EduSpeak and GOODWORD/BADWORD Dichotomies

I’m interested in the language we use to talk about teaching and what that says about the job and the profession. One of the paradigms that I’m most sure exists is the GOODWORD/BADWORD dichotomy that shows up throughout education. Tonight I was chatting with a teacher who made a strong distinction between EXPLORATION and PRACTICE. Fair enough. But the way she described exploration was as a chance to try out the ideas that have just been directly instructed. Wait, that sounds a ton like practice! What’s the difference? “Practice is repetition for fluency. Like shooting free throws. Exploration involves making connections and testing theories.”

It’s hard for me to pin down why exactly I find this interesting. Maybe it’s that, to me, the dichotomy seems absolute but the distinction doesn’t deserve it. As defined above, the difference between exploration and practice seems to be that exploration is just good practice (or practice is just bad exploration). Anything that makes a classroom exercise dumb, boring, rote, routine, meaningless…YES that’s exactly what we mean by “practice.” All the good stuff is what we mean by “exploration.”

(Note that, as defined, we can’t say that “exploration” is a type of practice, since practice is defined to have all this negative baggage attached to it.)

Some more GOODWORD/BADWORD dichotomies:


There is well-known ambiguity surrounding use of “problems” and “problem-solving.” Schoenfeld seyz, “problem solving has been used with multiple meanings that range from ‘working rote exercises’ to ‘doing mathematics as a professional.'”

I wish that I could piece all of this together, but I can’t.


  • Why do so many technical terms in education end up fitting the GOODWORD/BADWORD paradigm?
  • In writing about teaching, is use of the GOODWORD/BADWORD paradigm productive or confusing?
  • What are some of the terminological sensitive points that surround problem and problem solving (besides for the ones that I’ve already found)? What do they say about how we think about problem solving?

Links to GOODWORD/BADWORDS examples:

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