Precise Language

As teachers we must model the behavior we want to see from our students.  This includes using precise mathematical language.

One example of using precise language is avoiding renaming math vocabulary a more "cutesy" name.  For example, I've heard of several ways to explain the distributive property.  For a problem like 2(x + 3), teachers sometimes explain it as 2 has to "jump the fence" or other ways to explain that 2 is multiplied by each term inside the parenthesis.  In fact, when I first started teaching I tried this-- but then when I stopped using "cute" language and started calling things by their correct name, students did too!  In fact, these days, when we are learning the distributive property I make it a point to use the word often in the lesson.  Now I have students saying things like, "don't I have to distribute the 2?"  Yes!

Another time I realized I wasn't using precise language was last year when a math coach visited my classroom.  My lesson went great and I was expecting to hear some praise-- which I did, but I was surprised to hear she had a suggestion too.  I was saying "opposite" when solving equations instead of the correct term, "inverse."  When students need to solve 2x = 14, they should not do the "opposite" of multiplying, they should do the inverse (divide).  Opposite has a different meaning in math.  The opposite of 2 is -2.

I share these stories to illustrate the fact that no matter how long you have been teaching, there is always room for improvement.  Maybe for you, like me, using precise language could be something on which you could improve?


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