The impact of words

watchsuccessChances are that you have seen the quote to the left before – it’s hanging in our building outside the gym.  According to the poster by our gym, the quote is attributed to Frank Outlaw.  As I was researching the quote, I found it attributed to several people including Lao Tzu and Mathatma Gandhi, among others.

For the past couple of years we have been on a path of shifting assessment practices in an effort to focus more on the learning process, rather than the outcome or finished product.

Combined with that, I know that many of us have given thought into the idea of mindsets.  Many of you have talked with your students about having a growth mindset as compared to a fixed mindset.

Recently I was reading an article in Education Week by Starr Sackstein (@mssackstein on Twitter).  Sackstein is a high school English teacher and teacher coach in New York.  She is also the author of the book Hacking Assessment – part of the Hack Learning Series.  I have not read the book myself, but have listened to Sackstein talk about her shift in grading practices, as well as follow her on Twitter where she an active proponent of making a deliberate shift in assessment practices to focus on the learning our students accomplish as opposed to the grades they earn.

In the article I was reading, she shared her beliefs that the language we use matters as much as, if not more than, the practices we employ.  She goes on to say “What we say and how we say it has a big impact on how students and other stakeholders respond to our choices.”  Take a look at this chart from her book:


If, as educators, we use the terms on the left side with our students, or their parents, what are we saying we value?  I may be going out on a limb here, but to me the terms on the left are focused on the product.  They are a fixed mindset concept that doesn’t allow room for growth.  In addition, it says to students that they don’t need to learn anything from their mistakes.  These terms symbolize an ending to the learning, and each time we use those terms in our classroom, we are telling our students that we are more concerned with the product.

I know from conversations that many of you have already shifted your thinking about assessment, and are truly focused on the process.  Using those terms that appear on the right side of this chart will truly show our students and their parents what we value.  Assessing students where they are, providing feedback, and encouraging students to try again will help students to understand that you value their learning, not their grade.  It will help students see their challenges as a way to grow and move towards proficiency.

Think about the language you use in the classroom with your students.  How can you shift the words that you use in the classroom to show that you truly value student growth?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

One thought on “The impact of words

  1. Thought providing post! I have shifted my practice to terming what some might call tests or quizzes to assessments or “opportunities to shine!” I am clear with my students that these opportunities will let me know their next steps for learning and my next steps as a teacher. This builds a strong level of respect and collaboration between teacher and students.

    Liked by 1 person

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