online forum report

The use of jargon in teacher
Philip Kerr

This is a summary of some of the issues raised in a recent on-line discussion
within the IATEFL Teacher Trainers and Educators Special Interest Group.
The IATEFL Teacher Trainers and Educators Special Interest Group
periodically organizes on-line fielded discussions1 on pre-determined topics that
are chosen and moderated by volunteers. From time to time, however, vigorous
discussions develop in a more informal and less planned way, when a topic
strikes a chord with members of the list. Few topics have provoked more
response from members of the group than the question of the use of jargon in
teacher education.

The ownership of

Participants in the discussion referred frequently to a distinction between
university-based academics (who are the main authors of the literature of
teacher education) and ‘chalk-face’ practitioners. Examples of jargon that
were cited included ‘top-down and bottom-up processing’ and
‘metacognitive knowledge’, and this jargon was generally perceived to
belong to a discourse community that did not include the majority of
‘chalk-face’ practitioners. One respondent pointed out that the ‘chalkface’ practitioners had their own set of jargon (including terms like
‘skills’, ‘humanistic’, and ‘pre-teaching’). However, his further
observations that particular discourse communities do not necessarily
perceive their own jargon as jargon, and that complaints about jargon are
invariably about ‘the other side’ (i.e. the jargon that we do not
understand), suggest that many in the profession feel that there is more
than one discourse community within the world of teacher education.
Within these communities, it was noted that much jargon, including
many of the commonest terms in ELT, is defined in a variety of ways, and
frequently lacks precision. The terms ‘task’ and ‘communicative’ were
cited as examples.

The uses and abuses
of jargon

All participants acknowledged an element of inevitability in the use of a
degree of jargon in teacher education—for reasons of economy and
clarity. However, there was a perception that many contributors to
journals and conferences overused jargon—because of (1) intellectual
sloppiness, and (2) a desire to be seen as a member of a higher-status
discourse community. As one participant observed, ‘authors and
presenters have a dual audience, and the purpose of their
ELT Journal Volume 59/2 April 2005 Q Oxford University Press


Firstly. Theory. differentiated by status. simply. The use of jargon drops off. that the role of the teacher educator was to ‘teach how to fish’. it is clear that many participants saw classroom teachers and writers about classroom teaching as belonging to separate professional communities. by extension. rather than. presenters need to demonstrate their legitimacy as a member of the academic community. However. the use of theory) was considered to be essentially a problem of extent. Enormous differences in the working contexts of teacher educators participating in the discussion preclude any attempt to determine which items of jargon would be appropriate for inclusion in teacher education programmes. They suggested that the day-to-day realities of many teachers’ lives did not leave much mental energy for theory. they have relevant topic material to get across to their audience. It was suggested that one of the roles of the teacher educator is to help prospective teachers become aware of. At the other end of the spectrum. she suggests.communication is twofold. and secondly. but this potential was not always realized in practice. 152 Philip Kerr . There was general agreement that the processes of teacher education should be built on an explicitly theoretical foundation. Jargon and theory Some participants equated the overuse of jargon with an academic discourse whose theoretical orientation did not match the more practical priorities and interests of classroom teachers. in academia. and that a significant part of that belonging comes from a growth in confidence in their own use of the language (or jargon) of the dominant discourse community. the language of the professional community they wish to enter. Calderhead (1987) indicates that novice teachers typically go through a number of clearly identifiable stages in the process of their training. salary. The desire to acquire symbolic capital outweighed the motivation to share professional knowledge.’ On the whole. and can be dispensed with entirely when they achieve the status of senior academics. Lakoff (1990) observed that. and working conditions. and its attendant jargon. there is a continuum of usage of academese in the progression from undergraduate status to senior tenured faculty. to ‘give fish’. and competent in. as students become well-established. In the first of these stages. R. Two contributions to the discussion focussed on the paths of jargon use. The problem with the use of jargon (and. One post offered two contrasting definitions of a teacher: 1 ‘knowledgeable and principled professional able to act and develop autonomously’ 2 ‘method and materials operator in need of a guide’. One participant suggested that research and theorizing would never be of more than tangential significance to teachers in helping them to carry out their work—work that requires rapid decision-making and is highly complex. Research by J. was seen as being of potential value to teachers. both socially and psychologically. they want to feel that they belong to the community of teachers to which they aspire. participants in the discussion felt that the second impetus was often more compelling.

Note 1 For more information about the IATEFL Teacher Trainers and Educators Special Interest Group and its discussion list. we should not. Talking Power. expect to see any decrease in these tensions for the foreseeable future. New York: Basic Books. The use of jargon in the discourse of ELT has undeniably led to certain tensions. European Journal of Teacher Education 10/3: 269–78. perhaps. R. As a contributor to the literature of teacher education. J.asp References Calderhead. he has been accused of ‘jargon abuse’. However. The use of jargon in teacher education 153 . 1987. and for those who write and speak for them in a professional context. given the fact that contemporary society values codified propositional knowledge more highly than uncodified practical know-how.Conclusion More than anything else. Lakoff. and the desirability of bridging it. ‘The Quality of Reflection in Student Teachers’ Professional Learning’. please see http://www. rather than on an analysis of the historical and social factors that brought it about. the discussion reflected the perception that there is a communication gap between teachers.ihes. The reporter Philip Kerr is a member of the IATEFL Teacher Trainers and Educators Special Interest Group committee. Participants concentrated on the problems caused by this gap.