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Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Terms to know in education today: self-regulation, play-based learning, scaffolding, authentic assessment, DIBELS, positive behavioral interventions and supports, inclusion, Kagan structures, and differentiated instruction.

Definitions below the fold.

A child’s ability to make plans and follow through on them, resisting impulses and distractions and managing emotional upheavals along the way. Research says strong self-regulators are more likely to be successful — not just in school, but in relationships and in life. So teaching self-regulation is big in education these days, especially for the youngest kids.

Play-based learn·ing

Controlling impulses is not easy, as any serial dieter can attest. So how do you teach it? One method that’s in vogue: play. Not free-for-all play, but planned play. Children sit down to map out what they’re going to do beforehand (“Today, I’m going to pretend to be a hairdresser”). Afterward, they reflect on whether they stuck with their plan (“I got tired of being a hairdresser and decided to be a dragon”). This kind of play is a central part of Tools of the Mind, the early-childhood curriculum in many traditional D.C. schools.


Not construction equipment, scaffolding is edu-speak for giving children a little extra support so they can do something they’re not quite ready to do independently. Training wheels are scaffolding for riding a bike; riding a bike is scaffolding for riding with no hands. In school, it might be a teacher demonstrating how to write a complete sentence or asking pointed questions to help children think through a difficult math problem. As kids learn the new concept, they need less and less scaffolding, until eventually, they’re writing the sentences solving the problems on their own.

Au·then·tic as·sess·ment

Pretty much the opposite of a multiple-choice test, an authentic assessment asks kids to use what they know. A road test before getting a driver’s license? That’s an authentic assessment. So is writing a short story or a play, or designing a science fair project.


Pronounced “dibbles,” DIBELS is an acronym for “Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills.” It’s a test teachers use to gauge how well elementary school kids have mastered the building blocks of reading. Administered one-on-one, it measures a child’s ability to identify the different sounds that letters make, for example, and figure out how to pronounce unfamiliar words.

Pos·i·tive be·hav·ior·al in·ter·ven·tions and sup·ports

A Web site affiliated with the Department of Education says PBIS is “NOT a curriculum, intervention, or practice, but IS a decision making framework that guides selection, integration, and implementation of the best evidence-based academic and behavioral practices for improving important academic and behavior outcomes for all students.”


PBIS means that adults in a school have a coordinated, consistent way to define, encourage and reward good behavior. For example, teachers might acknowledge students acting appropriately — being kind or working hard — by doling out tickets that can be cashed in for treats.

The thinking is that if school is a warm and caring place where children know how they’re supposed to behave — and get extra help when they need it — then grown-ups can head off a lot of punishment and harsh discipline.


Instead of being segregated in different classrooms, kids with disabilities and those without learn together. In schools that practice inclusion, a general-education teacher is joined either by a second teacher with special-education expertise or by special-education aides. The idea is that everyone can benefit from more diverse classrooms.

Ka·gan struc·tures

These are techniques, based on the work of researcher Spencer Kagan, that teachers can use to get kids talking, sharing ideas and learning from one another, all while practicing skills — such as listening patiently — that can be difficult even for adults. In “think-pair-share,” for example, teachers pose a question and give students a few minutes to think it over. Then the students pair up to discuss it with a neighbor, and finally they share their discussion with the whole class.

Dif·fer·en·ti·a·ted in·struc·tion

A child who’s still learning to add might sit beside another in the same class who’s memorized multiplication tables up through the nines. A teacher who’s good at differentiation can figure out ways to challenge every kid at his own level, a skill that’s becoming more important — and more difficult — as separating students according to ability falls out of favor. Differentation is particularly crucial in mixed-age classes, including in Montessori schools.
According to this source:
...People may use jargon to leave an impression of intelligence or to confuse a person....
Meanwhile, teachers and prospective teachers waste time learning the required jargon.

The best teachers that I ever had did not have degrees in education.  Instead, they taught, and knowing the names of the techniques mattered not one whit.


  1. I simply want everyone to realize that this is part of an important industry here in the United States. Each year, dozens of teams of former teachers spread out all across the nation to teach teachers how to teach children. Interestingly, the teachers of teachers are mostly failed classroom teachers themselves, and this is their new niche in the world.

    Don’t laugh: we are talking about tens of millions of dollars paid by school districts to receive this information. Of course, nothing they teach teachers has anything to do with imparting knowledge or understanding to students … but that isn’t what is most important. No, what is most important is that these people get paid for providing valuable ‘in-service’ training seminars to teachers.

    Without it, teachers would have nothing to do on the 10-15 in-service training days each year. Without this valuable instruction, how on earth would school districts decide on what mission statement to use on their lesson plans? And the best part is this: it doesn’t have to make any sense. You see, these people will be back again next year to introduce teachers to the new round of edu-speak, which will have the exact same impact on our children: zero.

