspired by the next generation of teachers coming into the profession.  My passion and motivation is continually rekindled by interactions with those who crave knowledge and understanding of the complexities of teaching.

During these presentations I use the words that I believe to be the terminology, or “jargon,” of teaching.   In the middle of this presentation I started to think of some of the interactions I have had with some teachers about education research and current practice, and the common response they give me; some version of the “its only buzzwords and jargon; a different lingo to describe the things we’ve been doing for years.”  Standing in front of these new teachers, who may or may not be well versed in the language of teaching, I wondered aloud, “Don’t we have to call stuff, stuff?”  Admittedly, not very concise language, but it struck me; how do we talk about teaching and student learning if we don’t share some language and an understanding of what educational “jargon” is?  And, how do we have important conversations about teaching practices without them being dismissed as “buzzwords” or “jargon?”

I wanted to dig a little deeper here to be sure I was using these terms in appropriate ways.  Wikipedia (yes I used it, and I trusted it) defines jargon as  “terminology which is especially defined in relationship to a specific activity, profession, group, or event.” Then I ask, is educational jargon something negative or just terminology specific to our profession?  Buzzwords (again from Wikipedia) are words that are used to impress, or words that are fashionable.  How do words go from the negatively connoted,“fashionable” buzzwords used to “impress,” to the words we use to describe the act of teaching?  Why do some dismiss educational terminology, and the ideas within, as jargon and buzzwords unworthy of consideration?

While I understand there is a lot of terminology or jargon (forgive me, I am using them interchangeably now) in many of the discussions around education and change in education (including, but not limited to, personalized learning, 21st century learning, assessment for learning, inquiry and project based learning, engagement, literacy, metacognition, feedback, formative, summative, learning progression, backwards design… I could go on), I am concerned that the good ideas that lie within supposed “jargon” are thrown out by some because of the fact it is called something at all.  This is especially true if the “new” idea isn’t in fact new, but a perceived recycling and repackaging of a practice that has been around for years and is given a new name.   How do we go about making this “new” terminology known and understood by all stakeholders: teachers, students and parents?  How do we begin to learn to speak the same language?

I believe there is value in many of the practices teachers have used for a long time, and there also is value in many of the more recent ideas in teaching.  A continued conversation is needed to decide what is worth keeping and what might be ready, for reconsideration given what research is telling us.  Ultimately, as a profession we need to not to dismiss any idea that is shown to have a positive impact on student learning regardless of what its called.   The conversation must be kept on the ideas themselves, not what they are called.  We owe it to our students to not let perceived “buzzwords” and “jargon” prevent us from meaningfully talking about teaching and student learning.


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