The Importance of Words in Education

The language of education has an enormous impact on how educators shape conversations about change in schools. That makes sense – words and how they are used matter. As you know, words in any language carry meaning, and that meaning is developed over the time the word is part of the language it supports.

classroom_cdsessumsThe language of education is composed of words that all educators understand and that carry a cultural representation of meaning. Words like teacher, administrator, assessment, lesson, unit, and textbook represent the commonly held vernacular of the spoken word of education. And while that shared understanding of meaning enables conversations and interactions to be understood and to be of value, it is that same shared understanding that limits conversations and interactions and creates boundaries because of what the word represents and how it is understood by educators. Ultimately, these boundaries may inhibit productive change by constraining thought, and as a result, direction and innovative action. In some ways, the language of education serves to support maintaining the status quo.

As an example, consider the word “classroom” and think about what that means.

Most likely, a mental image of what a classroom represents just popped into your mind. And it doesn’t matter if you are a teacher or not, everyone at some point has spent time in a “classroom” and can explain exactly what it looks like. And, it’s interesting to watch this word used in conversation, and how it is just a “given” among educators. Kids learn in classrooms-that’s the space of learning in schools and it looks like this-that’s the thinking. When educators talk about changing where students learn they talk about creating “21st Century classrooms.” Why does it have to be a classroom?

It is my belief that he first step in redesigning classrooms is to discard the notion that it must be a “classroom.”

Educators interested in changing the conditions for student learning must move beyond the traditional manifestation of what the word “classroom” has meant. Set that word aside for a moment and think in new directions and embrace a new vocabulary based in opportunity and possibility.

As an example of that, and the importance of how words influence change, what happens when the word “classroom” is replaced by the word “studio?” What does that word suggest? I might offer that it represents making, and creative and intellectual engagement. It certainly represents something different than “classroom” of the past. And if a school wanted to shift from a classroom model to a studio model as the primary location of learning, would the word itself make a difference in the progression and realization of that change?

My guess is that it would, because words matter.

Photo credit to cdsessums, some rights reserved.  Cross posted at K12 Blueprint Blog


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