  2. Sam,
    When I taught in the public education system, the in-service days were a consummate waste of time.

    When I switched to teaching in a private school, we didn't have in-service days labeled as such. Instead, we had the occasional faculty meeting. What productive sessions!

    In my view, it is no accident that that we had these productive sessions under the leadership of a director without a degree in education. She got down to brass tacks! The school, which charged a pittance of a tuition, was ranked second in the state of Virginia. J's "methods" worked!

    I must also add that, as principal, I had the power to hire and fire. I found that the hires with education degrees were often the least effective teachers; they didn't last long, either.

  3. My own teacher education involved courses that were mostly a waste of time. For example, not in one single course did I learn how to set up a grade book or handle specific disciplinary problems or how to deal with legal rulings involving education.

    The methods course was a hideous waste of time. Not a single principle learned in that class pertained to the courses I would be teaching. In fact, most of the methods we were taught to use amounted to sensitivity training.

    I understand that the situation in teacher training is much worse now.

    Two courses were decent: Educational Psychology and, post grad, Discipline in the Secondary School. So, I ended up spending hours upon hours -- and a lot of money -- completing work that I would throw away as totally irrelevant.

    When I began my student teaching under a wonderful master teacher, he sneered at what I brought to the table. He also told me, "Now you see why I rarely take on a student teacher." Most master teachers still feel that way.

  4. Left-wing ’60s radical and onetime domestic terrorist Bill Ayers will be a keynote speaker at the Association of Teacher Educators annual conference in Atlanta this month.

    Maybe you can make it?

  5. Bunkerville,
    It figures that Bill Ayers would speak at that gathering.

    Of course, there is no way that I'd waste my time and money by going to that conference. There is no group more Leftist than a bunch of teachers. And the minute that a public school teacher finds out that I teach homeschool students, that teacher looks at me as if I'm excrement.

  6. My apologies for enabling word verification. Explanation in the blog post above this one.

  7. I wonder how our founders became such scholars or how our one=room schools turned out so many capable young aadults? One thing is for sure. The teachers were not reinventing the wheel every year.

  8. Conservatives On Fire mentioned one-room schoolhouses.

    For good or bad, I am the product of something very like the one-room schoolhouse. We used "primitive" textbooks such as the McGuffey Readers and Webster's Blue-backed Speller and New School Arithmetic. We began the study of Latin and German, grammar included, in the 5th grade; Greek in the 7th grade.

    And we wrote essays constantly -- beginning in the third grade.

    We had a truly supervised study hall ever day; in these study halls, we learned study skills and got individual help from our teacher and older students.

    For generations, such an education produced much finer minds than mine. Still, today's "educators" have tossed out all that tradition. Indeed, most elementary schools today don't even have core readers.

  9. Those are all really interesting. DIBELS is one of several I've never heard of.

    On the Play Based Learning, does that mean that if a child said "I'm going to play cops and robbers, I'm going to pretend I have a gun and shoot the bad guy..." that the teacher will allow the child to carry out his plan? Just wondering, ha.

    Right Truth

  10. The stench produced by la merde du boeuf rises unmistakably from this steaming pile of molten manure.

    "Pedaguese" us what we used to call it back in the day ...

    Un piece de merde by any other name still stinks to high heaven.


  11. FT,
    It's a stench, all right.

    And, in the process, learning is compromised -- if possible at all.

  12. AOW, thank you for sharing. Very informative comment section, too.
    I think great teachers are born with this talent, or, in any event, they can intuit it. This jargon is hopeless.
    I had pretty "structured" traditional education -- homework, lots of copying, lots of reading, dictations, essays, oral retelling of stories, lots of math, etc. I'm pretty annoyed by the "play-based approach". Sure, it's great for very young children, but I see students play-learning in high schools.

  13. Edge,
    I had a structured education too. I think that I'm the better for it.

    Learning cannot always be fun. We lie to students when we say that learning is fun. Oh, sometimes it is. But much of the time, scut work has to come first -- before any reasoned analysis is even possible.

  14. Those terms sure remind me of a calvin and hobbes, you can find it here


    My older's 3rd grade teacher always threw around the term "rubric" with a sort of self important air, and one day I'm finally like, what is that? And it's basically a standard for grading. Oh.

    And you can't just call it grading standards . . . why exactly?

    So stupid, and infuriating b/c they actually think these terms make them smart.

    best to you!

  15. Apparently, calling an evaluation sheet or any chart listing specific requirements on a chart a "rubric" is part of the recent educational jargon.

    I do employ a rubric for grading compositions. I call it "the chart." Heh.


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