Deliberate Language

At TMC17, Glenn Waddell did a My Favorite on being deliberate about the words we use to describe the humans in our classrooms: whether it in addressing the whole group (“you guys”) or how we describe the humans we interact with daily in our classroom settings (“students”). It got me thinking.

I have been guilty of referring to a whole group of people as “you guys,” even when the group is not all male. I hadn’t really ever thought about it. I have been working on deliberately not using this term in my daily language. I am generally successful. I have taken to referring to the group of people in my classroom as “ladies and gentlemen.” I’m not really sure why I have stuck upon this phrase – maybe it is hopeful in that they will live up to the title (as opposed to boys and girls), but it is working for me at this point. I noticed today when I was a parent observing my son’s sixth grade band class that the teacher referred to the whole group as children (which is true…), but again, not “you guys.” I am liking not using “you guys,” and am continuing to work on my language.

When Glenn was talking about using “learners” versus “students” in his work, I really liked the idea. It made sense to me. The individuals in my classroom should be learning, not just studying, mathematics. So, I started trying to change that language in my own vocabulary.

I am having trouble with this.

Find and replace in Word is incredibly helpful with this. However, you have to remember to use it… I keep forgetting to change my own language. Other teachers use students, not learners. It feels kind of “high and mighty” to use it. I’m not sure why. It just doesn’t feel right to me. I keep trying, but it just isn’t clicking with me yet.

In all of this, I have noticed how important it is to use proper mathematical language. It seems like it’s not a big deal. I got thinking about it one day as I was teaching the same material for the third or fourth time. When I use informal language in the classroom, while it may seem to help students learners to grasp the material better, it can also cloud understanding. For example, when we use FOIL in class to explain multiplying a binomial expression by another binomial expression, it does explain the mechanics of doing so. But, if I give a student learner a binomial expression and a trinomial expression to multiply, FOIL no longer works, So I use the phrase “double distribute” to indicate what to do, so when a learner encounters the binomial expression multiplying a trinomial expression, he or she will have a better idea of how to begin expanding the multiplication.

Now, while I’m not at the point of using “additive inverse” (one of my, now retired, colleagues used this every time properly and I used to think it was stuffy…), I am finding that I am more of a stickler on using proper language. Language is important. All of the time.

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