Deciphering Jargon at the Parent-Teacher Conference

Scaffolding? Giftedness? Teacher lingo can feel like a different language. Get Noodle’s crash course in the vocab you’ll need at your next parent-teacher conference.

‘Tis the season of the parent-teacher conference. Every couple of years, a new version of teacher-speak comes into play. Most educators will explain the terms that they use, but here is a rundown of key words being bandied about these days.

Accommodations

This is typically used to describe changes in teaching that are meant to assist a student with a disability or special needs. Accommodations might include Braille materials for sight-impaired students or extra test-taking time for students with dyslexia. Typically, accommodations mean that the students have the same material as their classmates, but they are delivered in a manner that meets the needs of a child with a learning disability.

Attending

Very simply, it means paying attention. If your child is not attending, she is distracted and not engaging in her learning.

Decode

Some teachers like to use this word to mean understand or comprehend. The dictionary defines it as "to extract meaning" or "to translate (data or a message) from a code into the original language or form." Let's hope the teacher isn't talking to your kids in a secret language! In education parlance, decoding can mean translating a printed word into a sound.

Executive Function

Frequently abbreviated as “EF,” executive functions refer to the suite of skills that goes into completing assignments, such as time management, keeping track of materials, and having the emotional regulation to stay calm during tests and big projects. It also means turning in homework, keeping desks and cubbies relatively organized, and knowing how to study.

In general, parents may see some holes in their child’s EF skills around fourth grade, when homework and school projects become more complex. If a teacher says that your child’s EF skills need work, you will need to get organized and help your child with study skills and tracking assignments.

Be consistent. Check the homework file with your child every day. Set up study times. Help her organize the desk and backpack. Stay in touch with the teacher. As your child learns better skills, relinquish more of the responsibility to her.

Giftedness

While “gifted” refers to a child who is all around exceptional, giftedness, or “twice exceptional,” means that your child has very sharp skills in some areas but lacks basic understanding in others. It’s a keen teacher who picks up on giftedness and helps a student learn to overcome difficulties, while simultaneously challenging her in subjects where she is already adept.

Modifications

A change in curriculum tailored to an individual student. Let’s say that the child has dyslexia; he may have to get extra time on assessments.

Scaffolding

Scaffolding is a practice teachers use to offer more support at the beginning of a unit and less of it as students master the skills. It’s also a way for teachers to bridge a range of skills within the classroom. If you hear something such as, “In our scaffolded math lessons, Billy still needs a lot of support,” the teacher is telling you that Billy is behind his peers in math.

Working Memory

This is another term for short-term memory. It is a specific part of the executive function (see above) skill set that describes a child’s ability to carry out a series of tasks. So, if your child has “working memory issues,” she may be not be able to follow a multi-step set of instructions.

Remember . . .

If you don’t understand what the teacher is telling you, speak up. Ask for examples, and paraphrase what the teacher says to make sure you understand what you’re being told.

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