Education Phrases Worth Ditching in 2016

Inspired by this list from The Seventy Four, which includes a contribution from our own Chad Aldeman, Bellwether staff offer some common education phrases worth ditching in 2016:

Hailly T.N. Korman, principal, writes:

“combat pay,” “on the front lines,” “in the trenches,” and all variations on that theme

There is, in fact, a very clear line between the battlefield and the classroom. Or at least there should be. But these phrases — typically used to describe underperforming schools in poor communities serving students of color — describe those interactions with our children and their families using aggressive and violent imagery. It doesn’t do anything positive for our students or their communities to analogize the two.

Allison Crean Davis, senior advisor, writes:

“drill and kill”

This blanket statement implying mindless repetition gets thrown over a variety of instructional techniques involving repetition, practice, and sometimes speed. As with any approach, there are variations with how practice “drills” are implemented in classrooms, and not all are effective. That said, anyone who has learned a skill, be it academic, athletic, or performance-based (like playing an instrument), has likely engaged in practice drills, and for good reason. Breaking down composite skills into the components of which they are comprised and practicing those until they are not only right but also automatic allows the learner/athlete/student to integrate these into more complicated tasks requiring mastery.

Basketball players drill relentlessly on dribbling, passing, and shooting, then blend those into plays that are then integrated into games. Rowers, even at the elite level, practice and warm up with “arms only” to perfect the final finish of their stroke when they need to press the blade of the oar cleanly out of the water before sliding forward for the next stroke. Why? Because if they get this wrong, the blade can be sucked under water and cause the entire boat to come to a dead stop or worse, eject the rower right out of the boat. Musicians practice scales for fluidity and accuracy in the placement of their hands and fingers to make hitting the right notes a near-sure thing. And yes, students may be asked to “drill,” or practice component skills such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division for speed and accuracy. When done frequently and monitored closely to ensure the student is moved to higher level skills once fluency has been achieved, this is an important strategy to build mastery and provide learners with a strong and sound foundation for more sophisticated efforts, such as algebra and calculus.

That should turn us from “drill and kill” to “drill and skill,” and may make us wonder why we don’t see it more in our classrooms.

Jason Weeby, senior fellow, writes: 


Yes, “learnings” is technically a real word. And, yes, Shakespeare used it. But it’s become faddish jargon which has a perfectly fine synonym that you can use instead: “lessons.”

Sara Mead, partner, writes:

“noncognitive skills” 

So-called “noncognitive skills”–e.g. social-emotional skills, executive functioning, grit–are all the rage these days. And research shows they are important for children’s later educational and life outcomes. Except they’re not “noncognitive” at all. No one can execute or use a single one of these skills without engaging their cognitive faculties. In fact, they often involve really complex cognitive activities!  So, let’s find a better name for them in 2016.