We’re not even speaking the same Language

There are several debates around education that seem to be going nowhere. Partly because you have folks with longstanding beliefs but also because the participants are not speaking the same language.

The issue today of course is that many of these debates aren't really debates but exchanges of sound bites in media outlets, comment fields, twitter and passing remarks in a variety of settings. These sound bites become part of the culture and people are often quick to choose sides in efforts to find simple solutions to complex problems

I've been thinking of a few of these issues and without trying to argue further for any position, although I do have my opinions, perhaps it's important to at least frame the issues more clearly. Here goes.


Training vs and Learning

In the world of education and professional development the word training is often used to describe a particular event. "We're having Smartboard training". "I've been trained in the Montessori method".  Training is the acquisition of skills toward a competency. Many criticize the use of training as they hear things like "iPad training" which assumes that there are skills needed to be competent in using an iPad. There may be some skills but most would argue they are minimal and likely don't warrant formal training. Training usually doesn't offer a lot of wiggle room. Perhaps you might classify this as the science of teaching.

Other forms of professional development are more intellectually demanding and require much more of a constructivist approach. These are the ones that are about pedagogy and are more complex. There is no prescribed method and thus "training" seems like the wrong word. In fact, even calling it "professional development"  can be less than accurate and to me conjures up a linear approach. In our district we've been using the term "professional learning". For most, the difference is negligible, but I think it's an important distinction. 

By no means I'm I suggesting one is more important. One is certainly more complex and perhaps we're at a point where we need to be focused more on the challenging stuff but I know that I've been guilty of dismissing training as menial and unnecessary at times. That's a somewhat arrogant attitude I need to guard against. 


Assessment and Evaluation

These two terms may be interchangeable in some circles but in our district and province and many other jurisdictions, they have an important distinction. We've been using the word assessment to refer to formative assessment. We like to think of the Latin meaning of the word which means "to side beside". This makes assessment the coaching part of teaching where we don't focus on a grade but rather provide meaningful feedback to help the learner learn more. Evaluation is the summative portion where we assign value to the learning. When people use the word assessment, they often refer to assignments and the work that will be evaluated. Again, it may seem like interchangeable terms but when you are trying to make clear distinctions and promote the use of formative assessment, it's important to be clear on the two terms.



Along with a recent grading policy controversy in our own province, homework is continually a controversial topic. Part of the controversy centers around what homework should be for. Here's a few perspectives:

  • finishing work not done in class
  • practice
  • punishment
  • extending learning/working because there's not enough time in class

Again, homework means very different things to different people. It's a generic term and when debate occurs, people may be thinking very different things. Alfie Kohn writes a lengthy, but valuable article outlying why homework, in most cases, may not be a good practice. It's worth a read and for me, one I'll read more than once.

Other terms of confusion include "Literacy and Skills" and "Cooperation and Collaboration". I'll wait for Ben Grey to blog about those. 

I'd be grateful to hear your thoughts on these terms or feel free to add other terms you feel often are either misrepresented or misunderstood. Too often, discussions are taking place and people aren't even speaking the same language. 

Photo: Day 233: Talk to the Hand. http://www.flickr.com/photos/sarahmae/2048336011/

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