I have kept fish since I was a teenager. I took it very seriously and would research each fish, each aquatic plant, the water quality requirements and so on. When I was about 16 years old I was reading an article in Tropical Fish Hobbyist magazine (which surprisingly is still going strong today). The article discussed issues with aquarium plant health. One plant was identified as being particularly robust, suffering only from “piscatorial mastication“. Que? I had no idea what “piscatorial mastication” meant!
In those pre-Internet days research options were limited. I couldn’t find “piscatorial” in my school dictionary and my teenage brain did not connect the word with pisces. I asked my parents. I went to the library and searched the encyclopedia. Nothing! Frustrated, I took the magazine to school and showed the article to a biology teacher. He smiled when he read aloud “piscatorial mastication“. “It means fish eat it,” he said and passed the magazine back to me.
This was my first encounter with fog in print. I wish I could say it was my last, but fog in print is everywhere. Mathematics text books are full of it. Other subjects too. Find the value of the obtuse angle …, a question asks. Do you remember what obtuse angle means? Perhaps you do, perhaps you have forgotten, but as teachers we should never assume students know or remember the esoteric terminology and ideas that we splash about in the classroom. How do we sound to students? Do we use good judgement and balance in our choice of words? We do want to increase the vocabulary of students of course, we do want them to develop expertise, but we also want to be sure they understand what they are learning.
Perhaps we also need to be humble enough to recognise if we are guilty of manufacturing fog in pedagogy? Are were allowing children to learn in ways that fit with who they are and how they operate? When they come into our class do we strip them of the technology they routinely use to enable them to research, communicate, showcase and collaborate? Is learning in our class a dialogue for students or is it the traditional four step process of 1) Question, 2) Answer, 3) Pass/Fail and 4) Next topic? Is learning iterative, sensitive to the individual student or is it linear at a set pace (we would lay the blame for the pace at the door of the curriculum of course).
I suppose all I am saying here is this: If we do our best to see the way we instruct through the eyes of our students and hear how we sound through our the ears of our students, then and only then will we be able to clear away any fog in our “print” or that permeates our pedagogy.
To conclude this post, I’d like to share with you my favourite nursery rhyme: “Diminutive Jack Horner reclined in a mural intersection, masticating some yuletide pastry. He inserted his pollex dexterous, extracting a delectable fruit, and exclaimed: ‘Oh! How I am prodigiously precocious.”