Teacher Language

As I’m getting back into the swing of things, I started looking through my blog.  Lo and behold, I discovered that I started writing a post…and didn’t finish it.  So, I”m going to post this “moment in time” and then tack on a conclusion of some sort.  Here you go!

I’m busy working on my thesis. Depending on how you look at it, I’ve reached either the halfway point or the two-thirds point. Either way, I’m getting closer to being done. I am very excited.

As I reach the end of my thesis writing, I am collecting and reading educational journals of various kinds. One of the goals of my particular thesis committee is that my thesis be broken into two articles that could be sent in for publication by a professional journal. So, I’ve been reading a little bit here and there to see which ones would be most appropriate for what I’ve been working on.

Right away, I am struck (again, actually) by how formal and overly complicated the language in most of these journals are. Seriously, it’s ridiculous and completely unattainable by most of the teachers I know. If you are not studying constantly (like a Grad student), there is simply no way for most teachers to be up on all of the right words for things they have been working on all along. For example, I’m reading an article right now by Susan Gebhard from the Journal of Teacher Education, and it’s really pretty good. However, here’s an example of some of the wording:

In short, social constructivism describes an instructional design process in which authentic learning experiences allow learners to build on their prior knowledge in context.

It is only because I am just finishing graduate school that I even know what that all means. I guarantee you that if I gave my fellow teachers a test in which they had to rewrite that sentence in their own words, a majority would be unable to do so and of those who were able to do it, most of them would be either in grad school or have their master’s degree already. (UPDATE:  I’m going to keep this in here.  Now that I’m looking at it after having completed my thesis and not completely burned out by reading, that sentence doesn’t seem confusing at all.  Apparently, my brain was fried…My point still holds true, but my example is not that great.)

Why does the language have to be so difficult to read and understand? If I am trying to teach something to my own students, I use simple, easy to understand words and phrases. If the purpose of these journals is to help our fellow teachers, shouldn’t it be easier to understand? Just this morning, I asked the librarian in my school how often the English Journal and Phi Delta Kappa were checked out and she told me that in all the years she had been there, she could count on one hand how many times either was checked out.

Maybe it’s just a sign of my region or my school.  I wonder if that is true.  I just think that language is often unnecessarily cluttered when it could be stated simply.  Eschew Obfuscation!

I am the language lover and these are my thoughts.

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1 Comment

  1. Scott Erb said,

    September 23, 2008 at 1:31 am

    Interesting, but there is an opposite problem I’m finding with college students. They want the language simple, clear and concise. When they come up against something complex, their common reaction is “he could have said that in half the space.” They don’t appreciate the slow building of an argument, the consideration of different ideas from the past that may have taken a perspective on it, and the careful differentiation between concepts and contexts which often require complex development. To be sure, that kind of reading isn’t necessary in most things — probably outside of academic discussion it’s rare. Also, some philosophers get hyper-concerned that they don’t commit the errors they criticize others of doing. Theodor Adorno (who I think is easier to read in German!) and Jacques Derrida (who I still can’t understand) are examples of that. I tell students its like learning a language — and it’s OK not to understand much of it. Grad school is sort of a time to learn that language. And, to be sure, for teachers the important task is to take complex topics and concepts and explain them in a way that guides students/learners to higher understanding. I think teachers (at whatever level) rebel against too much complexity because it’s just bad teaching! But, of course, the goal of most of these authors isn’t to teach, but to be part of an academic conversation with its own jargon.

    All that said, I tend to agree with you. At my cynical times I think jargon is used so people can feel like they’ve mastered a subject and know more than others.

    By the way to your example. I co-teach a course (Children and War) with an Education professor. One day we were talking about constructivism and it was odd — we were using the term in completely different ways. It turns out that in my field (Poli-Sci), it’s a theory that is based on social reality as a construct built on shared/contested understandings of reality. In her perspective it was a term from Piaget that is applied to learning. Once we realized our respective jargons used the same term differently, things got easier.


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