There are many ways to the top of the mountain

Published 9:45 am Thursday, August 18, 2011

By JASON MAYFIELD / Guest Columnist

“Are we all speaking the same language?”

I tend to think it’s better if we don’t.

The language question can be heard in many relationships: parent to child, guy to girl (actually, the girl notices the two are not saying the same thing), boss to employee. I heard a modified version of the question the other day at an education meeting. The questioner felt it was important for English teachers to use the same terms from sixth grade on.

Certainly, consistency is good. I can remember my sophomore English teacher running us through the elements of style only to reach my junior year and find that another teacher thought all of that was wrong — or at least the version I thought I heard was wrong.

There’s a reason languages have many words for the same object or concept. I believe part of that multiplicity is because we learn from hearing variety. The “one way to a direct object” lessons my seventh grade teacher gave me didn’t take. I couldn’t understand his method. However, my eighth grade teacher’s explanation, her words and her method, worked. I got it.

Even though I’m an “English” teacher, I like to use upper-level math problems with my students.

The problems introduce the students to concepts many of them will see on advanced placement tests. I also tell the students that my explanation of the answers will be different than what they hear in math class. For the students struggling in math, I hope that my answer might be the one that connects.

If learning is a mountain, there are many ways to the top. When we as educators or parents limit the learning paths of our students, we are not preparing our children for when they face on their own unfamiliar pathways.

Good hiking leaders can take you many ways to the top. Good teachers should be able to get students to “get” a concept in as many ways, in as many words, as possible.
Jason Mayfield is a gifted instructor at Columbiana Middle School.