This may seem an odd topic for EdWeek, but I promise I will tie it into education in juuust a minute: Vocabulary.
With concerns abound regarding the effects of social media on communication, I worry that there is a growing acceptance of the condensing of language in general (a concern shared by the great Ralph Fiennes, who is terrific in Skyfall I might add). Each time I am told to “dumb down” the language of a work product by an editor or a boss, I cringe in frustration. So now I am here to fight the good fight: let there be lingo!
There is a reason words exist, and it is not for smart people to take pride in how smart they are. Words have meaning, and the more of them you use in proper context, the more granular in explanation you can get within a question or a statement; the more correct you can be with your communication.
For example, when we speak of emotions, we tend to state that we are “sad” or “happy” or “mad,” but do these words even begin to tell the tale of how we actually feel? Sure, they are helpful for a five-year old just beginning to understand the complexities of the human psyche, but when communicating with an adult, the word “happy” can imply dozens if not hundreds of different emotions: content, overjoyed, satisfied, upbeat, blissful, intoxicated--all could fall within the category of “happy,” yet each implies a unique state of being.
As person-to-person interaction becomes increasingly digital (and thusly communicative cues such as tone and body language are left for dead), it is more important than ever to supply oneself with an array of word choices with which to assemble messages. When it comes to communication through text, word choice is the be all and end all. The slightest shift in vocabulary can thoroughly transform contextual meaning.
Furthermore, there are just so many cool words out there to be used if you find yourself within the proper context. Next up on my list: either jobbernowl or sardoodledom.
Now, what does this have to do with education, you may be asking? Beside for the obvious need to promote a national dialogue on Language Arts that often gets pushed to the side with all the focus on STEM improvement, I think vocabulary is an apt comparison for the argument in favor of ed-tech--and I love to argue in favor of ed-tech.
To keep it short and sweet, the deeper your lexicon of useful expressions, the more options you have to articulate feelings, the more refined your communication will be. Similarly, the more options you provide for a student to learn (whether it be traditional textbooks, lectures, one-on-one tutoring, video lessons, adaptive software, DIY, or social networks), the more likely you are to tap into that student’s potential. Maybe a student learns grammar just fine from a standard Prentice Hall textbook, but when it comes to chemistry, she comprehends the material better from an interactive software program coupled with a peer-to-peer online presentation.
Ed-tech proponents do not seek to overthrow the current regime of K-12 traditionalists (well, most of us don’t anyway). What we seek is a plethora of possibility. We want to make the learning experience as big as the reaches of the universe, while simultaneously as small as an intimate classroom setting. Both have obvious benefits; why not tap into the benefits of each?
Just as an arsenal of words can amplify communication, so too can an arsenal of learning paths amplify education.
The opinions expressed in Reimagining K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.