Education Phrases Banned From 2016, Part 2: Readers Voice Their Pet-Peeves

In late December, Matt Barnum polled a dozen education experts about the education words and phrases they would propose banning from 2016 — phrases that are “vapid, overused, meaningless, or just plain wrong.” The results were published in a roundup: 8 Common (But Worthless) Education Phrases That Should Die in 2015. We invited readers to submit their own picks for words that should be stricken from the record. Below are four notable replies, edited for length and clarity. (If you’d like to weigh in, send your picks to info@the74million.org)

Authentic Learning
Submitted By: David Whitman (Former chief speechwriter for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan)
(See also: “Authentic engagement” and “Authentic assessments”)
What is inauthentic learning? Terms such as “authentic learning” and “authentic assessments” are used by opponents of standardized testing and in schools of education to suggest that earning gains in math, reading, and science documented in annual assessments are phony test prep gains that do not rise to the level of actual learning in the real world.
Distinguishing between purported “authentic learning” and “inauthentic” learning reduces learning in math, reading, and science to either a) the eye of the beholder (typically, anti-testing critics); or b) makes the measurement of “authentic learning” (e.g, through the use of alternative “authentic” measuring sticks like portfolio presentations) unreliable and incapable of being compared from district to district or across states.
It’s no small feat when a teacher’s students or students school-wide show large improvements in math, reading, or science. Those teachers and schools should be applauded for their hard work and teaching excellence — not dissed for promoting illusory, ‘inauthentic’ gains in learning.
New Year’s resolution for improvements to the lexicon: Edu-bloggers, reporters, and members of Congress get remedial instruction in the correct use of the terms “federal mandate”, “coercion”, and “incentives”, as well as a crash course on the different meanings of “content standards”, “curriculum”, and “assessments.”
Submitted by: Laura E. Garza
“Rigor” is one of those words that needs to be thrown out in 2016.
This word has been overused and under defined in the education world. To be clear, this word is fascinating, but lacks truth as all students are not held to the same challenging academic standards and expectations.
Differentiation (and “21st Century Skills”)
Submitted by: Lynn A. Pattison
Amen! Amen! Amen! I couldn’t agree more with the story about Education Terms that should be retired in 2016. My colleagues and I have often discussed some of these same topics, but the two which have been particularly problematic recently are the idea that “differentiation” can take care of a classroom with 25 or more students whose reading abilities at 7th grade range from 1st grade to 12th, (it can’t) and that providing students with “21st Century Skills” is more important than providing them with knowledge (it isn’t).
Differentiation is a great idea in theory that falls under the weight of reality. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to develop, teach and monitor 25 different lesson plans per student. In our required heterogeneous classrooms (tracking is somehow morally offensive), the bright kids tune out because they are bored, the slow kids give up and let other students do the work, and the only students whose needs are being consistently addressed are those in the middle. High schools offer AP and Honors courses along with remedial courses. How I wish we could do that at the middle school level.
Regarding “21st Century Skills”: I teach 7th grade U.S. History, and my colleagues and I were actually told in a Common Core workshop on an Institute Day two years ago that “content doesn’t matter; what counts are the skills.” Look at the most recent Social Studies standards and you will notice that they are indeed heavily focused on skills rather than the basic knowledge students need to enable them to analyze, compare, draw conclusions, etc. Trying to develop a curriculum around skills without content is a frustrating and pointless exercise (yet we met once a week all year to write new curriculum around this idea). I chose to become a teacher 18 years ago after working 15 years as a journalist because I was excited about what I saw going on in classrooms I covered. In recent years, the drive to replace engaging activities with analytical writing at the middle school level has left me worn out, uninspired, and discouraged. I keep hearing that we need to attract the best and brightest to education. Well, I had a 4.0 GPA in grad school and a 3.95 as an undergrad, and I’m here to tell you that intellectual ability is less important for K-8 teachers than a heart for kids and the ability to connect with them.
My suggested New Year’s Resolution for 2016 is this: how about giving educators the respect we are due as professionals, and please, how about conceding that we actually DO know what we’re doing?
In Defense of ‘Differentiation’
Submitted by: Gayle Fisher
I think Mr. Wright and Mr. Finn are absolutely wrong about the word and the skillful educational practice of differentiation. If done incorrectly, it can be akin to “triage”, however, if a teacher is skilled and creative, I believe it is the best method for all students to achieve individual and group goals.
Teachers who have not learned how to differentiate material will find it difficult, and do a poor job. This makes it easier to teach to the “middle”, as I have seen much too often. Differentiation strongly depends on the philosophy, skill, creativeness and commitment of time for a teacher to prepare material that elevates the understanding and performance of all students within a classroom. It can be done, and it can be done well!
As a teacher who has taught in self-contained, integrated, conventional and dual-language classrooms, of 15 to 28 students, differentiation was essential, and has been essential throughout my entire career. It is time consuming and that’s why many teachers shy away from it. The teacher must conform to the needs of the students, rather than the students conforming to the singular presentation of the teacher. It’s very hard work and takes time to create material for all levels within one classroom; especially when you have to create the material yourself to fit the needs of your students.
Excellent Teaching is a difficult job! More teachers should be skillfully taught the method rather than excluding this word, and the method from the educational lexicon.

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