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A simple conversation with colleagues about teaching could lead to confusion and frustration, but pride may keep you from asking what certain terms mean. First of all, don’t be afraid to ask. But, if you are, this list of terms and acronyms used to discuss teaching, classes, and curriculum could be very useful.

AP (Advanced Placement) - AP courses are high school classes managed by the College Board offering college-level curriculum, culminating in a test that can result in obtaining college credits.

Backward Design - In backward design, teachers start with the desired outcome (concept, objective: what do you want them to learn) and use that as the foundation and starting point for planning everything. Then they determine how students could best represent what they have learned (assessment, project: what do you want them to be able to do). Only then do teachers begin to plan how they will teach or present the content (lesson plans, materials: what experiences and instructional techniques will best prepare students to reach the desired outcomes).

Benchmark - Benchmarks are standardized tests that are used to monitor students’ progress on specific standards in anticipation of a summative assessment. Ideally, this data is used to help target instruction and fill in the gaps as appropriate.

Cooperative Learning - While there is a much broader definition that aligns with a philosophical educational approach, generally cooperative learning is used to refer to a more structured and guided use of group work. Students work together in small groups to accomplish shared goals, each with specific tasks or responsibilities

CTE & CATE (Career Technical Education & Career and Technical Education) - These terms are used interchangeably to refer to courses that teach a vocational career, many of which also allow for a certification to be earned through the program. Additional funding can be achieved through these programs, but they also have very specific guidelines they must follow. These classes include everything from cosmetology to welding to engineering to accounting to culinary arts.

Dual Language - A dual language classroom is one in which content is delivered in two languages with the goal of students becoming fluent in both.

ESL & ELL (English Language Learner & English as a Second Language) - ESL students are taught by teachers with specific training in teaching students for whom English is not their primary language. Students are either enrolled in specialized ESL classes or pulled out for specific support and mini-lessons. 

ELLs are students in general education classrooms. Teachers make the curriculum accessible to students through accommodations, but the students are not pulled out for specialized instruction. 

Formative & Summative Assessment - Formative assessments measure student learning throughout a unit, term, or course; this data can be used to adjust instruction as needed. 

Summative assessments are used to measure how much students learned at the end of a  unit, term, or course.

GED (General Education Diploma) - Four subject tests that assess a student’s knowledge to earn a high school equivalency diploma.

Growth Mindset - Put forth by psychologist Carol Dweck, a person with a growth mindset is a one who believes they can continually grow and learn through hard work and perseverance rather than believing that intelligence and talents are fixed traits.

GT/Gifted and Talented - Gifted and Talented refers to individuals who have high abilities in one or more of the following areas: intelligence, creativity, the arts, leadership, or academics. These students are not always academic high achievers. They need differentiation and services not generally provided in the general education setting. GT students often experience asynchronous development, acute social and emotional needs, and heightened intensities.

Heterogeneous Groups & Homogeneous Groups - These are two different ways to group students, usually based upon abilities, but other characteristics can be used for grouping (such as age) as well. Homogeneous groups students of similar abilities together where heterogeneous places students in groups made up of a variety of levels of ability (or other factors). The first allows for targeted assistance to specific groups while the latter encourages peer assistance.

LOTE (Languages Other Than English) - This category of courses encompasses any language being taught other than English and can also include American Sign Language.

Mentor Teacher - Most schools provide an official mentor teacher to teachers new to the profession, and many also provide mentors for teachers who are new to the district. Mentor teachers are available to answer questions regarding campus and district procedures, technology, and curriculum as well as being the immediate point of contact for questions that may arise.


Objective - An objective is a clear statement (usually in student-friendly language) of what the students are expected to learn in a lesson. This is a requirement in most lesson plans, and many schools require the objective to be written on the board.

PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) - PBIS is a proactive approach for improving behavior and safety at schools. The focus is encouraging positive behaviors and looking for the root cause of negative behaviors. It is about prevention, not punishment.

PBL (Project Based Learning) - PBL is purposeful, discovery-based learning centered around giving students a real-world problem that they are tasked with solving.

Performance Assessment - A performance assessment evaluates student learning based upon a project or task rather than a ready-made test.

Rubric - A rubric is a scoring guide used to ensure consistency in grading. 

Scaffolding - Scaffolding instruction means breaking information into chunks that build upon each other and connecting those chunks in a logical and purposeful manner.

STEM & STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics & Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) - Schools or programs that focus all curriculum and learning around these skills with the goal of preparing students for the 21st-century workforce. STEM learning often implements Project Based Learning.  STEAM programs add arts education and opportunities.

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