Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

Habits of Mind: Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision

Quick programming note: I am on the cusp of finishing the coursework in my doctoral program, which means that from here on out, my dissertation is the last thing between me and a funny hat and three more letters after my name.  That project will be taking up the majority of my free time for the foreseeable future, so I will likely only be blogging once per month (as opposed to my regular twice) for a while.  


This post is part of a series on sixteen “Habits of Mind” put forth by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick as being “necessary for success in school, work, and life” (Costa & Kallick, 2010, p. 212).

Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision: Be clear!  Striving for accurate communication in both written and oral form; avoiding overgeneralizations, distortions, and deletions.

I think anyone who works in the special education field long enough develops fluency in a second language comprised entirely of acronyms.  Between IEP, FAPE, PLAAFP, LRE, ICS, SLD, ADHD, ODD, BIP, FBA, CBA, WISC, BASC, and countless others, I’m convinced I could hold a conversation in public with another special educator that would absolutely confound eavesdroppers.

I’m a longtime reader (and big fan) of Jim Gerl’s Special Education Law Blog, and last year he posted a footnote from a court decision that read, in part:

One suspects that regulators and bureaucrats love such jargon because it makes even simple matters cognizable only to the cognoscenti and thus enhances their power at the expense of people who only know English. Nevertheless, acronyms have so invaded IDEA practice that this judge, like others before him, is pretty much stuck with having to use them.

Jim then posed the question of whether the use (or overuse) of acronyms is an ethical issue in special education.  I absolutely believe it is, and I am absolutely guilty of being on the wrong side of it at times.

Every profession has jargon; it’s a shorthand that people who know the ecosystem use with others “in the know”.  I don’t ask my behavior specialist to conduct a functional behavior analysis; I ask her for an FBA, and it’s fine because we both know exactly what we mean when we use that term.  But that use of jargon can also be exclusionary, and while I believe it’s OK to use in that professional shorthand capacity, we must be doubly aware of our language choices when working with folks who do not live in “our bubble” in order to create an inclusive, welcoming environment.

Like I said, I’m hardly innocent.  I’ve become so accustomed to using that shorthand that I may use it when speaking with parents in IEP meetings, for example, when referring to ICS (In-Class Support) vs. OCR (Out-of-Class Replacement) classes.  I’ve been stopped and asked to clarify or explain myself, and while I’m happy to, I am disappointed in myself that I had to put someone in a position where I was so unclear they needed to stop me and ask for an explanation.  I’m sure it makes them feel excluded to some degree, which is never my intention, but is nevertheless the result.

Language should facilitate communication, not hinder it.  Jargon is OK to use when we are communicating with people who know the language.  When we are not, however, it is imperative that we shift linguistic gears and stop using acronyms unless we are 100% sure that everybody in the conversation knows what they mean.  If we can’t be sure, use plain English.  I try to be a self-aware, reflective professional, and this is an area I can improve upon.  At the very least, “forthright explanation of services” is an explicitly stated part of NASP’s professional ethics code for school psychologists, but you don’t need to see it in a formal document to know that you can’t have inclusive, team-oriented interactions unless everybody is speaking the same language.


Costa, A.L. & Kallick, B.  (2010).   It takes some getting used to: rethinking curriculum for the 21st century.  In H. H. Jacobs (Ed.), Curriculum 21: essential education for a changing world (pp. 210-226).  Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Words Mean Things IV

For some context, see my previous three “Words Mean Things” posts.

Last time I wrote one of these posts, girls were too pretty to do math.  I guess a lot has changed in the STEM world in the last two years, because now they get their own pretty pink telescopes:


(circles and arrows mine)

In case you started to get the crazy idea that anyone could have whatever color telescope they wanted, please note that the pink one is clearly marked “For Girls” and the blue is clearly marked “For Boys“. 

I get it.  It’s perfectly OK for girls to like pink and boys to like blue.  My daughter loves pink and would undoubtedly love a pink telescope, car, cell phone, and anything else that can come in a color (in fact, she asked for this as soon as she saw it).  But is it not a bit patronizing to engage in this kind of gender-specific marketing (that worked so well for Bic, if you recall) in 2013?  Is it even necessary for items like pens, telescopes, soda, and chocolate, all of which seem fairly gender-neutral in their appeal?

Research Opportunity: Writing and AAC

Normally unsolicited emails about products, guest posts, or “special opportunities” get deleted with barely a cursory skim, but I received one recently that I felt warranted a closer look, and eventually a blog post (guess there’s a first time for everything).

Samuel Sennott is a doctoral student at Penn State and the co-creator of the Proloquo2Go app for iOS.  I have seen firsthand how nonverbal students can use this software to communicate, and I can’t overstate how phenomenal an impact it has made on their confidence and independence, let alone their communication skills.

Although Sennott is no longer with Proloquo2Go, he is continuing his work in the field of AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) with a research study focusing on the writing experience for middle school students who use AAC.

Further details (including how students and teachers can participate in the study) can be found on Sennott’s blog.


Words Mean Things III

Over the course of some Memorial Day morning bargain-hunting, I came across this magnet for sale at my local Five Below store:

In the last “Words Mean Things” installment, I wrote about the unintended signals our words sometimes send.  At least this magnet doesn’t have that problem.

I debated saying something to the staff or manager in the store, but I realize that they most likely have zero input into or control over what stock is sold, and it would be a waste of time and energy for everyone involved.

On the other hand, I think a letter to corporate may be in order.  If you’d also like to share your thoughts on this merchandise with the management of Five Below, you can send a message to their corporate office in Philadelphia or contact them through Facebook.


I’m making a bit of a change here on my blog – not a huge one; in fact, a miniscule one, but it’s one I think is important.

In the sidebar, I keep a list of the different categories of posts.  One of them – Reform – I feel has been hijacked by folks who attempt to advance political or business agendas at the expense of children and teachers under the guise of “Education Reform”.  When I first applied that label to one of my posts, it was done with a good heart – I intended for my writing to be reflective of my desire to reform what I see as detrimental or ineffective educational practices.  In light of recent events, however, I would hate for anything I’ve written to be aligned or connected in any way with those who see public education solely as a means to a political end.

You won’t see the “Reform” category in my sidebar if you look there now.  I’ve deleted it and replaced it with a word I hope more accurately reflects my intentions: Progress.

Like I said, I feel it’s a small but important change, because after all, words mean things.