A way with words

13th October 2017 at 00:00
Catchphrases and acronyms abound in teaching, so Rebecca Foster has put together a handy jargon-busting list to enlighten baffled NQTs

Brevity may be the soul of wit but it is a necessary evil for busy teachers. Why waste time saying three whole words when we can shorten them to a three-letter acronym, such as NQT? Like the barrow boys of London, we teachers have developed a secret language that can befuddle even the savviest of newly qualified teachers.

Your initial teacher training year will have endowed you with a good knowledge of the key acronyms and terminology used in schools, but it’s likely you’ll come across even more this year.

So, would you Adam and Eve it? I’ve only gone and collated a list of specialised jargon so you can join in the teacher talk and hit the ground running in your first term.


AOs: Assessment objectives. The core skills that are being assessed in your subject’s exam paper.


CAMHS: Child and adolescent mental health services. NHS services that support students with emotional, behavioural or mental health difficulties.


Cognitive overload: A situation where a student is struggling to process new learning because they have been given too much information or too many tasks.


CP: Child protection. You will hear teachers talking about “CP issues” or “CP concerns”. It is likely that you will receive safeguarding training when you begin at your new school but expect staff to use the acronym.


DIRT: Dedicated improvement and reflection time. Most often, DIRT time is given to students immediately after a teacher has provided feedback, allowing them to reflect on the targets they have been given and the time to act on them.


Dual coding: The theory that when learning something new, using words and images will increase the chances of a child remembering it compared with if you employ just one or the other.


Growth mindset: Based on the work of Carol Dweck. A fixed mindset is when we assume our abilities cannot be changed. By contrast, a growth mindset is when we believe we can improve with effort and over time.


Learning: You might be surprised that this one is in here but I think it’s a pretty important one to pin down. I’d go with Kirschner, Sweller and Clark’s definition (in their 2006 analysis, Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work) that “if nothing has changed in long-term memory, nothing has been learned”.


Legacy spec: A catch-all for the old GCSE specifications. Expect your colleagues to use this in sentences that begin with, “Do you remember when…” as they reposition their rose-tinted glasses and talk about the “good old days”. Rest assured, though, one day you’ll be able to speak about the current spec in these terms, too.


Life after levels: A catch-all for the world we find ourselves in now that we are no longer expected to apply national curriculum levels to work produced in key stage 3. We’re adjusting. Slowly.


Metacognition: An umbrella term for all sorts of things but that broadly means “thinking about thinking”. You are engaging your students in the metacognitive process when you ask them to plan how to approach a task or when you model how you would answer an exam question and make your thinking explicit.


Retrieval practice: The process of retrieving information that we have previously learned — for example, through low-stakes testing, such as self-quizzing.


Rebecca Foster is head of English at St Edmund’s Girls’ School in Salisbury.


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