Posts Tagged ‘Harvard GSE’

 

So I’ve been thinking about terminology. It doesn’t sound very exciting, but a lot of times we hear words and terms that we think we all understand in the same way, and we don’t. Two different experiences have made me think about this idea.

First, I have been leading a task force investigating interdisciplinary teaching and learning at my school. I don’t think anyone came to the group with no thoughts about what interdisciplinary work was, yet we did not come close to having a shared understanding of the term. This became our first task.

The summer before beginning our work we all read Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ Interdisciplinary Curriculum: Design and Implementation. Even though we all read the same book, we still didn’t all have the same idea. In interpreting literature it may be okay to have slightly different readings of the text; however, when we are trying to focus on a particular pedagogy and don’t all have the same understanding of what that is, those differences are not okay.

After spending the school year talking, reading, and visiting schools, we are clearly not the only ones who have not nailed down what we mean by the words we used to describe our program. This was a year of slow learning and slow looking, terms I learned at a Project Zero conference in the fall, as we worked our way towards an understanding and then a definition of what we will call interdisciplinary learning at our school. We did not want to reinvent the wheel. There are lots of wheels out there; lots of them work just fine. What we needed to do was tweak an existing wheel that would work for our cart.

This process ultimately led us to work on several documents. Using our Jacobs-based definition, we applied it to an Understanding by Design lesson plan template (it’s licensed for reuse and alteration) and adjusted it to stress qualities and ideas that we wanted to highlight. More importantly, we wrote a document that describes where we are and what we believe about interdisciplinary work at our school. Again there’s already a lot written about what interdisciplinary work is, and we have leaned heavily on all of that earlier work.

Finally, we integrated that with our own terminology about teaching methods, mission language, and strategic plan ideas so that the language itself connects to our own native language. As the majority writer of this document, I feel confident in saying it is not going to win any awards. However, I think when we as a group sat down to look at a draft, we realized how far we had come. We could not have written such a document when we started; we may have been saying the same words, but we did not mean the same things. However in April after working together for most of a school year, we were ready to speak a common language. I am really proud of this.

My second recent experience that has made me aware of terminology is an online course I am finishing (Educating Global Citizens through Harvard Graduate School of Education). This time the terminology in question is connected to global competencies and global education. The individual words (global, competency, education) are more common than interdisciplinary, and in some ways so common that it’s hard to imagine that putting two of them together would not create a universally understood term. It turns out that is not the case.

The course began as one might expect with readings and lectures explaining both what how to define global competencies and the importance of a global education. It then quickly moved to the participants practicing describing this to others. There was an assignment to talk to another stakeholder in the school community and in a few minutes make a case for global education. I found this assignment to be surprisingly challenging. Why? Terminology.

I chose to talk to a non-educator. I did this intentionally. What I found was that I started in the middle, when what I needed to do was start with the terminology before I could say why it was important. I also found that the person I was talking to, of course, had other ideas about what these words mean beyond a school setting, which gave me another way to explain the importance of this kind of work.

One of the final assignments for this class is to record an elevator pitch. I’m still working on it, but I do have a plan. Rather than focusing on convincing the Listener of the importance of whatever I’m talking about, I’m thinking about spending most of my allotted minute on clarifying what global competencies are. Suggesting that a global education, whatever that means, is important in 2017 does not seem like a very hard sell; fewer words are necessary. What seems more in doubt is ensuring that my listener has the same understanding of what I mean by global competencies. 

Terminology. Not necessarily exciting, but you can’t go anywhere without it.

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