The importance of vocabulary I

This is going to be a short one for now, but I want to start a line of posts talking about vocabulary.  I keep trying to think about what I’m learning as I work my way through a variety of readings and discussions related to teaching and learning and interacting with students and other instructors, and I keep coming back to “vocabulary”.  A lot of the techniques and concepts that I’m coming across aren’t exactly new to me, but I didn’t have a name for them to use when discussing these things with others, like the “jigsaw” technique.  In other cases I’m learning more about the definition of a term that I’ve only had a vague, feeling-based concept of, so I have an improved understanding of what it means to use terms like the engagement/motivation/active learning set of terms that I’ve discussed in a previous post.

Does vocabulary matter?  I think it does, although I’m (somewhat ironically perhaps) struggling to express exactly why.  I also think it’s important that we make sure we agree on what terms mean.  Do you know what the terms negative/positive in combination with punishment/reinforcement mean in the context of behavioral psychology?  It’s not necessarily intuitive, and can lead to all sorts of unfortunate misunderstandings :-/  What ‘student engagement’ or ‘digital techniques’ or ‘visible learning’ or ‘creative learning’ mean might not be as clear as one would like to think, and jargon can keep newcomers to a group from engaging with more established folks in a meaningful way.  Is there a good way to serve the need for efficient communication between experts, while making the information the experts have readily accessible to newcomers?  Standardizing training is one way, but are there any reasonable alternatives?

Here in BC it is not necessarily required that post-secondary instructors have any formal training in teaching (although typically “teaching experience” of one form or another is required); instructors may be hired because they are content experts, or as research faculty whose primary role may be to produce new information, analyses, or products.  Is it reasonable to require additional training for people who have already put in the time and effort to become experts in their field?  Is informal or on-the-job training, with or without periodic evaluations, sufficient?  Should postsecondary programs all incorporate teaching training and evaluation, to prepare students to become teachers?  Would helping students evaluate how they learn most effectively (“learn to learn”), having students think about thinking and learning (metacognition), or requiring them to teach others (tutoring? seminar presentations?) as they go through their normal course of study produce more potentially great teachers?

I don’t have the answers, but have plenty to ponder!

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