My Banned Words List for Teachers

Questioning our Assumptions About Learning, Teaching, and Schooling

Since 2009, I “banned” the use of certain words in my classroom. I’ve come to this point because of my intense irritation when I hear them used. I’m irritated because these words carry an incredible amount of baggage loaded with faulty assumptions and meanings that are rooted in problematic theoretical and philosophical frameworks. In fact, most of these words are used within the frames of positivism and mechanism. Both “positivism” and “mechanism” describe a worldview that is based on the notion that everything fits into nice little categorical cubby-holes, that we can quantify everything, that everything works like a well-oiled machines, and that our world works in very linear and predictable ways. If we’re honest enough about our own experiences, we realize that such a worldview is more of wishful thinking than a description of what actually occurs. Yet, our society and especially our schools are deeply embedded in this positivistic and mechanistic worldview — complete with the highly questionable outcomes of testing as a measure of learning or intelligence, repetitive practice as the way of learning, working with children as a process of “management,” and schooling as a technical enterprise.

My banned word list arose not as an edict to stop using these words, but rather as a reminder to examine the assumptions that underlie these words. These assumptions tend to be consistent with a positivistic and mechanistic view. At the same time, the use of these words perpetuate a dysfunctional status quo of schooling and undermine our attempts to engage students in systems thinking and its holistic and organic worldview.

1. What are the assumptions underlying these words?

2. What is problematic about each of these words?

3. How are they inconsistent with the following notions?

  • classrooms as communities;
  • children as producers of knowledge;
  • the complexity sciences (chaos and complexity theories) as explanatory frameworks for biosphere, psychological, and cultural systems;
  • learning as constructive, non-linear, and recursive;
  • democracy in education and education for democracy;
  • children as inquirers;
  • teachers as mentors, facilitators, orchestrators, models, etc.

Banned Words

  • Lesson Plans and Lessons
  • Closure
  • Objectives
  • Classroom Management
  • Test
  • Worksheets
  • Scientific Method (as a singular and linear process of knowledge production)
  • Direct Instruction
  • Anticipatory Set
  • Accountability (unless we hold banks, corporations, CEOs, politicians, et al. accountable)
  • Piagetian stages of development
  • Behaviorism – including:
  • rewards,
  • reinforcement or reinforce
  • behavior modification, etc.)
  • Piagetian Stages of Development
  • Prescriptive Learning
  • E-Learning (& related terms)
  • On-Task
  • Efficiency (in teaching and learning)
  • SWBAT (Students Will Be Able To)
  • Age appropriate

These words also may be problematic:

  • Standards
  • Professional and Professionalism
  • Evaluation
  • Rubric
  • Discipline
  • Practice or Guided Practice
  • Discovery or Discovery Learning (bad reputation due to lack of rigor)
  • Hands-On Learning (has become somewhat meaningless; trivializes Engaged Learning)

What other words can we add to this list?

Go to Jeff Bloom's Blog for a more detailed version of this list.

©2010 by Jeffrey W. Bloom


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