The Power of Words

We have a problem with labeling in education. Perhaps we’ve always had a problem, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s the way we deal with problems. Stick a label on it. We label students; we label teachers; we label parents and management. We label teaching strategies; Aifl, co-operative learning, solo taxonomy. It makes us feel good. We can have a folder with that label on the spine, poly-pockets inside, preserving lovely worksheets. We tell ourselves that we have covered that strategy or included that strand; we have completed the professional development on that and don’t need to do it again, thank you very much. And therein lies the problem.

You see, the problem with labeling things is that, while we can tick that box, we can also put it away in a drawer or on a shelf. When we label things we limit the scope of its use. When we label things we can put them on a pile or to the back of the queue. When we label things we can easily dismiss them and that becomes a problem; quite often great ideas are lost behind the label.

At a recent conference I asked a panel of experts, including Graham Donaldson, former HM Senior Chief Inspector of Education, whether we are at the point where Glow, Scotland’s intranet, was now tainted and needed to be left behind. This might seem surprising to some who know me as I’ve been using Glow successfully in the classroom for about three years and have done my best to champion its use to colleagues whenever I can. However, I have come to the conclusion that Glow has become a label that teachers have dismissed – wrongly in my opinion – and nothing can save it.

I presented at a Teachmeet 365 some months ago on what I was doing with Glow in the classroom. I discussed the improvements,  explained how I overcame obstacles. I responded to the age old complaint that you have to click on five things to get anywhere by showing the Glow Light page which can be adapted to include all required links. I responded to the inaccessibility of Glow Blogs by showing examples of all of my pupil blogs – from S1 to S5 – and how quickly I could get to them.

I responded to the claims that better tools were available outside by showing my S1 wiki on Anne Frank.

The follow up discussion suggested that either no-one was listening to anything I was saying or that people have made up their minds about Glow and nothing I could have done would have changed that. It pains me to say it but Glow as a label has become tainted. Nothing will bring it back. We use the failure of Glow to disguise the truth that teachers are often resistant to using ICT. We need to change the direction of the conversation.

We are happy to personify Glow, just like we are happy to personify Curriculum for Excellence and the Chartered Teacher scheme. When we label things it is much easier to dismiss them.

I realised that I’ve been going about it the wrong way all this time. Instead of explaining how I use Glow in the classroom to blog and create wikis and use chat room for higher revision classes and homework drop and discussion boards I should be explaining that my classes create wikis, blogs and all of these other things, I merely used Glow as a vehicle. That is my choice. It has made me much more ICT aware. It has enhanced the learning experience of the students I teach. If you choose to use any of these things through Glow or any other way, I’m not sure it matters. As long as you do.

I am a reflective teacher because of the Chartered Teacher scheme

I am much more confident with ICT thanks to Glow.

My classroom is a vibrant, creative, hard working, purposeful, challenging space because of Curriculum for Excellence.

The Chartered Teacher scheme has gone; Glow, in its current form anyway, will go the same way. Some may rejoice, I won’t. But there is one thing left on that list that we need to fight for. The only way we are going to do that is to change not merely the way we teach but the way we all talk about teaching. Language is a powerful thing. Labeling things uses that power in a destructive way. Let’s make an effort to stop it.

One thought on “The Power of Words

  1. I don’t like the way the argument around glow polarises into for or against, the most simplistic labels. Some folk were using blogs, wikis etc before glow. I found glow a bit lacking in its functionality and interface, but there is a lot right with the concept of a national intranet.
    Glow’s big plus was, in my opinion, that it opened up ICT to staff who would not have used it. This happened in part because it was a national effort.
    The big minus was not the poor technology but that technology’s inflexibility. It is did not grow and improve fast enough.
    Glow needs not supporters or critics but critical friends.
    Charlie Love is showing with glew the way develop services with agility, the Scottish government has a wonderful opportunity I hope they take it.

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